FAQ - Becoming a lawyer in Canada

If you are an internationally trained lawyer or law student, there are several steps you need to take to become a lawyer in Canada.

Step 1. Assessment of your educational credentials by the NCA

  • You need to apply to the National Committee on Accreditation (NCA) to have your educational credentials assessed. The NCA will review your qualifications to determine whether your legal education meet Canadian standards.
  • The NCA assigns at least five core common law subject areas to all applicants, namely:
    • 1. Administrative Law; 
    • 2. Constitutional Law; 
    • 3. Criminal Law; 
    • 4. Foundations of Canadian Law; and 
    • 5. Professional Responsibility.
  • The NCA may also assign additional subjects as required based on your education and experience. For example, if your academic transcript reveals that you attained a poor grade in Contract Law, it is possible that the NCA may assign Contract Law to you.
  • If your qualifications are assessed by the NCA after January 1, 2022, you will also need to complete an online course in “Legal Research and Writing”. Currently, this online course is delivered by the Canadian Centre for Professional Legal Education (CPLED) in partnership with the NCA.

Step 2. Passing the NCA online exams on the assigned subjects

  • NCA route: The most common way of completing the NCA assigned subjects is to take the NCA online exams after self-studying. The NCA publishes the exam outline, syllabus, and sample exam for each subject on its website. After you pass all the exams, the NCA issues you a Certificate of Qualification (CQ).
  • LLM route: Another option of completing the NCA assigned subjects is to enroll in an eligible Master of Laws (LLM) program with a university in Canada. However, be aware that not every LLM program is eligible, and you must check with the university carefully.
  • Please read the next FAQ to consider whether the NCA route or the LLM route suits you the most.

Step 3. Application to a provincial or territorial law society in Canada

  • Lawyers in Canada are regulated by the law societies or bar associations of each province and territory. You have decide which province or territory you wish to practice law.
  • Each law society has its own application process and requirements, so you will need to research the specific requirements for the particular province or territory. In general, each law society requires you to:-
    • Send the NCA CQ to the law society;
    • Pass the provincial bar exam administered by the law society; and
    • Complete articling program with a law firm. Similar to the Training Contract scheme in the UK and Hong Kong, the Articling Program in Canada is a period of supervised practical training in a law firm or other legal setting. However, if you are licensed to practice law in a common-law jurisdiction, you may be eligible to apply for exemption or abridgement from the articling requirement.

Finally, you will receive a license from the provincial or territorial law society where you wish to practice.

It is important to note that becoming a lawyer in Canada as an internationally trained lawyer can be a lengthy and challenging process. It is recommended that you seek guidance from the appropriate regulatory bodies and/or a legal professional who can help guide you through the process

Enrolling in eligible LLM program is an option for those who prefer a structured, classroom-based learning environment. However, there are some potential drawbacks to the LLM route:-

  • Expensive: Completing a Canadian LLM can be a significant investment of money. For example, the 2023-2024 tuition fee of an international student taking the requisite LLM at the Osgoode University costs more than $45,000 Canadian dollars. If the LLM program is delivered in person, you should also consider your relocation expenses.
  • Time-consuming: LLM program typically lasts one to two years, and offers less flexibility in terms of scheduling and course selection. As part of the LLM program, you may also be required to complete non-NCA subject.
  • Caveat Emptor: Buyer Beware: Not every Canadian LLM program fulfills the NCA requirement. You must exercise caution in double checking with the NCA and each university on whether a particular LLM program is eligible.

It is true that NCA route self-study involves self-discipline and motivation, but it is much more cost-effective. In 2023, the fee for registration for each NCA exam is $550 Canadian dollars, and you can register for each subject’s online exam only when you feel you are ready enough. You can study at your own pace and on your own schedule, allowing for greater flexibility.

Ultimately, the choice between self-study and an LLM program will depend on your individual circumstances and preferences. It’s important to weigh the pros and cons of each option and consider factors such as your budget, schedule, and learning style before making a decision.

If you are planning to take the NCA exams, here are some tips that may help you prepare:

Tip 1. Review the NCA syllabus

The NCA provides a syllabus for each exam that outlines the topics covered in the exam. Make sure to review the syllabus and use it as a guide for your study plan.

Tip 2. Purchase a good set of study notes

While textbooks can be a resourceful material, they may not always be the best option to study for the NCA exam. Textbooks can be difficult to use for studying for the NCA exams due to their length, academic language, lack of focus on the exam topics, and overwhelming volume of information.

Instead, consider using targeted study resources that are designed for the NCA exams. Ideally, the notes should use plain language, provide clear explanations and examples, and break down the material into manageable chunks. This will help you study more efficiently and effectively, and increase your chances of success on the exams.

Tip 3. Practice writing the I-R-A-C structure

Many NCA exam questions provide you with a factual scenario and ask for your legal opinion on it. In such a case you should analyze each one following the I-R-A-C format

I – Issues – identification and separation of the legal issues
R – Rules – description of the governing legal rules
A – Application –application of the rules to the facts
C – Conclusion – the answer, and caveat if require

Tip 4. Foundations of Canadian Law

The style of Foundations of Canadian Law differs quite a lot from the other subjects. As you can see from the syllabus, the Foundations of Canadian Law assigns you a number of academic essays readings.

Read the abstract, introduction, and conclusion of academic essays assigned in the reading list, even if you don’t have time to read the whole essay thoroughly. This is because some exam questions may ask you to comment on a topic that the essay precisely covers. By understanding what the scholar argues about, you can simply recite their arguments in response to the exam questions. This saves time and can be a more targeted way of approaching the exam, rather than trying to figure out how to disagree with the scholar’s arguments.


Preparing for the NCA exams can be challenging, but with proper planning, time management, and support, you can increase your chances of success.

When it comes to assessing the difficulty of exams, it’s important to consider various factors that contribute to the overall challenge. In this FAQ, I’ll compare the Canada NCA exams with the renowned US Bar Exam. By exploring the key differences between these two exams, we can gain insight into whether the NCA exams are easier or more challenging in comparison.

Easy aspects about the NCA Exams

  1. Passing MarkIn the case of the NCA exams, candidates are required to achieve a minimum score of 50% to pass. Comparatively, the US Bar Exam demands a higher passing score of around 67%. 

  2. Open Book vs. Closed Book: The NCA exams offer the advantage of being open book, meaning you can reference study materials and resources during the exam. On the other hand, the US Bar Exam is a closed book exam, where candidates must rely solely on their memorized knowledge. 

  3. Flexibility in Exam Sessions: The NCA exams provide numerous exam sessions throughout the year, allowing candidates to choose the subjects they wish to take and register whenever they feel adequately prepared. In contrast, the US Bar Exam condenses the testing period to just two days, covering a broad range of topics. 

Challenging aspects about the NCA Exam

  1. Limited Transparency: One challenge with the NCA exams is the relatively limited availability of information compared to the US Bar Exam. The latter is a more popular exam, leading to a wealth of information and resources readily available online. In contrast, the NCA exams have less accessible information and fewer past paper questions to aid in preparation. 

  2. Written Questions vs. Multiple Choice: The US Bar Exam includes multiple-choice questions, allowing candidates to make educated guesses even when uncertain. Conversely, the NCA exams consist entirely of written questions, demanding comprehensive knowledge and the ability to articulate arguments effectively. 

  3. Academic and Argumentative Components: The NCA exams sometimes delve into argumentative and academic aspects of law, requiring candidates to analyze viewpoints, evaluate legal reforms, and express their opinions. This differs from the US Bar Exam, which primarily focuses on practical legal knowledge. NCA exam candidates may find themselves challenged by the need to critically assess legal concepts, comment on scholarly viewpoints, and weigh the pros and cons of various legal reforms.

In conclusion, while the NCA exams may have certain advantages that could make them appear easier when compared to the US Bar Exam, it is essential to recognize the distinct challenges they present. The NCA exams require a solid understanding of the subjects, effective writing skills, and the ability to critically analyze legal concepts.

The open book format of the NCA exams is often seen as a significant advantage. However, it is essential to shed light on the drawbacks and limitations of relying too much on the open-book format. During the actual exam, you may find yourself with limited time to flip through all your reference materials. Instead, you will rely more on your memory recall to answer the questions efficiently.

To avoid overwhelming yourself with an excessive amount of material, it is advisable to bring concise study notes to the exam. I personally suggest limiting your notes to no more than 30 pages, focusing on the most important concepts, key cases, and relevant principles. 

Of course, different subjects may require varying amounts of material, so consider the specific requirements of each exam. For example, for the “Professional Responsibility” course, having a hard copy of the Model Code can be immensely beneficial. Similarly, for “Criminal Law,” bringing the full set of the Criminal Code might be necessary since questions can randomly cover offenses from the code.

Remember, open book exams are not a substitute for thorough preparation. Strive for a balance between understanding key concepts and utilizing your reference materials effectively.

In my FAQ discussing the US Bar Exam, I shared a suggested sequence of studying. However, given the Canada NCA exam’s focus on 5 core subjects, many students still manage to pass without much difficulties even though they did not adopt any strategic sequence of studying.

While the Canada NCA exams offer more flexibility, in this FAQ I shall still explore different perspectives on sequencing your NCA exam studies.

  1. The Overlapping Advantage: One approach that many NCA candidates find beneficial is studying “Foundations of Canadian Law,” “Constitutional Law,” and “Administrative Law” together. These subjects often contain overlapping concepts, allowing you to leverage your understanding and save time.

  2. Boosting Confidence –  Easier to More Challenging: One school of thought advocates for starting with the easier subjects to build confidence before tackling more challenging ones. This approach typically suggests beginning with “Professional Responsibility,” followed by “Criminal Law,” “Constitutional Law,” and “Administrative Law.” 

  3. Laying the Foundation – Bitter First, Sweet Later: An alternative perspective emphasizes building a strong foundation by commencing with “Foundations of Canadian Law.” Although this subject is often regarded as conceptually challenging due to academic scholars’ readings and abstract content, it offers a comprehensive overview of Canadian law as a whole. Following “Foundations of Canadian Law,” you can progress to “Constitutional Law,” “Administrative Law,” “Criminal Law,” and conclude with “Professional Responsibility.” It aligns with the concept of “bitter first, sweet later,” allowing you to tackle the remaining subjects with a more profound understanding and confidence.

There is no definitive right or wrong approach to sequencing your NCA exam studies. Every individual’s learning style and preferences differ, and it’s crucial to consider your unique strengths and weaknesses when making this decision. To determine the most suitable sequence for you, carefully review the syllabus and study notes of each subject, assessing the level of familiarity and the degree of conceptual difficulty they present.

As a tutor myself, I believe it’s important to address this topic honestly – many students don’t really need a tutor in order to pass the NCA exams, as long as they have a set of good study notes. In my personal opinion, the Canada NCA exams are indeed substantially easier than the US Bar Exam

But still, everyone has different study preference, and there are factors to consider when determining the need for hiring a tutor. 

  1. Guided Learning: Hiring a tutor brings certain advantages that may benefit students who are not good self-starters. Also, for those starting with little to no knowledge or foundation in Canadian law, a tutor can provide valuable guidance in the initial stages. By explaining key concepts, outlining the overall picture, and addressing any foundational gaps, a tutor can save you time and expedite your understanding.

  2. Personal Insight and Exam Experience: One distinct advantage of having a tutor is gaining access to their personal insights and exam experiences. As mentioned in my previous FAQ, the Canada NCA exams offer relatively less transparency compared to the US Bar Exam. A tutor can share knowledge of exam patterns, potential pitfalls, and recommended strategies for success. 

  3. Feedback on Writing Practice: The NCA exams heavily emphasize writing, making practice essays a crucial component of your preparation. Engaging a tutor enables you to submit your practice answers for their feedback and evaluation. 

  4. You have already saved a lot for not pursuing the LLM route! By opting for the NCA exam route instead of pursuing the more expensive LLM program, you have already saved a substantial amount of money. Investing a portion of these savings in a tutor can be a strategic decision to enhance your passing potential. .

Assess your own learning style, consider your existing knowledge, and evaluate the level of guidance and feedback you need. 

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