Navigating the accreditation process to practice law in Canada can be overwhelming. Thus, the motivation behind this article is to provide guidance to prospective candidates from the perspective of a lawyer who has been through the process themselves.
After I was finished my undergraduate studies at the University of Alberta, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to study law in the United Kingdom. I enrolled in the “LLB for Graduates” programme at the University of Birmingham in Birmingham, England. As I had earned an Bachelor of Arts degree previously, I was permitted to enroll in the accelerated programme to earn a Bachelor of Laws (also known as “LL.B”) degree in two years.
When I completed my studies in July 2015, I immediately applied to the National Committee on Accreditation (“NCA”) to have my legal education assessed. I initiated the assessment process online via the NCA website by completing the Assessment Form and submitting the required payment for the assessment fee.
After approximately six weeks of processing time, the NCA advised that I was required to take seven courses to complete the accreditation process:
1. Foundations of Canadian Law;
2. Canadian Constitutional Law;
3. Canadian Administrative Law;
4. Canadian Criminal Law;
5. Canadian Professional Responsibility;
6. Business Organizations; and
7. Family Law.
The first five exams listed above are the core “common law” subject areas that are generally assigned to all NCA applicants. Although Business Organizations was assigned specifically, the Family law course was an elective I chose from a list of different options.
As my Bachelor of Laws programme was two years (as opposed to three years in length), I was required to take seven NCA exams. My understanding from speaking with friends and colleagues is that, if an applicant studied law for three years and earned a Bachelor of Laws or Juris Doctor degree from outside of Canada, the NCA would have likely assigned at minimum five exams (comprised of the core common law courses).
In August 2015, I registered in the Foundations of Canadian Law, Family Law and Professional Responsibility exams, which took place in October 2015. Once I was done the October exams, I waited approximately 2.5 months until I received the results and could enroll in the next batch of exams. In January 2016, I completed the Canadian Constitutional Law, Canadian Administrative Law, Canadian Criminal Law and Business Organizations exams. Once the January exams were completed, I received the results in March 2016.
After all my NCA exams were complete, I applied for my Certificate of Qualification – which was issued on April 6, 2016.
As my accreditation process was complete in 2016, the NCA has since updated their exam structure – the exams are scheduled during all months of the year and can be completed anywhere in Canada (through an online system). The online format and the increase in exam dates is a welcome change to provide more flexibility for NCA candidates.
Although my personal NCA journey lasted from July 2015 – April 2016, depending on the courses the NCA assigns to a candidate, that candidate’s journey may look different. I was determined to complete the NCA process as soon as possible – but I took multiple exams at each stage to complete this goal. Depending on a candidate’s life circumstances, they may have to take a different route to complete the NCA process.
Process to become qualified to practice common law in Canada:
1. Apply to the NCA:
After completing a law degree, the next step of the process is to apply to the NCA. When reviewing your file, the NCA examines your education and professional background.
The assessment process is set out online on the NCA website: https://nca.legal
To have your file assessed, the NCA requires submission of an Assessment Application along with a payment of $450.00 + GST.
2. Application assessment by the NCA:
To determine what further requirements must be completed before accreditation, the NCA measures an applicant’s legal education and experience against the National Requirement:
An applicant for entry to a bar admission program (“the applicant”) must satisfy the competency requirements by either;
a. successful completion of an LL.B. or J.D. degree that has been accepted by the Federation of Law Societies of Canada (“the Federation”); or
b. possessing a Certificate of Qualification from the Federation’s National Committee on Accreditation.
An NCA applicant will be assessed in comparison to someone who holds a LL.B or J.D degree that is deemed acceptable under the NCA’s standards. Further information about the National Requirement can be found on the NCA webpage.
3. Completion of NCA requirements and Certification:
Following the assessment of an applicant’s education and professional experience, the NCA will assign exams and advise the applicant to do one of the following: self-study and pass the required exams through the NCA, take an LL.M or JD program or attend individual courses at a law school in Canada. In each case, the NCA has sole discretion to determine if some of the courses completed can satisfy requirements to proceed in the NCA assessment process. After the successful completion of the required exams and/or courses, the applicant may apply for a Certificate of Qualification.
4. After the Certificate of Qualification is issued, the applicant may enter the bar admission process as per the requirements set out by the local law societies in common law provinces and territories. This step will usually consist of writing the bar examinations and completing the articles or the Law Practice Program. Because this step varies from province to province, the experience of each applicant will likely vary as well.
Process to become accredited to practice civil law in Canada:
If an internationally trained lawyer/law graduate intends to practice civil law in Canada by becoming a member of the Barreau du Quebec or the Chambre des notaires du Quebec, the NCA does not govern the accreditation process.
Both institutions have their own specific evaluation process for assessment of internationally trained civil lawyers and civil law graduates.
All applicants are advised to contact the law society in their province prior to commencing the NCA process to receive the most current and full information about the re-qualification requirements.
Editor’s Note: The information provided in this blog post is of a general nature and is intended for informational purposes only. It is not intended as legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Before making any decisions or taking any action based on the information provided in this post, we recommend that you seek confirmation from the various licensing authorities. We do not assume any liability for any errors or omissions in the content.