Using an English LLB to become a Lawyer in Canada

Discussion in 'General Distance Learning Discussions' started by novemberdude, Oct 16, 2009.

  1. novemberdude

    novemberdude New Member

    I am an English distance learning LLB holder who has recently had his degree evaluated by the National Committee on Accreditation (the necessary step to having a foreign law degree evaluated for equivalence in Canada).

    The news is (from my perspective) not good.

    A little background may be in order.

    Earlier this year the National Committee on Accreditation (NCA) changed their guidelines for evaluating degrees and put distance learning degrees in a separate category. They said that, basically, if you have a distance learning LLB in general you will be required to write 6 challenge exams and complete 8 courses in residence at a Canadian law school in order to practice in Canada. But, they say, each candidate will be evaluated on his/her merits.

    Yeah. Not so much.

    I applied to have my degree evaluated, I waited, waited, and waited some more. Finally I got my evaluation. 6 exams and 8 (upper year) courses.

    Having checked the NCA Facebook group out pretty extensively, as well as postings on other websites (as well as one thread here) it seems that if my degree had been completed in the classroom I would have been allocated 4-6 challenge exams. But due to the modality of my degree I was assessed more harshly. The Law Society of England and Wales has no problem with my degree. The Canadian university that accepted me into a doctoral program has no problem with my degree. But the NCA, in its infinite wisdom, has a problem.

    In relation to the assertion that each candidate being assessed individually, I do not believe this is accurate because:

    1- I had a upper second class honours degree, with my last two years close to a First. Compared to full time students those results would put me in the top 5-10% of the class of full time students (according to the deputy leader of the full time LLB programme, so he'd know).

    2- I have a LLM with very high marks. It appears zero credit was given for that.

    3- I have completed all the classroom requirements (one course) at a Canadian law school towards a doctorate, plus completed 2 semesters of research. Apparently no credit was given for that course or the research component.

    4- I have good work experience, with some law related work, including two semesters as a research assistant to my thesis supervisor. I didn't really expect credit for that, but thought that it might give me nudge in the right direction if I was sitting on the fence for something. Apparently there was no fence, and no nudge.

    What kind of gets me about this is that someone with the exact same degree earned on campus would not have to write an exam in tort but I do. So I could have gone, on campus, to the exact same school, written virtually the same exam (a few lecturers told me that the exams for full time and distance learners are almost identical, they change maybe one question) gotten a lower mark (I got a first class honours mark in tort) and avoided writing the challenge exam. Because apparently tort is only different if you learn it by distance.

    From a practical perspective what this means is that anyone hoping to become a lawyer in Canada through the distance learning/NCA route has a tough road ahead of them. 8 courses on campus means you have to live in a city with a law school, and you probably have to go to class during the day. 8 courses is pretty much full time school for a year. They also give you the list of courses you have to complete, so if a course is full an NCA student will not get a spot, and you lose the opportunity to take courses that are of interest to you. The 6 challenge exams are pretty much the first year law school courses (tort, contract, constitutional, Canadian legal system or something like that, criminal and I forget the last one, maybe property). those courses are (I think) usually 6 credits that cover a lot of ground. So what you're looking at is something in the range of exams and courses equivalent to 40-45 credits, which is a lot of work. Granted, an English LLB grad should have a good basic knowledge of some subjects, but you still have to go through the exam prep and it is undoubtedly a lot of work anyway. And if you're anything like me you have covering stuff twice.

    You do all this and you don't even get a Canadian law degree, you get a certificate of qualification from the NCA, which from what I understand is a hard sell with employers anyway. I should mention that I have 5 years to complete the requirements.

    I guess my final observations look like this: The upside is a reduced coursework requirement in the classroom in Canada, the ability to take courses over a period of time and the possibility of getting an early start to a legal education without leaving work to do it. The downsides are that you will (over the whole deal) do a lot more work and not even end up with a Canadian degree, have more limited employment possibilities, go through extra law school exams (most people seem to agree they take a toll on you, I don't know anyone who really dealt easily with law school exam stress), pay $500 per NCA exam, and generally feel badly about getting screwed by the NCA.

    I could go on, but I suppose I will spare you. Particulary the part in the letter where they say that my degree doesn't cover much of what a Canadian degree covers. Fine, I have no problem with that, but it seems that degrees that were earned through residential attendance in England aren't deemed to have that same deficiency. Go figure.

    Best of luck to all the Canadian Lawyer Hopefuls, and go into this with your eyes open.
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 16, 2009
  2. Kizmet

    Kizmet Moderator Staff Member

    i have some (peripheral) experience with this (not in the field of law) and my experience with this sort of thing is that the laws are generally created to deal with people coming from other countries, immigrating into a country with degrees and "how do we know if these are qualified people..." Distance learning, especially if from another country, can be lumped in with people who are moving in from other lands. once i knew a woman who was a doctor (MD) in the old soviet union. after years of crap she was eventually allowed to work as a nurse. the whole "degree equivalency" thing is very thorny.
  3. sentinel

    sentinel New Member

    It has long been established the NCA has a conflict of interest given its role as gatekeeper and the membership (law schools in Canada) it represents. I have to wonder whether a challenge under the Fair Access to Regulated Professions Act would have any effect on the NCA? Also, see this update from the Ontario Provinical Government.

    The disparity between modality of instruction (classroom versus distance education) is irrational and out of line in light of the traditional manner in which common law lawyers used to be trained prior to the advent of law schools.

    I think I need a drink (rum and Coke) and a smoke (weed). Time to hang out with my buds from the trailer park. Ha! Ha!

    Maybe we need someone to challenge the NCA in Canada in a similar manner to the law suit brought about by a distance education student who studied law in the United States of America? The NCA operates akin to the mafia.
  4. sentinel

    sentinel New Member

    Foreign-trained veterinarians face the same issues and generally must write an examination to prove their educational credentials. These foreign-trained veterinarians often work for years as veterinary technicians while studying for the qualification examination. There is nothing inherently wrong with having to prove one is qualified in a regulated, usually self-regulated it seems, profession but artificial barriers to entry only serve the interests of the few. Admittedly, the educational standards in some countries are highly suspect; I will refrain from mentioning specific countries, however, those working in STEM careers are familiar with the issue.
  5. japhy4529

    japhy4529 House Bassist

    Wow, that is unfortunate. Perhaps she should have pursued a non-clinical career with a pharmaceutical or biotech company. She could have still used her MD degree, without the need for a license. SOME pharma companies require their HCP's to have a license, but not all. Often, it depends upon the position.

    Anyway, it sounds like this occurred a while back.
  6. Albatross

    Albatross New Member

    I just came across the Osgoode Hall Law School website:
    Apparently, you can do the LLM with them with your credentials, eventhough the degree for you will be a repeat. I simply think it's worth repeating the LLM than part of the LLB as you can always write your thesis on a different legal subject matter.

    I wonder if an LLM issued by Osgoode Hall will be denied by the NCA given the LLB being issued by UoL. Canada is every bit English, yet they would deny or downgrade a law degree issued by a well-established English University. I think the NCA needs an overhaul. I am currently enroled in the LLB program with UoL, so I figure I will be in the same boat as you, though you are already miles ahead of me...
  7. novemberdude

    novemberdude New Member

    I have thought about the Osgoode LLM in the past. It is a program that I like a lot, they have a lot of interesting courses and I like the mix of weekend classes and distance learning. I would also be very interested in getting a second LLM because it would give me an opportunity to study some areas that I have not really touched before. Also Osgoode is a pretty decent name to get on the resume.

    Having said that I am not really at this stage interested in doing the program. First of all there is the cost (about C$17,000 if I remember correctly), which is not grossly expensive considering the product but is more than I'm willing to pay to get a second LLM that is not 100% delivered on site. More to the point the degree would do nothing for me in terms of qualifying in Canada, the NCA is pretty clear about the fact that since I have a distance leanring LLB I go into the distance learning pile and that is that. If I could satisfy the coursework requirements of the NCA by doing the Osgoode LLM I'd go for it in a heartbeat. I'd even be willing to do a full time LLM in residence if that's what it took. However, the NCA is not willing to allow that, they have listed certain specific courses that I would have to take at a Canadian law school in order to meet their requirements, and none of those courses will be credited towards a LLM. I'm not really keen to take 8 upper level courses at a Canadian law school at this point without getting something out of it.

    As for you, you may be in luck. The UoL transcript that I recently saw did not specify distance learning on it, if the NCA is not aware that your degree is by distance learning you may be assessed on the same basis as non distance learning English grads, which would normally be 5-6 challenge exams. I should remind you at this point that my LLB is from Northumbria, which was a great learning experience (far superior to my year at London) but they specify distance learning on the transcript which is where my troubles started.
  8. sentinel

    sentinel New Member

    From my recent communication with the NCA,

    "If an applicant to the NCA has only completed the distance education law degree, they will be assigned examinations and courses as described above. If they have also completed an in-class LL.M. or in-class bar school that includes substantive law, the distance education policy may not apply."

    Therefore, you can avoid the 8 on-campus courses at a law school in Canada if you earn an in-class / on-campus LL.M. You still need to write the 6 challenge examinations, but as the NCA says the distance education policy may not apply.
  9. novemberdude

    novemberdude New Member

    Now that is interesting! I have asked this very question of the NCA and they did not reply to me. The issue may be what they define as substantive law, I have looked at doing a LLM at Ottawa and taking subjects such as international environmental law, water law, international criminal law and the like. I'm not sure if the NCA would feel that those are "substantive" courses or not, and also whether the substantive courses need to be focused on Canadian law.

    I'm still irritated that I got absolutely no credit for my LLM and partially (in class) completed doctorate.

    Thanks a lot for the info!
  10. Albatross

    Albatross New Member

    Guys, All these are very positive news for newbies to the LLB program like myself. Logically, I would have to believe that an LLM (taken in Canada) would override an LLB (taken anywhere). I sent an email to Osgoode Hall to clarify whether an LLB from UoL distance learning would render me eligible for the LLM program. Here's their response:

    Thank you for expressing interest in our program. Please visit our newwebsite for more details.

    There you will find complete information about our application process,courses offered and their components and many more helpful tips about theprogram. Please don't hesitate to contact me with any further inquiries you mayhave.
  11. sentinel

    sentinel New Member

    Of particular interest to foreign-earned law degree (LL.B.) holders is this statement from the Osgoode Hall Law School web site, "...LLM program is designed to give law graduates from around the world the knowledge and skills you need to flourish in the world’s top legal and business environments."

    Below are the admission requirements for the part-time LL.M. degree. I presume, as a Canadian citizen, the origin of the LL.B. does not matter and that we would not be classified as international students for purposes of admission.

    To be considered for admission, you must meet the following minimum requirements:

    • An LLB degree with an overall B average (or equivalent) or relevant experience (typically five years) plus an LLB degree with an overall B- or C+ average.

      A limited number of places are available for candidates with a university degree who have superior academic records and experience but who do not have an academic degree in law.

    • Proof of language proficiency for applicants who do not meet one of the following criteria:

      • their first language is English; OR

      • they have completed at least two years of full-time study at an accredited university in a country (or institution) where English is the only official language of instruction.
  12. ebbwvale

    ebbwvale Member

    It sounds like restraint of trade to me.What is the position if you were admitted to practice in the UK as a Solicitor or Barrister? The position in Australia is that they may require extra courses, particularly in constitutional law. Nothing to the extent you are mentioning for lawyers anyway.

    We have a problem here with certain medical specialists. The medical profession creates significant barriers for entry for very well qualified doctors. If there is a shortage, then obviously the financial reward is higher. Governments don't want to take them on as they are politically powerful.
  13. sentinel

    sentinel New Member

    Legal experience is one factor, among many, the NCA claims to take into account. Therefore, presumably, as a UK solicitor or barrister admitted to the practice of law a NCA candidate would likely only be required to complete a certain number, maybe none, of NCA challenge examinations. I do not think people object to writing a few (4-5) challenge examinations but the new requirement, for distance education law school graduates, of 8 one-semester undergraduate law school courses imposes an unfair hardship upon foreign-earned law school graduates, especially those from the country where English Common Law originated.

    The provincial government of Ontario passed the Fair Access to Regulated Professions Act, however, the arbitrary discrimination of the NCA continues. That is not to say potential employers at law firms are any more open-minded than the NCA because articling positions are particularly difficult to obtain these days even for graduates of law schools in Canada.
  14. novemberdude

    novemberdude New Member

    An update on the value of a LLM:

    The NCA has confirmed that a LLM earned on campus will satisfy the requirement for residential education.

    This is not to say that doing the LLM means that instead of 6 exams plus 8 courses that the evaluation will change to only 6 exams. The NCA will still examine the file and consider the competencies they require and how well the applicant's educational (and presumably professional) experience satisfies these competencies. Exams will then be assigned accordingly.
  15. novemberdude

    novemberdude New Member

    Update on Canadian distance learning education

    Not that it necessarily helps distance learning law graduates, but University of British Colombia (UBC) now offers several LLM level classes via distance learning that are specifically designed for candidates wishing to satisfy NCA requirements.

    Allard School of Law | Distance Learning Program

    At 5 credits each and an approx cost of $4000 per class this is not that cheap an option.

    The good:

    I am assuming these courses will give equivalency to the corresponding NCA examinations.

    The bad:

    Not all exams are available.
    The cost
    Will not replace the residential requirement of a distance learning LLB holder

    The Ugly:

    Does not lead to a degree. UBC does offer a Master of Laws in Common Law and you can take these courses as part of that program but at this stage not all courses are available online, nor is there any real suggestion that they are heading this way.

    Anyway, I think this is a great step in the right direction.

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