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Advice from an Bond NCA Grad


BondGuy
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BondGuy
  • Lawyer

Hi everyone. Questions about whether to go NCA appeared on the old forum frequently.  I thought I would provide some input as I was an NCA graduate myself. I attended Bond University and am now practicing in Canada. 

This advice would not really apply to the “big names” for foreign legal degrees – Georgetown, Harvard, Oxford, etc, or to lawyers who have practiced in other jurisdictions and are looking to come to Canada. 

If you take one thing away from this post: apply in Canada first. Try for Canada first. Any work you save on the front end (e.g. not writing the LSAT, not rewriting the LSAT, not improving your grades) must be weighed against the significant obstacles on the back end (e.g. student loans on international tuition, difficulties with job prospects, the NCA qualification requirements and the associated timing). 

1. “What is the quality of education like at an international school?” 

This question is difficult to answer as there is so much variation.

The quality of a foreign institution is not automatically below one in Canada. There are plenty of places to look up objective school “rankings” – so start there. Don’t rely solely on the marketing from the schools. You need to take a step back and make an objective, reasoned decision. 

As it relates to Bond in particular, I found it was a great balance between theoretical and practical, the profs were experienced and attentive, class sizes were small, and campus life was amazing. Bond itself is a great school

Education is like anything else: you get out of it what you put in. You can attend a Canadian institution and get a sub-par education if you don’t put in the work. You can attend an institution abroad and get a great education if you do put in the work. 

Check with NCA to be sure they accept the legal credentials of any school you’re looking at attending. Then have a look on Linkedin to see where the grads from the school you’re considering have ended up, and consider contacting them to get their thoughts on the school itself. 

Despite my foreign credentials, I never felt that I had a problem “keeping up” with Canadian trained lawyers on matters of Canadian law or on general legal skills – even early on in my career.

2. “What are the job prospects like for an NCA graduate?”

Not impossible, but it is more difficult.  

Fair or unfair, and independent of the ability of an NCA student to perform as a lawyer, the legal profession in Canada has a generally negative outlook toward NCA graduates. A few points I wish someone had told me before I’d applied: 

  • Market Saturation: the Canadian legal market for new legal graduates is saturated. There is stiff competition for traditionally “desirable” positions (e.g. MAG, government, BigLaw) among Canadian trained students. Like it or not, the resume of the average Canadian student is likely to receive consideration before even a top-performing NCA student, meaning you are at an inherent disadvantage at even scoring an interview no matter how hard you’ve worked. 
  • OCIs: there is little, if any, access to the On-Campus Interview process for those studying abroad.   The OCI starts your track to a summer position, which gives you the opening to an articling position, which provides the opening to a first-year associates position. The OCI process is the most common way to those BigLaw or Mid-size firm positions. You do not get that. And that is a disadvantage. 
  • Ongoing Stigma: as time goes on your school takes a backseat to your reputation and ability to perform. But the path you chart at the start of your career will guide you to where you are a few years down the line.  It is much more difficult to lateral into a BigLaw position or to government if the start of your career is hampered by the factors above. 
  • “But is it impossible to…”: it is always “possible” to score that dream job in a well-respected, good paying, secure position. But it is much harder. It will involve networking. Hustling. All while your student loan is accruing interest. 

3. Financial Issues 

One thing institutions outside Canada share: the local government does not subsidize your education as a foreign student. And you will pay more. A few points: 

  • Exchange Rate: is variable and can be killer. The Canadian cost for your degree may change over the course of your degree and you should account for that.  When I went to Bond the Australian dollar was above Canadian dollar. Double whammy. Not to mention the fees for transferring cash from one jurisdiction to another. Consider this when looking at the price of tuition and be ready to spend more than you think. 
  • Student Loans: OSAP is available. Banks do not look at an NCA law student the same as a domestic law student for professional lines of credit, either. Secure financing for the entire degree first, as the credit line limits are typically lower and at a higher rate of interest than for domestic students.

4. “If you’re going to practice in Canada, then you must go to a Canadian school to learn Canadian law.”

I see this a lot , and from my experience: it isn’t as big a deal as one might think.   It will obviously help to learn Canadian law, but you’re not doomed if you don’t. 

If you attend a common-law institution outside of Canada, you’re going to learn how the common law works. You’ll understand how to think like a lawyer and figure the issues out.  You’ll have some of the same struggles a student trained in BC would have applying the laws of Ontario when they start articles. Not insurmountable. 

If you attend an institution like Bond, they have Canadian professors teaching Canadian law courses. If you take your NCA exams, you’re going to need to learn the basics of Canadian law. 

Every lawyer will deal with the difficult transition from the theoretical to practical application of the law,  and no articling student or first year is going to be running a file without significant supervision and mentoring from a more senior lawyer.  That is perfectly expected and okay, and applies whether you’re trained in Canada or abroad. 

Law school, from my experience, was more about learning a way of thinking than the actual substantive law.

5. “Yeah but I’ll save time with a 2 year degree! Opportunity costs amiright?!” 

No. You won’t.  You need to write the NCA exams which can take months. Your two-year degree still means about three years before you can article. You also need to pay for the NCA exams, and some banks do not look at that lag time between school and articles as a continuation of your education (which eats into the 1 year grace period before you need to begin repayment of the principal of your student loans).  

You can end up having your loan principal start to come due before you’re working, and that’s when you end up taking a non-legal job, and you may get pigeonholed into a non-legal career. 

6. “Can I just do a Canadian LLM when I get back” 

I personally do not have this experience. But I do know some that do – and they have done well (plural of anecdote =/= data, however). That said it will cost you more money and time. You’ll still have the NCA stigma attached to you. The Canadian JD route is still preferable.  

7. Are there any upsides? 

If you have a job waiting and are able to fund the degree (preferably without debt), the life experience is the one big upside. Some highlights from Australia that would make me consider it again:  

  • Studying for my December exams on the beach, the residence pool, or the campus pool. In any event, studying outside in sunny 30 degree weather 3/4ths of the year (and mid teens the rest). 
  • Using my semester break to go scuba diving on the great barrier reef (while sleeping on a giant catamaran for 4 days).
  • Camping in the outback. 
  • Hopping from hostel to hostel and meeting people from, well, everywhere. 
  • Road tripping the east coast of Australia.  Wallabies and Koala's hanging around my campsite in the evening. 
  • The meat pies. 

I hope this has provided some food for thought and I’m open to DMs from any student considering this route. 

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  • 11 months later...

This was really helpful. I plan to do my LLB in the UK then LLM in Ontario or BC. How did you find an articling position when you returned?

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  • 6 months later...
BondGuy
  • Lawyer
On 6/23/2022 at 6:30 PM, lifesrough said:

This was really helpful. I plan to do my LLB in the UK then LLM in Ontario or BC. How did you find an articling position when you returned?

Applied. A lot. Worked all connections I could. 

It is a different beast for NCA'ers. 

Most of the people I went to school with had connections, or went to smaller firms, or family in the industry. I had none of those so just took a lot of resumes. 

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