Interested in becoming a lawyer? Working in law is one of the most prestigious and lucrative job sectors in Canada. That said, becoming a lawyer is no walk in the park. It requires completing an undergraduate degree, going to law school, earning a law degree, and passing a rigorous bar exam. To give you an idea of how to become a lawyer in Canada, keep reading.
What is a lawyer?
Let’s start by explaining what exactly a lawyer is because there is a lot more to it than what you see on television. A lawyer is a legal professional who helps navigate their clients through the Canadian judicial system. Some of the most common responsibilities of a lawyer include representing their clients in court, drafting complex legal documents, and acting as advisors in legal disputes. Lawyers most commonly work at law firms. However, they may also be employed by individual corporations, the government, education institutions, or prosecutor’s offices. Of course, lawyers can also open their own firms or practices and be self-employed. It is also worth noting that there are several types of law careers out there. For instance, some professionals choose to work in corporate law while others may pick a career in environmental law, criminal law, or family law. Generally speaking, lawyers work in a fast-paced, demanding, and challenging industry, with many working over 50 hours a week.
What do lawyers do?
As mentioned above, lawyers have a wide variety of responsibilities, so you should be prepared to wear many hats if you choose a career in law. For example, some of the duties that a lawyer may carry out in a day include drafting a legal document or agreement, combing through legal contracts, representing a client in court, offering legal advice to a client, and negotiating on behalf of a client. Other responsibilities you may have will vary depending on the type of law you choose to pursue. For instance, where family lawyers may frequently have to deal with legal issues surrounding child custody and divorce, immigration lawyers may handle visas, permanent residency applications, and refugee applications on a daily basis.
A step-by-step guide on how to become a lawyer in Canada
Ready to learn what it takes to become a lawyer in Canada? It all starts with a high school diploma. Keep reading for a step-by-step guide to becoming a lawyer in Canada.
Get a high school diploma
Canada is known for offering high-quality education, and that begins with a high school diploma. As with many professions, in order to become a lawyer in Canada, you must first earn a high school diploma. Your diploma will allow you to continue on your educational journey, which is a requirement if you want to practice law anywhere in Canada.
Earn an undergraduate degree
The next step to becoming a lawyer in Canada is to complete an undergraduate program at a university in Canada. Typically, your program must be at least three years in length. However, certain universities, such as McGill University and the University of Saskatchewan, will allow you to apply to their law programs with only two years of undergraduate school. In order to get into law school (the next step in your educational journey after your undergraduate degree) and eventually become a lawyer, you can specialize in whatever department or faculty you want during your undergrad. For example, you can choose to major in math, biology, religion, or history. However, some of the most common undergraduate programs that future lawyers enrol in are political science, sociology, philosophy, and English. When applying to an undergraduate program, be sure to carefully review Canadian university application requirements so that you don’t waste your time applying to a university that you are not qualified to get into.
Take the Law School Admission Test (LSAT)
Step number three is to take the Law School Admission Test, most commonly referred to as the LSAT. The LSAT is an exam that all prospective law students are required to take. This is the test that will determine your eligibility for law school, which is yet another requirement if you want to become a lawyer in Canada. Every Canadian law school will look at your LSAT score, alongside the rest of your application, when deciding whether to admit you or not. Further, the LSAT can be used as an indicator of how well a student will perform in their first year at a Canadian law school.
The LSAT as it stands consists of two components: multiple choice questions (which consist of four 35-minute sections) and a writing sample. The multiple choice and writing sample sections of the LSAT are taken separately. The LSAT should be taken before you apply to law schools. For this reason, most law students choose to take it sometime during the summer of their second to last year of undergraduate school (for most students, this means the summer after their third year of undergrad). While the LSAT might seem daunting, there are many resources out there to help you prepare for it, including timed practice exams. Encouraging learning behaviours and habits like studying for tests by taking practice exams is important. It is also worth noting that the LSAT can be retaken up to three times per year, five times over the course of five years, and a total of seven times in a student’s lifetime. Thus, if your initial score is not what you hoped, you can always opt to re-take it. LSAT scores range between 120 and 180, and most law schools in Canada will let potential applicants know the average LSAT score of the students who are offered enrollment.
Attend and graduate from law school
After completing the LSAT and applying to law schools in Canada, the next step is to attend and graduate from a law school. Each Canadian law school has its own unique admission requirements, though most will include the completion of an undergraduate program, no less than a certain GPA, your LSAT score, a personal statement, two reference letters, and an interview. In Canada, students are given the option of enrolling in a Bachelor of Law or a Juris Doctor program, both of which take three years to complete. If you intend to work in Canada after completing your law degree, either degree will do. Neither will make a difference when you are applying for jobs domestically. However, if you plan to pursue a career in the United States or in another country, a Juris Doctor degree is viewed as more prestigious.
Complete your articling
The next step to becoming a lawyer in Canada is to complete your articling. Think of articling like an internship for lawyers. Articling typically lasts between nine and 12 months and allows lawyers to gain vital experience in their industry. It is a form of training where a prospective lawyer is working under the supervision of a senior lawyer. Most of the time, students choose to articles right after graduating from law school and they are required to find their own articling position at a law firm or other employer. It is worth noting that in Ontario, students can also opt to complete the Law Practice Program, which is an alternative to articling.
Write the bar exam
After graduating from law school, you will also need to write a bar exam. Each province has its own unique bar exam, and it is required by the law society in your province that you pass it in order to become a lawyer. As with the LSAT, you will have several resources at your disposal when studying for the bar exam, including practice tests.
Apply to the regulatory authority in your province
The following step after you have passed the bar admissions exam and completed your articling is to apply to the regulatory authority in your province. This process is also known as applying to be called to the bar. In order to practice law in Canada, you must first be called to the bar. After your application is approved, which it generally will be assuming you’ve met all of the necessary requirements, you will need to attend a bar call ceremony and then apply to the law society in your province. Bar call ceremonies vary from province to province, but you can expect to receive a certificate of qualification, perform an oath, or have your journey to officially becoming a lawyer recognized in some other way. These ceremonies are usually held in person, although since the pandemic, some have been held virtually.
Congratulations – it’s time to begin practicing law!
Congratulations – if you’ve made it this far, then you’re officially a lawyer! Now is the time to start practicing law. If you don’t already have a full-time job after articling, you can start applying to law firms in your area of interest, whether that be business law, family law, environmental law, criminal law, etc. Please note that once you are officially recognized as a lawyer in your province, you will need to pay your annual dues, as well as complete compulsory Continuing Professional Development (CPD) courses each year.
It is worth noting that the process of how to become a lawyer in Canada varies based on the province that you reside in. The above is a general guide to becoming a lawyer in Canada. However, depending on where you live and intend to work in Canada, the process and requirements may be a little bit different. Be sure to research the unique requirements for becoming a lawyer in your jurisdiction before embarking on this journey.
Becoming a lawyer vs. a paralegal in Canada
Before we end this article on how to become a lawyer in Canada, let’s take a quick moment to consider the differences between paralegals and lawyers. Although many people confuse the two occupations, they are distinct professions with very different educational and examination requirements.
The biggest difference between lawyers and paralegals is that the former are licensed to practice law and represent clients whereas the former are not. Rather, paralegals typically support lawyers in carrying out their responsibilities. Thus, the duties of a paralegal may include conducting legal research, preparing documents, interviewing clients, communicating with clients, and other administrative office work. In contrast, lawyers represent clients in court, negotiate on a client’s behalf, and are licensed to offer legal advice to clients, though it’s worth noting that they may also carry out some of the same tasks as paralegals, like preparing legal documents and client communication.
Given that lawyers have more responsibilities than paralegals, there are more educational requirements to become a lawyer and lawyers usually receive better compensation. For example, to become a paralegal in Canada, a person may only need to complete an undergraduate degree or even a college diploma in a paralegal program. In Ontario, aspiring paralegals must also complete and pass an examination. Meanwhile, as you now know, aspiring lawyers are required to complete not only an undergraduate degree but also pass the LSAT, earn a law degree, pass a bar exam, and article for a period of nine to 12 months.
As for opportunities for advancing one’s career as a lawyer vs. a paralegal, the next step for a paralegal (if they wish to take it) is to become a lawyer. While many people are fulfilled working as a full-time paralegal throughout their careers, the most obvious next step for those who want to advance their careers in the field of law is to become a lawyer. Thankfully, working as a paralegal gives a person great insight into what it takes to become a lawyer and be successful as one in the workplace. This makes for an easier transition. That said, paralegals will still need to complete a law degree, pass the bar exam, and article if they wish to become a lawyer. Meanwhile, there are two main ways that lawyers advance their careers. The first is to work their way up the ladder to become a senior lawyer or perhaps even a partner at their law firm. The second is to become a judge. To become a judge in Canada, you must practice law for a minimum of five years (or ten years if you want to become a Supreme Court judge or superior provincial court judge).
Overall, if you are interested in working in the field of law but do not wish to become a lawyer, whether because you don’t feel you are suited to the role or do not want to go through the lengthy schooling process, becoming a paralegal might be a great option. People in both occupations tend to work closely together and share many of the same responsibilities, though lawyers typically earn more money due to their ability to represent clients.
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