A2J Week: How Internationally Trained Lawyers Improve Access to Culturally Competent Legal Services

Part of Access to Justice in Nova Scotia is ensuring that people have access to legal services and lawyers that reflect the demographics of our province. At the Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society, we create a culturally competent Bar by working with internationally trained lawyers who are eager to join the profession in Nova Scotia and help meet the demand of the public’s need for legal services.

When a lawyer from a jurisdiction outside of Canada is looking to join the Nova Scotia Bar, the Society sees this as an opportunity to improve access to justice. Internationally trained lawyers not only increases the supply of lawyers in this province, but they bring their own cultural and lived experiences, helping to build a profession that is in step with the province’s diversity.

As a first step, internationally trained lawyers work with the Federation of Law Societies’ National Committee on Accreditation to evaluate their legal education and professional experience. The NCA assigns them any necessary requirements to achieve the equivalent knowledge of someone who got their law degree at an approved Canadian law school program.

Many provinces prescribe a period of articling for internationally trained lawyers as a standard requirement. In Nova Scotia, we review applications on a case-by-case basis and recognize home jurisdiction experience in determining if articles or working under supervision after admission are necessary. This means applicants can be called to the Bar as quickly as possible after demonstrating they have the necessary skills and competence of a new lawyer in Nova Scotia.

Like all new calls, internationally trained lawyers must also take our Cultural Competence Workshop to ensure they bring a foundational awareness of the unique experiences of African Nova Scotian and Indigenous communities into their practice.

“In my experience, internationally trained lawyers have been excited to join our Bar and begin working as a lawyer here,” said Alana O’Connor, Advisor of Education and Credentials at the Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society. “Working with us is often one of the last steps of a rigorous process for someone moving to this country. Taking steps to ensure we have clear and transparent licensing processes, along with resources and programs such as the ITL Observership program through our Equity Office, are vital to ensuing the success of A2J in this province.”

While ensuring that all applicants meet the Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society’s standards for joining our Bar, ensuring that Internationally Trained lawyers feel welcome and can build professional support networks is also a priority. Through our work with the Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia and its Observership Program , the Society has helped facilitate relationship-building between firms and prospective lawyers from international jurisdictions. Many of these relationships have developed into successful careers .

Elizabeth Salami participated in the Observership Program in 2015. Salami spent three months as an observer at McInnes Cooper and has worked with the firm since she was called to the Nova Scotia Bar.

Photo of Elizabeth Salami at McInnes Cooper.

“At that time, the Observership Program aimed to support internationally trained lawyers by providing exposure to the Canadian legal workplace,” said Salami. “I had a remarkable three-month experience as an observer with McInnes Cooper. I had the privilege of meeting wonderful individuals and gaining valuable insights into the Canadian legal workplace. I vividly recall instances where I was asked to accompany one of the partners to a client meeting and engaged in legal research.”

Many lawyers joining the profession from abroad have completed the Observership Program and apply their unique perspectives to help improve access to justice in Nova Scotia.

“My experience as an internationally trained lawyer has had a big impact on my legal career in Nova Scotia.” It’s allowed me to bring a unique perspective to my work that benefits my clients. With my international background, I can better understand and relate to clients from diverse cultural backgrounds, appreciating the subtleties of their cultural norms and expectations. This background helps me provide services that are culturally sensitive and relevant to their needs.”