Have you ever thought about being a lawyer? When you were younger, did someone say “you should be a lawyer”? Maybe you loved to perform – or argue!
Do you know a young person who would make a great lawyer– but you have no idea where they should start?
Well, being a lawyer in real life is not all fancy suits and fast cars. Those lawyers on Netflix are so well-dressed, fit, and fabulous because they are actually actors, not lawyers! Plus the pay for lawyers is not as much as you might think. In the real world, people don’t always have money to pay lawyers. Sometimes the people who need a lawyer the most, can’t afford one.
But despite the stereotype, most lawyers are not money-loving ambulance chasers who are ethically challenged. Most lawyers actually went into law because they believe in justice and want to help people. The idea that law is a powerful tool that can make society better, promote fairness and diversity, and lift up the disadvantaged – the concept of “justice” and being a part of that – is what leads many students into the profession.
Do you still want to be a lawyer? OK then – here’s how.
To become a lawyer in BC, you need:
- To start with undergraduate studies. In Canada, you cannot go straight to law school from high school (although you can in England). Here you will usually need at least three years of undergraduate studies. This can be a combination of college and university. Most students get a four-year bachelor’s degree, although they apply for law school in their third year.
- There is no official “pre-law” program in Canada, no specific “path to law school”. You can study any subject, although arts and commerce tend to be more common than music, math or sciences.
- Good grades. Most Law Schools in Canada require applicants to have a B average minimum. The successful applicant’s Grade Point Average (GPA) is often higher. The average for admission to UBC Law is 83% and at the University of Toronto it is close to 93%. If your grades are not top notch, you may have to do a Master’s Degree to show your academic skills.
- References. As with most things in life, many law schools now look at references. This means that sitting in the back of class and acing your exams likely will not be enough to remain competitive with the other applicants. You will need people in your corner willing to vouch for your smarts, values and potential.
- The Law School Admissions Test (LSAT). Most Canadian Law schools require it, and different schools give it different amounts of weight in the admissions process. The LSAT is a timed, standardized aptitude test used all over the world. You can study the types of questions in advance, and most applicants do study rather than walk in and take their chances (and risk a bad mark that stays on their record). The test itself is unique each time and it tests your ability to reason, rather than your knowledge of specific topics like politics or literature. It lasts for several hours. Your score is relative to the other scores of others taking the LSAT. You can’t get into many Law Schools unless you score within the 90th percentile. For UBC and the University of Toronto, the average LSAT scores are in the 93rd percentile.
- Extra-curricular activities, such as community service. Keep in mind that often the “minimum” required for an application is not sufficient to be competitive with the other applicants, so you need to show your abilities by volunteering and participating outside the classroom.
- To apply for as many Law Schools across Canada as possible. There are application fees ranging from $70.00-125.00 for each one. So long as you have graduated from any Canadian law school, you can become a lawyer in BC. So go to whichever Law School accepts you, even if it is in another province.
- You can even go to Law School abroad in a country that uses the common law tradition, such as England or Australia, and still become a lawyer in BC. However, you will have to pass a series of exams called National Committee of Accreditation Exams (NCA) to show your knowledge of Canadian law before you can be a lawyer here, which can slow you down by months or even a year. Going to Law School in the United States is more difficult to transfer because of the different legal system. When you come back to Canada, you might be required to take additional classes, which would slow down your progress in becoming a Canadian lawyer.
- To graduate from Law School. It takes three years of full time study and it’s competitive. You are in classes with the best and the brightest. Law is a hard subject. It is very interesting but it’s a different way of thinking. You will learn how to analyze statutes (laws) and cases (decisions of judges applying the law) rather than just memorizing facts. You’ve got to hold your own and get decent grades, not just pass, if you want to later find an articling position and then a job.
- To “article”. Articling is like an apprenticeship in the trades. It is nine months of full-time legal work under a supervising lawyer. It is paid, but not very well. There are a lot more students than jobs. It can be tough to find a senior lawyer willing to take you on as an articling student, and even more difficult to find one in the city you want to live in and doing the type of law that you want to practice. Sometimes you have to take articles where you can get them, just so that you can qualify as a lawyer and then have more choices.
- Take the Professional Legal Training Course (PLTC) from the Law Society. This is a 10 week course in Vancouver, Victoria or Kamloops. You can take it before or after articling. It teaches students the practical skills they need to start practicing law, such as drafting contracts and interviewing clients. PLTC also has two “bar exams” that test knowledge of the fundamental areas of the law in BC, and you need to pass both.
- Be accepted by the Law Society of BC as being of good character. If you have a troubled past, such as a criminal record, you will have to go through a review process with the Law Society. All applicants have to explain their past employment history and behavior, including financial troubles such as bankruptcy, and even mental health and substance use, to show that they can be a stable professional who is trustworthy to care for others and manage money.
If you complete all of the above, plus pay your annual Bar Fees and mandatory Professional Indemnity insurance, you will be “called to the Bar” and become a BC Lawyer!
How long does it take, from start to finish? Well, if you graduated from high school in June 2020, and go straight through, you could be a lawyer in May 2028.
Are you up for this? Is it still worth it to become a lawyer?
If your answer is yes, good for you! The world needs lawyers who are willing to make the commitment to learn and join a profession that is about helping people and making the world a better place.
But nothing worth having in life is free.
Next time we will talk about: How much does it cost to become a lawyer? And what do lawyers earn?