Forging connections in Nova Scotia

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Lawyers new to Canada are forging connections in the legal community and learning about the practice of law in Nova Scotia through the Society’s Internationally Trained Lawyers Observership Program.

After completing his observership at Stewart McKelvey’s Halifax office, Godfred Chongatera ended up there as an articled clerk this year and is now well on track to join the province’s legal profession.

The ITL Observership Program was a “springboard” that allowed him to build valuable relationships in the province’s legal community that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise, says Chongatera. He had received his LLB in his home country of Ghana before moving to Nova Scotia to complete a master’s degree at the Schulich School of Law at Dalhousie University.  

Working on an observership model in conjunction with the Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia, the program pairs internationally trained lawyers with local lawyers who have similar professional interests. Chongatera observed the day-to-day activities of a number of lawyers at the firm, sitting in on client meetings, participating in a CPD session with his supervising lawyer Maurice Chiasson QC, and studying ethical matters in the Code of Professional Conduct.

The program saw 11 internationally trained lawyers complete observerships in a variety of legal workplaces during its pilot year, which launched in the fall of 2013. It continues to thrive with new participants such as Farhan Raouf, who is doing his observership at Cox & Palmer in Halifax.

“I am delighted with the opportunity,” says Raouf, who received two law degrees in Pakistan and is working on a master’s degree at the Schulich School of Law. He especially appreciates “the welcoming attitude that can be found in Haligonians, which is also quite visible in day-to-day affairs of the law firm.”

“Charlene really went out of her way to make me feel welcome at (Nova Scotia Legal Aid) ... and to involve me in observing her work. She tailored the program to my interests and possible future areas of practice.” -  Catrina Campana Wright 

Before moving to Canada, Catrina Campana Wright spent five years in private practice in the American Territory of Guam. Bringing some solid experience to her new home, she participated in the ITL Observership Program by shadowing Charlene Moore, a lawyer at Nova Scotia Legal Aid.

“It was fascinating to compare the differences – and some surprising similarities – between my practice and Charlene's,” says Campana Wright, who found the program’s mentorship aspect particularly beneficial. A highlight was observing Moore successfully defend a client at an appeal board hearing, an activity that resonated with her strong interest in administrative law. 

“Charlene really went out of her way to make me feel welcome at her office and among her co-workers, and to involve me in observing her work. She tailored the program to my interests and possible future areas of practice.”

Building friendships with other ITLs was an unexpected benefit, adds Campana Wright. She meets and corresponds regularly with international colleagues in order to discuss legal practice in Nova Scotia, their professional goals and challenges facing immigrants.

Gulrukh Asif did an observership with McInnes Cooper, where senior lawyers provided much guidance on Canadian laws and case studies, and invited her to attend hearings, meetings and other legal proceedings.

“To start a professional career for the first time in Canada was a very challenging goal for me,” she says. Her time at the firm gave her much confidence, plus a greater appreciation for the strong base she received from her legal education at the University of Peshawar, Pakistan.

The ITL Observership Program “helped me overcome the obstacles of linguistic and other sociocultural origins, and I continue living a successful life and having a professional track to follow.”

All of the internationally trained lawyers and the lawyer supervisors who participated in the program’s first year gave very positive feedback, according to a final report drafted by Emilie Coyle, Coordinator of the ITL Program’s pilot year. The program's greatest value is in “getting people connected and out there,” she says.

While familiarizing internationally trained lawyers with practical and procedural aspects of legal practice in Nova Scotia, the program also promotes greater diversity in the profession. By working closely with lawyers from different legal and cultural backgrounds, firms discover diverse approaches to law and increase their own cultural competence in the workplace.

The ITL Observership Program arose through the ongoing efforts of Nova Scotia’s multi-stakeholder working group on internationally trained lawyers, which had identified a number of barriers, gaps and challenges. The stakeholders include the Society, Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia and other partners from the government, the NGO sector, and the Schulich School of Law at Dalhousie University.

The presence of internationally trained lawyers can be a real asset for Nova Scotian law firms, says Rafael Cesar, an internationally trained lawyer from Brazil, particularly since fostering immigration is a growing priority in the province.

Find out more

For more details about the ITL Observership Program, see Transfers from other countries / Internationally Trained Lawyers in the Become a lawyer section of the Society’s website, and the Final Report from the pilot year.

If you are a practising lawyer who would like to be involved as a supervisor with the program, please contact Emma Halpern, Equity Officer, at ehalpern@nsbs.org

“ITLs are usually fluent in languages such as Spanish, Portuguese, Arabic, Russian, Chinese or French and sometimes have more knowledge of legal terms than a general translator. If there is a case involving a new immigrant who may not speak English, the presence of an ITL could result in a cost reduction for the law firm, as costly translation services may not be required,” says Cesar.

It’s also important to keep in mind that lawyers from other countries can’t be hired as lawyers until their Bar admission in Nova Scotia, he adds, but they can provide value to legal workplaces in many other ways.

“Each individual ITL may be at a different stage in their pathway to credential recognition. Some are starting law school, others are finishing an LLM, and some are completing the NCA exams. While the ITL is waiting to complete this assessment process, one of the most suitable solutions may be to work as a paralegal, legal researcher or a legal assistant. That way, they would be learning the Nova Scotian legal culture and receive relevant experience in legal cases.”