How to Become a Lawyer in Canada
Can you picture yourself standing in a courtroom making a case to a jury? Discover what it takes to become a lawyer and if it's the career for you.
Are you a meticulous, organized person? Do you want to make a difference in people’s lives? Can you see yourself standing in a courtroom, building a case for your client, and using legal jargon like “objection, speculation?” Maybe a career as a lawyer is perfect for you! But, before you make this leap, find out what a lawyer does, what it takes to become a lawyer in Canada, and what your career as a lawyer could look like:
What is a lawyer?
A lawyer is a legal professional who guides their clients through the judicial system. Lawyers can draft legal documents, act as advisors in legal disputes, and represent their clients in court. Lawyers typically work in law firms, prosecutor’s offices, corporations, the government, academia, and can be self-employed.
This is a fast-paced, demanding career, where it’s common to work more than 40 hours per week. On average, lawyers will work 50 hours a week, but it can vary depending on how large the law firm is. Many law firms have a minimum number of billable hours that their lawyers must achieve each week. This means that on top of working on their clients’ cases, lawyers must also perform other nonbillable activities, like research, preparing documents, and communicating with different departments and clients, making it difficult to get this all done within a 40-hour workweek. Lawyers are expected to always dress in professional business attire and can often travel for their work.
What does a lawyer do?
Lawyers can specialize in many different fields of law, each with varying responsibilities. But some common duties of a lawyer are drafting legal agreements, evaluating contracts, negotiating on behalf of a client, providing legal advice, and representing a client in court.
As a lawyer, you can specialize in different types of law and practice in a field that interests you. Check out some of the different fields in law you could pursue:
- Corporate — corporate law helps clients conduct their business within the guidelines of the law
- Criminal — criminal law defends a person’s basic rights. You can be a criminal defense lawyer — represents a client accused of a crime — or you could be a prosecutor — presents the case in a criminal trial against the person accused of the crime with the goal to charge the individual
- Environmental — environmental law is designed to protect the natural environment with laws and regulations around topics like pest control products, water pollution prevention, fisheries, etc.
- Family — family lawyers mediate legal problems between family members. This can include divorce, child custody, and adoption
- Immigration — immigration lawyers help clients with regulations surrounding working holiday visas, residency applications, citizenship applications, work visas, and more
- Intellectual property — intellectual property lawyers help individuals and companies who feel as though someone has used their creations without consent and advise on copyrights
How to become a lawyer in five steps:
Becoming a lawyer is no easy feat. This career requires a lot of commitment. Discover the five steps it takes to become a lawyer in Canada:
Step one: Undergraduate education
The first step to becoming a lawyer in Canada is completing at least three years of an undergraduate degree. Some schools, like McGill University and the University of Saskatchewan, will let you apply after completing two full years of your undergrad. However, completing a full four-year undergraduate degree will give you an advantage over other law school applicants.
It doesn’t matter what you take in your undergrad; any major can lead to a law degree. English, Political Science, Philosophy, Communication Studies, and Sociology are common undergrad degrees for students applying to law schools. These programs can help you develop essential skills like writing, communication, critical thinking, and research. An undergraduate degree in legal studies is a great way to get a head start in understanding the legal system in Canada.
Step two: Take the LSAT
All students who want to attend law school in Canada must take the Law School Admission Test (LSAT). Law schools will look at a student’s LSAT score as well as their application to determine if they’re a good law student candidate. The LSAT is meant to predict how well a student will do in their first year of law school.
The LSAT consists of two parts: multiple choice questions and a writing sample. There are several 35-minute sections of multiple-choice questions. The multiple-choice portion includes four sections in total — only three of which will be scored. You’ll be scored on the reading comprehension, analytical reasoning, and logical reasoning sections. The fourth section can be any one of the previous question types. The unscored section is simply used to validate new test questions for future use. The writing sample portion of the LSAT is taken separately. You’ll be given a decision problem where you must choose between two positions or actions and defend your problem. The writing portion of the LSAT is meant to demonstrate your persuasive writing skills to law schools.
You should write the LSAT before you apply to law school. It’s recommended that you write the LSAT during the summer of your third year of your undergrad if you intend to apply in the fall for the following year. You can (and should!) practice for the LSAT with multiple timed simulation exams.
If your LSAT score isn’t up to snuff, then you can retake the exam up to three times in one year, five times in the past five years, and a total of seven times in your lifetime. Your LSAT score can range from 120-180. Most schools don't require that you earn a minimum LSAT score, but some may tell you the average score of their successful applicants. For example, the most recent entering class of law students at the University of Toronto had an average LSAT score of 167.
Step three: Law school
After completing your undergrad and taking the LSAT, you’ll want to apply to law schools in Canada. Each law school has different application requirements, but the most common prerequisites you’ll see are:
- An undergrad degree
- a great GPA
- LSAT score
- Two reference letters — at least one is an academic reference
- Personal statement
In Canada, you’ll have the option of pursuing either a Bachelor of Law (LLB) or a Juris Doctor (JD) degree, both of which take three years to complete. There’s no difference between an LLB and a JD in Canada, but there is in the US and abroad. If you plan on pursuing a career as a lawyer outside of Canada, a JD degree is viewed more highly.
Step four: Complete your province’s bar admissions course, examinations, and articling
Once you’ve got your LLB or JD degree, you’ll need to complete a few more requirements before you can become a practicing lawyer. These requirements will depend on the province you want to practice in, but typically you’ll complete a bar admissions course and exam, which differs in each province, followed by a period of articling.
Articling is like an internship to help you gain essential experience. Depending on the province, you’ll need to article anywhere from nine to 12 months, and you’re responsible for finding your own placement(s) yourself or through your province’s job board.
Step five: Apply to your regulatory authority
Once you’ve completed your bar admissions course, period of articling, and passed the bar examination, you can then apply to be called to the bar. You’ll need to attend the bar call ceremony and apply to the law society of your province before you can begin practicing law. Call ceremonies are different across the provinces, but you can expect to be presented with a certificate of qualification, perform an oath, or have your path to becoming a lawyer recognized in some way.
What’s the difference between a paralegal and a lawyer?
If you’ve been exploring a career in the judicial system, then you’ve probably come across paralegals. Lawyers and paralegals work closely together, but they are very different careers:
| ||Paralegal ||Lawyer
|Education and training ||Paralegals in Canada require a bachelor’s degree or college diploma in a paralegal program and practical experience. In some provinces, like Ontario, paralegals require a license to practice which includes completing an examination. ||Lawyers in Canada require a bachelor’s degree, JD or LLB degree, completion of a province’s bar admissions course, bar exam, and articling requirements, then applying for membership in your province’s law society.
|Job responsibilities ||In most provinces, paralegals don’t have the licensing and training to work as lawyers, so they’ll work under the supervision of lawyers. However, some provinces like Ontario allow paralegals to perform legal duties independently. Paralegals will often conduct legal research, organize and prepare documents for lawyers, interview clients for lawyers, and perform general office duties.
||On top of preparing legal documents and other similar duties to a paralegal, Lawyers can also provide legal advice and represent clients in court.
|Career advancement ||Working as a paralegal is a great way to dip your toes in the legal world. Paralegals work closely with lawyers, which allows them to get a better look at the career to see if becoming a lawyer is their next step. If a paralegal wants to become a lawyer, they’ll have to go to law school and complete the other requirements to practice law.
||The next step up from a lawyer is a judge. To become a judge in Canada, you’ll need to practice law for at least five years, but if you want to work in a superior provincial court or Supreme Court, you’ll need at least 10 years of experience as a lawyer. Once you’ve got the experience, you can apply to the Commissioner for Federal Judicial Affairs Canada to become a judge.
Lawyers in Canada work long, grueling hours, but are well compensated for it. On average, lawyers can make $116,000, but if you want to get a better idea of how much lawyers make in Canada, check out the low, average, and high salary expectations of a lawyer. Your salary will increase with the experience you gain, where you choose to work, and what kind of law you wish to specialize in. Your average starting salary as an entry-level lawyer would be $60,000.
Be sure to explore the Canadian Government’s Job Bank for openings as a lawyer to get a better idea of what provinces may have more opportunities. You’ll see many positions are for associate lawyers, but what is an associate lawyer? An associate lawyer is a lawyer in a law firm that doesn’t have ownership in the company as a partner.
So, if you’re someone who is hard-working, determined, good at communication, enjoy helping people, and isn’t afraid of working long hours, then a career as a lawyer in Canada may be great option for you!
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