Confession time: I didn’t fully understand what is required to be a “lawyer” in Canada until I had already enrolled in law school.
After watching the first few episodes of How to Get Away with Murder, I assumed that I’d just have to yell out famous case names in class and occasionally show up at my professor’s door to help solve a murder.
Unfortunately (or perhaps, fortunately), I soon realized I was wrong.
My goal in this post is to give a BRIEF introduction on the requirements to become a lawyer.
It’s important to understand that each province and territory has a different set of requirements, and that there are exceptions for those who studied outside Canada or want to study inside Quebec. To keep this nice and short, I’ll focus on the basic requirements in Canada.
There are 5 main steps to becoming a lawyer in Canada:
1) Education - The first step in your journey to legal practice is completion of secondary school and at least a few years of study toward a bachelor’s degree. This can be in any topic – Chemistry, English, Music, Business, Theatre, etc. Though you don’t have to complete the bachelor’s degree, most people who apply to law school will complete one, if not more, since this is considered appealing to admission committees.
2) LSAT – Next, you may need to write the Law School Admission Test. This highly feared test is a time-sensitive examination of your logical reasoning, analytical reasoning, and reading comprehension. A student’s score on the LSAT may determine whether or not they are accepted into a law school in Canada; however, not all Canadian universities require that an LSAT score be given in an application.
3) Applications – following education and possibly the LSAT, you may want to send out applications to any of the 19 law schools around Canada. It’s important that you research the admission requirements and expectations for the universities you would like to apply to since they all differ. For example, one may request 3 references and a transcript while another may request an LSAT score and an exceptional personal statement.
4) Pass - Once you’ve been accepted into law school, you must pass the necessary number of courses to complete a law degree i.e. a Juris Doctor. In most Canadian universities, this takes approximately 3 years as a full-time law student.
5) Articling and Bar Admission – Graduating with a Juris Doctor doesn’t lead directly to lawyer status. You must still continue your legal education as an Articling Student for approximately 1 year, depending on the province or territory in which you do your articles and intend to practice. You may also need to write a Bar exam somewhere in that articling year. In New Brunswick, graduates must article with a law firm for 48 weeks after they acquire their degree. The Articling Student must also pass two courses, each spanning a 2-week period, as well as a final exam in January. Some provinces and territories do not have a Bar exam but instead grade articling students through assignments.
If you’re in good standing when you’ve completed and passed the Bar Admission requirements of the province or territory in which you want to practice, you will be called to the Bar and allowed to practice as a lawyer there. To keep that status, you must follow the necessary code of conduct for lawyers in that province or territory, pay the necessary fees, and fulfill the required yearly hours of further legal education.
Remy Rosinski, Student-at-Law
NOTE: This is only a general introduction to legal education and practice. It is important that you research requirements of each university you’re interested in, and each province or territory in which you’d like to practice.