Lawyers in Canada require two to three years of undergraduate studies, a bachelor’s degree from a recognized law school, successful completion of the bar exam and completion of an articling period. In addition, every lawyer in Canada and notary in Quebec is required by law to be a member of a law society and to be governed by its rules and the provincial laws that regulate entry into the legal profession.
To practice law in the province of Quebec, a bachelor’s degree in civil law from a recognized law school and a master’s degree in notarial law is required along with licensing by the Chambre des notaires du Québec.
The English-speaking provinces of Canada follow the English common law traditions, while in the French-speaking province of Quebec the legal tradition is based on civil law.
The Federation of Law Societies of Canada (FLSC) is the national body which coordinates the provincial and territorial law societies that exist in the country.
The National Committee on Accreditation (NCA) which is part of FLSC, assesses the qualifications of all internationally-trained legal graduates, whether they are Canadian citizens who have obtained their legal education abroad or newcomers to Canada with an overseas legal education. You can start the assessment process before moving to Canada. Note that the NCA will not process your application until they get all your documents and the required fees.
Find out more about what’s required to work as a lawyer in Canada, how to research the profession, job search techniques, law schools and more.
Before You Move to Canada
If you have international qualifications it’s helpful to know how your qualifications will be assessed. It’s also important to research the Canadian labour market to identify if there is a demand for the type of law that you want to practice. Ensuring that a demand exists will go a long way to continuing your legal career in Canada.
There are steps that you can take before you immigrate to improve your chances of practicing law in Canada.
- Attend the What to Know About the Canadian Job Market webinar to learn about job search strategies.
- Contact the provincial or territorial law society (links provided in Section 5) where you plan to settle in Canada to find out about the:
- Process to follow to obtain a law license, and
- Steps you can take before and after you immigrate to Canada
- Documents you require
- Assessment fees.
- Assess your language skills by taking an online self-assessment on the Canadian Language Benchmarks website.
- Improve your language skills and enroll in language classes while still in your home country and continue them after moving to Canada. You’ll need to prove your English or French (depending on your destination province) language competency or be tested.
- Understand how law is practiced in Canada and familiarize yourself with the provincial legislation where you’ll settle.
- Know the name of your job in Canada so that you know what job titles to search for.
1. Understanding Employment Requirements for Lawyers in Canada
If you’re looking to continue your law career in Canada, it’s essential to research what’s required. You may need to upgrade your skills and prepare for licensing exams.
Lawyers and notaries in Quebec belong to a regulated profession in Canada. This means that you must be licensed by the provincial or territorial law society where you settle. It can take both significant time and money to prepare to work as a lawyer in Canada and you need to plan for that reality.
Researching Employment Requirements for Lawyers in Canada
To begin your research, you can refer to the National Occupational Classification (NOC) 41101 for Lawyers and Quebec notaries. Here you’ll get a profile and overview of the main duties, employment requirements, and other job titles that employers may advertise for. This is helpful to know when you begin your job search in Canada.
Using the NOC: 41101
2. Employment for Lawyers in Canada
In addition to referring to the NOC 41101, another valuable resource is the Government of Canada’s Job Bank. Here you will find key facts and figures about working as a lawyer in Canada. You’ll also find information about wages (national, provincial, and regional averages) job prospects, and a summary of labour market conditions for 2019 – 2028.
Credentials Recognition in Canada for Lawyers in Canada
Whether you are an internationally trained lawyer immigrating to Canada, a Canadian citizen who has obtained a legal education abroad, or even a prospective immigrant, the NCA will assess your qualifications. You can apply while still in your home country – your citizenship, nationality and residency are not factors in the assessment process.
To apply for an NCA assessment, you will have to submit some or all of the following:
- A completed application form
- An original set of your final academic transcripts (copies will not be accepted)
- A current detailed Curriculum Vitae (your education and work experience)
- Payment of a non-refundable application fee.
As well, the institutions referred to below must send the following documents directly to the NCA:
- An official copy of your academic transcripts issued by the institution where you obtained your legal education
- A certificate or letter of membership in good standing issued by the local regulatory authority which governs your admission to the practice of law in that jurisdiction (if applicable)
- An official copy of your transcripts issued by the local regulatory authority which governs your admission to the practice of law in that jurisdiction (if applicable).
Though at the moment, language competency is not a requirement, NCA exams require a high language competency both in reading and writing. As well, to practice law in Canada you need to have high competence in listening, reading, speaking, and writing communication skills.
Once the NCA receives all of your documents, it can take up to three months to process your application. The NCA will mail their assessment to you.
Credentials Assessment Services
If you plan to enroll in a college or university program to upgrade your skills, you may have to get an educational evaluation. However, before you spend any money, contact the school to find out if they have a preferred credential assessment agency that you should use. This step can save you money.
To find more organizations and agencies providing credential evaluation, assessment and qualification recognition services click here.
Best Locations for Lawyers in Canada
Demand for lawyers is linked to population growth and the volume of business activity, such as real estate transactions, mergers and acquisitions, and bankruptcy, and can therefore be cyclical. Demand for legal services involving real estate transactions, mergers and acquisitions, for instance, tends to decline during a recession, while those involving bankruptcy activities increases. One growing area of demand in today’s complicated business environment is corporate regulatory compliance – helping companies keep up with government and other regulatory rules.
Because job prospects can vary, it’s best to research national, provincial, and regional job prospects for the legal profession in Canada before you arrive. You can find labour market information and job prospects for lawyers at the Canada Job Bank site.
You can also research different cities in Canada to learn which ones would best match the personal, professional, and cultural needs of you and your family. Other important factors to consider when choosing a city in Canada, are the costs for housing (both rental housing and home buying) and other costs such as insurance and other recurring monthly expenses.
While wages for lawyers in Canada are lucrative, living in larger cities such as Toronto and Vancouver can be quite expensive. So when you research possible cities to settle in Canada, you may discover secondary cities such as Edmonton, Alberta where housing costs are more affordable. This means that you can probably rent or buy housing that is much larger at a lower cost.
Major Employers for Lawyers in Canada
The federal, provincial and municipal governments employ lawyers. So do prosecutor’s offices, educational institutions and private businesses, particularly businesses providing scientific or technical services. In addition, lawyers can join partnerships or law firms, or open their own private practices.
You can also visit Canada’s Best Diversity Employers website to check for law firms. This special designation recognizes Canada’s best employers for diversity, inclusion, and equity. On the list, you’ll find many law firms, and also large organizations that would have a legal function.
3. Upgrading Your Skills to Meet Job Requirements for Lawyers in Canada
In addition to accreditation, upgrading your skills through a bridging program or other courses and workshops is an important part of your journey to becoming a lawyer in Canada. You have to have strong communication, legal research and writing, and technical skills. Canadian legal employers also expect you to be resilient, flexible, assertive and innovative.
You may have strong technical skills, but often that is not enough to get a job or maintain it afterwards. You may need more training or skills upgrading, especially with regard to your soft skills.
Having strong skills in one or both of Canada’s official languages – English or French – is extremely important for your future in Canada. Whether you choose to focus on learning or improving English or French will depend on which of the two languages most people speak in the area where you live.
You may be eligible for Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada (LINC) program. Otherwise, you can find other free or affordable classes in English as a Second Language (ESL) or French as a Second Language (FSL) classes through school boards or settlement agencies.
There are even language courses to teach you professional terminology, such as job-specific language training and Occupation Specific Language Training (OSLT) in Ontario. And, if you already speak one of Canada’s two official languages at a high level, learning the other one is a good option, as it may offer you better job opportunities.
Employers will expect you to have strong technical skills such as online research, electronic applications, electronic data sharing and transfer etc. Many community agencies and public libraries offer free computer courses and workshops.
Bridging Programs for Lawyers in Canada
Bridging programs are a helpful way to transition from your international experience and training to the Canadian workplace. You can find more information about bridging programs in Ontario and Alberta:
Osgoode Hall Law School
This course is specifically designed for foreign qualified lawyers planning to write the NCA exams. It offers instruction in: Foundations of Canadian Law; Constitutional Law; Administrative Law; and, Canadian Criminal Law.
Bredin Centre for Learning
A no-cost program that helps internationally educated professionals (IEPs) understand and navigate the licensure and credential process in Canada. Bredin staff will support IEPs through the process and assist them with finding employment that is related to their education.
Law Schools in Canada
All of these schools offer a professional degree in one or both of Canada’s two systems of law (Common Law; Civil Law). They also offer a variety of programs: the Juris Doctor (J.D.) and traditional Bachelor of Laws (LLB); professional degrees leading to the practice of law, graduate studies in law, and various joint programs. Some offer their programs in English only, others in French only, while others offer partially or fully bilingual programs.
In Ontario, there are several law schools that offer programs to help internationally trained lawyers with the accreditation process:
University of Toronto Faculty of Law
Global Professional LLM (GPLLM)
Juris Doctor (J.D.) Program – admits some foreign-trained lawyers to the program.
In B.C., the University of British Columbia offers the Master of Laws (Common Law) Program LL.M (CL). This year-long, l program provides foundational training in common law and in Canadian law for foreign-trained or non-common law trained lawyers.
There are 23 law schools in Canada: seven in the Western Region, eight in Ontario, five in Quebec and three in the Atlantic Region. Learn more about Canadian law school programs and admission criteria:
Western Region Law Schools
Law Schools in Ontario
Law Schools in Quebec
Faculté de droit – Université de Sherbrooke
Law Schools in the Atlantic Region
4. Job Search Techniques for Lawyers
The Canadian job market can be competitive, so you need to understand the job search process and prepare for job interviews. And because you have to register as a lawyer in the province where you plan to live, you need to search for jobs in that province.
Take your time to research job requirements in different regions throughout the province and develop a plan to find work.
There are many job-finding techniques to help you search for a job in the legal profession, for example, you can:
- Join legal job-finding or networking clubs through immigrant-serving agencies.
- Attend career job fairs and search online job boards to learn about job requirements and pay. When searching job boards pay attention to any skill gaps that you see in job postings and address them if possible.
- Seek out a mentor in the legal sector who would give you valuable insights and advice and introduce you to their professional network.
- Have a strong and active presence on social media channels like LinkedIn. Join groups, where you can contribute content, ask questions, build connections and also learn about law in Canada.
Immigrant Settlement Agencies
Finding a job in Canada may be different than in your home country and you may need help to find job vacancies, update your resume, write cover letters and prepare for interviews. Settlement agencies can also help you to understand what Canadian employers look for.
Click the link to find immigrant services in your area.
Resume Writing for Lawyers in Canada
Besides your name and contact information, your resume should begin with a brief profile of your legal experience. Be sure to highlight any bar admissions you have at the top of your resume. The legal experience section of your legal resume should be separate from your work history section. Writing your resume in this way will highlight your experience and help potential find information about your achievements and transferable skills.
After your work history and education sections, make sure to list any associations you are a member of as well as work you’ve done within the legal community.
When writing your resume, use the active voice to make it easy to read.
Interview Techniques for Lawyers in Canada
Interviewing for a law position can be competitive. So you need to be well-prepared to be a successful interview candidate. It’s helpful to prepare and practice responses to some of these common interview questions:
- What interests you in this law firm/organization?
- What sets you apart from your peers?
- What are your strengths?
- In what areas of your profession do you excel?
- Describe a challenging case that demonstrates your analytical skills.
You also need to research the law firm or organization. Find out what the firm does, the types of law that it specializes in, and what it does not do. Some do corporate law, some do litigation. Some are big, some are small. Not to mention how their organizational culture may vary. So try to find out what you can about the firm, and tailor your interview responses. Present yourself in a favourable light but be careful not to unduly embellish your accomplishments.
An informational interview is a brief (20–30-minute) meeting that you schedule with a lawyer to learn more about the field in Canada. Your goal should not be to obtain a job or to ask the individual for a job. This allows you to learn about the profession, and meet others working in the law profession with no pressure on either you or the other individual.
An informational interview with a contact from your network can be an excellent source of career information. You also gain the benefit of hearing from their first-hand experiences and personal impressions of practicing law in Canada.
Networking within the Legal Profession
Networking is all about meeting people, building relationships, and sharing information. It’s also a vital activity that will help you to expand your professional network in Canada. By connecting with others, you can learn more about what it’s like to practice law in Canada, get advice or information about a specific law firm, and even discover job leads. Often, many job vacancies are not advertised. This is known as the “hidden job market”. Making connections through networking is a key way to learn about available jobs.
Good places to network include conferences, law associations, and schools. LinkedIn can also be helpful for online networking. With LinkedIn, you can connect with former colleagues and employers, look for jobs and search for employers. You can also get introductions to people in the legal field and join related professional groups.
But remember, that you have to allow time to cultivate and grow the ties you establish through networking. Nothing will happen overnight and you need to be patient.
5. Law Societies and Associations in Canada
The following associations provide information about licensure and certification and offer professional development, education and networking opportunities.
Provincial Law Societies
Newfoundland and Labrador
Prince Edward Island
Professional immigrant networks are volunteer-run member-based associations or networks created by and for immigrant professionals that seek to:
- Create a forum to contribute to and enrich their respective communities
- Provide opportunities for members to find employment and achieve their professional goals.
These groups organize networking events, mentoring, information sessions, and professional development opportunities that can be beneficial for your job search.
Federation of Asian Canadian Lawyers (Ontario Chapter)
For information, tools, free webinars, and more visit our Finding a Job in Canada resource page. Get the help you need to achieve your career goals in Canada!