Updated: May 22, 2019
Recap of Instagram Live Session with Wuraola Dasylva
Meet Wuraola Dasylva, a lawyer licensed to practice in Nigeria and Canada. She is currently an Associate at Miller Thomson LLP, Canada. She obtained a law degree from the University of Ibadan in 2013 where she was also the Vice-President of the Students’ Union. Wuraola was called to the Nigerian Bar in 2014, after which she obtained her LLM from the University of Manitoba on a fully funded scholarship. Prior to that, she worked at Banwo and Ighodalo, a law firm in Lagos, Nigeria. During our law series, Wuraola shared a few useful tips for anyone seeking to study law and practice as a lawyer in Canada.
Here are some of Wuraola's tips to help you through the graduate school application process
Write an interesting research proposal that has appeal
Wuraola emphasized that in order to increase your chances of getting funding, it is wise to submit a proposal that is appealing to the admissions committee and your proposed supervisor. For example, as much as possible, your research proposal should align with the research interests of your proposed supervisor, in order to make them willing to supervise you. It is also very important to get familiar with your proposed supervisor's publications. Where relevant, you may even cite your proposed supervisor's publications in your research proposal or introductory email. In addition, where you are required to submit a written sample, ensure that it is well researched and of good quality.
Reach out to supervisors
Before submitting your application, you may reach out to proposed supervisors and introduce yourself (except the school website expressly states that you should not contact proposed supervisors). You should also specifically state why you are interested in working with them. When doing this, it is important that you are not generic in your approach. You need to make the supervisor feel like they are one of the few people in academia who can supervise the dissertation you intend to write.
Explore all options of funding available
Wuraola noted that although she did not have to submit a separate funding application, this is not the case for everyone. She suggested that applicants search for funding not just at the school level but also at the departmental and provincial levels. She also mentioned a few universities in Canada that provide scholarships and funding opportunities for international students:
University of Western Ontario
University of Victoria
University of British Columbia
University of Saskatchewan
University of Columbia, Alberta
Deciding on the right LLM program
Wuraola stressed the importance of having an end-goal in mind before embarking on a graduate degree. She noted that is advisable for students planning to study in Canada to choose a program that is more than one year, so they can qualify for a three year work permit upon graduation. As an aside, she mentioned that while pursuing a two-year degree, one is more likely to get accustomed to the culture and nuances of one's location before venturing into the corporate world. Wuraola also advised applicants to think carefully about choosing between a course-based master's program and a thesis-based master’s program, as thesis-based masters programs are more likely to be funded. However, every applicant has the final responsibility to evaluate his/her life goals before deciding on a type of LLM.
We also discussed the process of qualifying and practicing law in Canada. This is an overview:
The Canadian National Committee on Accreditation (NCA) is the accreditation body that reviews credentials of foreign trained lawyers and determines the necessary exams they would be required to write in order to qualify to practice law in Canada.
The first step is to complete an online application. This online application can be completed outside Canada, therefore, applicants can begin the accreditation process before moving to Canada. Applicants would be required to send original copies of credentials (transcript) and a certificate of ‘good standing’ obtained from the Nigerian Supreme Court or from the Nigerian Bar Association.
Applicants are also required to be practicing lawyers from their home jurisdiction before submitting an application i.e. must have been called to the bar. The NCA reviews transcripts and other application documents after they have been received and decides on the number of courses an applicant would be required to take, based on an assessment of the applicant's transcripts, experiences and qualifications. The minimum number of courses an applicant will be required to write is 5. These courses are Foundation of Canadian Law, Canadian Criminal Law, Canadian Constitutional Law, Canadian Administrative Law and Professional Responsibility. These courses provide a basic understanding of Canadian Law. However, remember that an applicant could be required to write more than 5 courses, depending on the result of the assessment conducted by the NCA.
Wuraola also explained that applicants do not necessarily have to be enrolled in school to write these exam, as it is possible to "self-study" and successfully write the required examinations. She also emphasized that although the exams are conducted in an ‘open-book’ format, it is necessary to understand the underlying legal principles and also know how to apply them. After the exam, applicants get a Certificate of Qualification.
To be fully recognized as a lawyer in Canada, the applicant has to complete a 1-year internship (articling) under the tutelage of a principal, after successfully completing the courses assigned by the NCA. During the articling period, the applicant would be referred to as an Articling Student or a Student at Law (note that articling is usually paid). At this stage, one would be eligible to be called to the bar and become qualified to practice in Canada. In certain provinces, you may be allowed to waive the articling process, depending on your work experience. While you may begin the qualifying process before being resident in Canada and can also write the exams outside the country, you must however be in Canada to complete the articling (Internship). It is also possible to enrol for a master’s degree while pursuing the NCA accreditation process.
Wuraola also noted that law students do not need to write TOEFL/IELTS for the NCA or to be eligible for an articling position. However, it may be helpful to take either of the exams and include your scores on your resume to demonstrate English language proficiency to potential employers. Also, if you get an interview, you are advised to speak more about the transferable skills you acquired from the different job positions you have held and not necessarily about the details of the transactions you worked on. By doing this, you will show the employer that you have skills that can be utilized in the organization even though your experiences are from a different country.
In addition, it is very common for international / foreign qualified lawyers to work as paralegal/legal assistant pending when they become accredited.
Finally, we discussed the job market for lawyers in Canada and best practices while applying for a job.
Getting a job as a lawyer can be quite competitive. Adverts for positions are usually coordinated by the College of Law in each province. However, if you are a student, you should have access to your university career portal where job adverts are routinely listed. This may be a good place to search for job openings, as some organisations specifically recruit from certain universities. Wuraola emphasized that networking is also an essential part of searching and applying for jobs. She hammered on how important it is for applicants to be outstanding and proactively build a personal brand. For example, she suggested that job-seekers may consider writing articles, blogposts or co-authoring articles with well-known lawyers, in order to gain visibility in their law society and look attractive to potential employers.
How lucrative is Law in Canada?
https://www.nalp.org/ gives a breakdown of remuneration and benefits at top law firms in Canada. Typically, first year associates at top law firms could earn between CAD 70,000 – 100,000, depending on their location.
Career Paths for lawyers
Apart from working at a law firm, lawyers in Canada may explore management trainee programs, human resources, employment with the government or management consulting.
Wuraola also mentioned some additional job application tips
Get an experienced person to review your resume and application documents
Get comfortable with interview questions by doing as many mock interviews as you can
Network! Network! Network! (repeated for emphasis)
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