When lawyer Amrit Soar arrived in Canada from Kenya in April 2007, she struggled to find a way to use her legal skills. “I was a partner in a firm back home, training pupils myself,” she says. “And here, I was right at the bottom.”
Soar is not alone. Foreign-trained lawyers have long struggled to meet the requirements to practice law in Canada. They face a variety of obstacles not only culturally, but also procedurally, as they attempt to navigate the Canadian accreditation process.
To Mayo Moran, Dean of the University of Toronto Faculty of Law, it makes no sense to disregard newcomers’ legal training and experience. Lawyers who come to Canada from around the world bring with them talent and cultural connectivity upon which our country depends, she explains. “We invite these people to our country to help them succeed, but also to help our country succeed.”
At long last, however, there is help for foreign-trained lawyers who want to practice in Ontario. Over the summer, the province announced a $4-million dollar investment in a new partnership with the U of T law faculty. Aimed at familiarizing newcomers with both the Canadian legal system and law firm culture, the program will serve 90-100 lawyers each year. It will smooth their way with a continuum of services designed to address their particular needs, such as career specific language training, employment counseling and academic training.
Soar is close to completing a six month internship program at Fraser Milner Casgrain LLP. The first of its kind in Canada, FMC’s program preceded the internationally trained lawyer program and will now supplement the support and training offered through U of T.
“I’ve been given lots of responsibility,” says Soar, now 52. “I’ve worked with a lot of different people in so many departments, and I feel right at home. I feel like I’m right back at my old firm again.” She is now in the process of completing her accreditation requirements for practicing in Canada.
FMC was the first law firm to partner with U of T’s internationally trained lawyer program. Nine other Bay Street firms have also joined as partners, offering to provide internships and mentorship to help more foreign trained lawyers integrate into the Canadian legal system.