Toronto Star
July 02, 2009

Nicholas Keung

A baby girl. Five challenge exams. And four intensive courses on Canadian law at the University of Toronto.

Nuha Abunada, a new mother, has overcome all these tests. Now, what stands between the immigrant from Gaza and her legal practice in Canada is a 10-month articling opportunity that has proved maddeningly elusive – as it has to many other foreign-trained lawyers.

“I was surprised and frustrated to have to do everything over,” said Abunada, 31, who came to Canada in May 2007 with two law degrees and five years of legal practice. She has spent more than $15,000 to finish all the exams and training.

Although it is not known how many foreign-trained lawyers immigrate to Canada each year, the number who ask the Federation of Law Societies of Canada to assess their credentials has doubled over the past decade – to 532 in 2007, the most recent statistic available.

Less than 40 per cent of the 3,206 foreign-trained lawyers assessed in the period obtained equivalency certificates; those who landed an articling position and were called to the bar were even fewer.

But the future for this group of skilled immigrants is set to change for the better with a Canada-first program launched yesterday by the University of Toronto, with $4 million in provincial funding.

The Internationally Trained Lawyer Program, which starts recruitment this fall for the 2010 class, will provide comprehensive services to as many as 100 immigrant lawyers each year, guiding them through certification, academic training, language referrals, volunteer and paid job placements, career services and employment counselling.

Jane Price, the U of T law faculty’s director of professional diversity and legal opportunities, said the department receives about 100 applications a year from foreign-trained lawyers but has only 25 spots.

Because of different cultural norms and orientation to the law, she said only a “very small number” of these foreign lawyers could secure articling positions, a necessary step to be called to the bar.

The new program has already garnered support from some Toronto law firms.

“This is a natural evolution and logical extension of our commitment to diversity and inclusiveness,” said Chris Pinnington, managing partner of Fraser Milner Casgrain.




Reference: Toronto Star