Foreign Trained Lawyer Series: The Licensing Process, Part I

You’ve successfully completed the NCA process. Congratulations!

Unfortunately, the bureaucracy doesn’t end there. The following post is going to discuss the licensing process in Ontario only. That is the only process with which I’m familiar because it’s the process that I went through. I will note, though, that once you’re called to the bar in one of the provinces, there is a streamlined process for practicing in other provinces, however, I have not explored that and will not do so here.

The Licensing Process

Lawyers in Canada are self-regulated, meaning that it is the lawyers themselves who govern entry into the profession and the rules by which we all practice. In Ontario, the Law Society of Upper Canada (“LSUC”) is the governing body for lawyers. All lawyers who are admitted to practice in Ontario must go through the licensing process, which includes sitting for the bar exam and articling. This is the same for foreign-trained lawyers, although you may not need to article depending on your practice experience in your home country. As a side note, the number of articling positions has steadily decreased over the last few years and the LSUC introduced the Law Practice Program as an alternative to articling. It is still a pilot project and has only been approved for another 2 years. I’m going to break this down over the next couple of posts because this will otherwise be a bit too daunting to read in one go.

The LSUC’s Expectations for New Lawyers

The purpose of the licensing process, according to the LSUC is:

. . . to ensure that candidates have demonstrated they possess the required entry-level competencies, in order to provide legal services effectively and in the public interest.

Seems straight-forward enough, right? Well, sort of.

Entry Level Competencies

The entry-level barrister and solicitor competencies, as determined by the LSUC, are listed on the website: here and here, respectively. I have also provided the table of contents for each below:

Entry-Level Barrister Competencies

A. Ethical and Professional Responsibilities
Ethics and Professionalism

B. Knowledge of the Law: Ontario and Federal Legislation and Case Law
Jurisdiction and Fundamentals
Limitation Periods
Principles of Statutory Interpretation
Public Law
Criminal Procedure
Family Law
Civil Litigation

C. Establishing and Maintaining the Barrister-Client Relationship
Identifying the Client
Conflicts of Interest
Interviewing Principles
The Retainer
Client Communication

D. Problem/Issue Identification, Analysis, and Assessment
Information Gathering, Case Analysis and Planning
Notice to Affected Parties
Theory of the Case

E. Alternative Dispute Resolution

F. Litigation Process
Disclosure, Production, and Discovery
Motions and Interim Proceedings
Trial or Hearing Preparation
Applications to Court, Judicial Reviews and Prerogative Remedies
Conduct of the Trial or Hearing
Post-Disposition of Matter

G. Practice Management Issues

Entry-Level Solicitor Competencies

A. Ethical and Professional Responsibilities
Ethics and Professionalism

B. Knowledge of the Law: Ontario and Federal Legislation, Case Law, Policy, Procedures and Forms
Knowledge of General Statutes, Common Law, Policy, Procedures and Forms
Real Estate
Wills, Trusts, and Estate Administration and Planning
Business Law

C. Establishing and Maintaining the Solicitor-Client Relationship
Client Identification
Conflicts of Interest
Interviewing Principles
The Retainer
Client Communications

D. Fulfilling the Retainer
Administering the File
Gathering Information and Analyzing the File
Developing the Action Plan
Executing the Action Plan
Completing the Retainer

E. Practice Management Issues

Clearly, there is a HUGE amount of information that new lawyers in Ontario are expected to learn before they unleash themselves upon the world. For foreign-trained lawyers, the NCA process will actually give you some insight into some of this information, or at least prepare you for the type of work that you will need to do to learn and retain this information.

I found (and continue to find) the list of competencies on the LSUC website useful for a number of reasons:

  1. They are a useful shortcut to the Rules of Professional Responsibility and by-laws;
  2. They can help you see, at a high level, what areas you may need to spend more time on; and,
  3. They set out the best practices for legal work.

I have found that there is no written exam that can adequately prepare you for the practice of law. Really, the exam is the gate keeper to make sure that you’ve achieved a minimal level of competence. It is easy to forget, though, that there is a real reason that you are being tested and that the information you’re learning is relevant to more than just the test. That is why I like to look back at the entry-level competencies from time to time to make sure that I’m practicing in a manner that is consistent with the Rules of Professional Responsibility and with best practices for the profession, generally. It’s a habit I would encourage all lawyers, new or old, to take up.

In Part II, I will discuss the licensing application process and the actual exams.

Have More Questions?

If you have technical questions about the licensing process, check out the LSUC’s Lawyer Licensing Process Policies or contact the Law Society directly. I am not connected with the Law Society in any official capacity and am only sharing my experience with the licensing process.


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