Scots Law (graduate entry)
Canadian lawyer Curtis Pineiro graduated from our fast-track (graduate entry) LLB in 2011. Here he writes about his experience of the programme, and describes his career path since graduation.
‘There are many different reasons for attending a particular law school. Some put significant weight to the rankings of various magazines or organizations. Other people will decide based on the experiences of their friends, following the trail set down in front of them. For me, I wanted to do something exciting and new (as if law school alone wasn't enough).
I wanted to leave Canada and stretch my wings. I had never lived abroad but had always thought it would be an amazing and life changing event if the opportunity ever arose. When I seriously started to considering leaving my place of employment to return to university in order to pursue a law degree, I suddenly realized that my opportunity was knocking loud and clear to accomplish two life-long goals simultaneously: Get a law degree WHILE living abroad.
For me, attending the University of Glasgow did not require a great deal of consideration. I had been to Europe previously and during my travels had found Glasgow to be a delightful city. I loved the down-to-earth feeling of the city, the friendliness of the Scottish people, and the strangely familiar culture and way of life.
The law school at Glasgow is one of the highest regarded in the United Kingdom and the university itself has an excellent reputation world-wide. There was the allure of attending an ancient university and in this case, one founded before European knowledge of the Americas (1451).
As much as I was interested in living outside of Canada for a period, languages have never been my strongest area of study. Therefore it was very important for me to attend a law school which taught in English and was located in an English speaking country. I did not want to have to learn a new language in addition to learning the law (which can often feel like a new language).
Fast-forward 2 years and I had graduated with a degree in Scots Law (with merit). I won't bore you with all the details but suffice it to say that I couldn't be happier with my decision to attend Glasgow.
As I know you are a prospective student I will get down to brass tacks: How do you practice law in Canada with a degree from the University of Glasgow in Scots Law?
You have three options:
- Attend a Canadian university after graduating from Glasgow;
- Self-study and write challenge exams (this is the path I chose to take); or
- A combination of the two.
All three of the above options begin with an assessment by the National Committee on Accreditation (NCA). In order for a person with a foreign law degree to practice law in a Canadian province (excluding Quebec) the first step is to have the person's qualifications must be vetted by the NCA. I applied for NCA assessment the day after my final exam.
Once your assessment is done the NCA will write to you outlining the "areas of competency" which you must demonstrate proficiency in. The NCA may require as little as 4 subject areas and as many as 15. I was required to demonstrate proficiency in 9 areas of study (more than 4 because Scotland is a hybrid jurisdiction, but I graduated with decent marks so that helped mitigate). This is where the 3 options listed above come in. You can choose to write challenge exams, attend a Canadian law school and take the requisite courses, or do a combination of the two. If you choose to attend a Canadian law school I would suggest that you apply in January of your graduating year. In Ontario for instance OLSAS applications are due at the OUAC on May 1st. The last thing you want to do is have to write personal statements while you are preparing for your final exams.
Writing challenge exams is not easy, but it is by no means impossible either. It required discipline to study on my own without any assignment deadlines or friends and colleagues to converse with. I also found it a little isolating at times but I was able to complete all 9 exams successfully within a year of graduating from Glasgow with zero re-sits. At $350 each, the challenge exam route was by far the cheapest way to meet my NCA requirements. There are also some exam preparation courses that you can take that are quite helpful (one at the University of Toronto and one at Osgoode Hall). Since Canadian law schools require 3 years to complete I told myself that my year of self-study was essentially my third year of law school.
I was lucky and started my articles (the 10 month traineeship) immediately after completing my last NCA exam. I have heard from other law grads, Canadian, American and European, that it is quite difficult to find articling positions at all, no matter where you are. Canadian law graduates and international law graduates are both finding it difficult to acquire articling positions in Canada in general, and Ontario in particular. So much so that the Law Society of Upper Canada has created a 3-year pilot project to try to address the backlog of graduates that have not found articling positions. I do not think that a foreign law degree puts you at a disadvantage in acquiring articles. In fact some employers might view it as an asset, assuming that a foreign law graduate might be more worldly and mature than an equivalent Canadian law grad.
So in short, I enjoyed my time at Glasgow. I learned a great deal, met some new friends that I will likely have for the rest of my life, and I enjoyed the adventures of living abroad and experiencing a new culture. The path of returning to Canada to become a lawyer is there, just a bit less travelled than the traditional stay-at-home method. I highly recommend studying law at Glasgow. I am certainly glad that I did and my life is better for it in so many ways.
In an effort to try to bring this information together into a single resource I created a website chronicling my experiences after Glasgow in pursuit of becoming a lawyer. NCAtips.ca is my blog and I've tried to post helpful advice there so feel free to check it out. There are a number of resources listed there that can help you on your journey to the Bar. Check it out.
I wish you all the best in making your decision. Make the decision that feels best for you, everything else will follow.’