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iReminisce

Is bilingualism a major asset in law? (GTA area)

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Hi all,

I'm currently a 0L looking to get some perspective on the legal job market in Toronto and the rest of the GTA. Specifically, how much does being bilingual in English/French help in landing OCI/articling positions/permanent positions.

I did my undergrad in Ottawa but was originally from Toronto. The limit of my french education was the mandatory curriculum up until grade 9 (I did well... but on paper that's not saying much). Honestly, it was a bit of a culture shock moving a little up north because there's so much emphasis on bilingualism and how it helps in job prospects. I majored in accounting so it wasn't as bad, but I definitely felt like a deer in headlights when conversations would break into french, either in a school/work environment.

Any experiences shared would be appreciated.

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55 minutes ago, iReminisce said:

Hi all,

I'm currently a 0L looking to get some perspective on the legal job market in Toronto and the rest of the GTA. Specifically, how much does being bilingual in English/French help in landing OCI/articling positions/permanent positions.

I did my undergrad in Ottawa but was originally from Toronto. The limit of my french education was the mandatory curriculum up until grade 9 (I did well... but on paper that's not saying much). Honestly, it was a bit of a culture shock moving a little up north because there's so much emphasis on bilingualism and how it helps in job prospects. I majored in accounting so it wasn't as bad, but I definitely felt like a deer in headlights when conversations would break into french, either in a school/work environment.

Any experiences shared would be appreciated.

I speak English and French and haven’t found it to be a huge factor. Employers treat it as an asset and it comes in handy with the odd client or piece of statutory interpretation, but I have never had a job where it was required or necessary. It is important if you want to be a judge.

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I've never heard of it being a major asset in Toronto, though I don't work at a Toronto firm.

It is helpful for government jobs in Ottawa and for clerking.

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23 minutes ago, Ambit said:

I've never heard of it being a major asset in Toronto, though I don't work at a Toronto firm.

It is helpful for government jobs in Ottawa and for clerking.

Yeah... it definitely was an asset for clerking. That's where it came up the most. 

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Put it this way. In Toronto, it's definitely helpful, in the sense that you may have access to a few opportunities you'd otherwise miss out on. But it's not remotely mandatory.

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6 hours ago, iReminisce said:

Hi all,

I'm currently a 0L looking to get some perspective on the legal job market in Toronto and the rest of the GTA. Specifically, how much does being bilingual in English/French help in landing OCI/articling positions/permanent positions.

I did my undergrad in Ottawa but was originally from Toronto. The limit of my french education was the mandatory curriculum up until grade 9 (I did well... but on paper that's not saying much). Honestly, it was a bit of a culture shock moving a little up north because there's so much emphasis on bilingualism and how it helps in job prospects. I majored in accounting so it wasn't as bad, but I definitely felt like a deer in headlights when conversations would break into french, either in a school/work environment.

Any experiences shared would be appreciated.

To look at the issue from another perspective in the private practice of law in  the GTA there is no disadvantage to be unilingual English speaking...as in zero. 

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In Ottawa it would be a major asset. In Toronto... I wouldn't say it's useless, the ability to read the French version of statutes is occasionally useful. But it's hardly an essential skill set. 

You'd be further ahead putting the time and energy needed to become functionally bilingual in French in learning one of the 10 other languages (other than English) that are more commonly spoken in Toronto, many of which are likely to be much more useful in the future (Mandarin, being the obvious example). 

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1 hour ago, maximumbob said:

In Ottawa it would be a major asset. In Toronto... I wouldn't say it's useless, the ability to read the French version of statutes is occasionally useful. But it's hardly an essential skill set. 

You'd be further ahead putting the time and energy needed to become functionally bilingual in French in learning one of the 10 other languages (other than English) that are more commonly spoken in Toronto, many of which are likely to be much more useful in the future (Mandarin, being the obvious example). 

That's definitely something that I've been keeping in the back of my head.

Maybe it's due to my background, but I for the life of me can't seem be motivated to learn any of the main European languages (ex. French, Spanish, Italian). I have bigger personal interest in learning Japanese and Cantonese, and find learning becomes easier because of it.

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19 hours ago, providence said:

Yeah... it definitely was an asset for clerking. That's where it came up the most. 

Not sure where you clerked, but just want to ad for future observers that the value of french speaking for clerkships depends on where you want to clerk. It's incredibly important for the SCC, valuable for the federal courts and the OCA, and maybe the Superior Court in the East as well, though I don't know for sure. Out West? Probably not important.

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Bilinguilism is a major asset in law. However, I think languages like Mandarin, Cantonese, Tagalog, Korean, Arabic would be more useful than French. 

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On 12/3/2017 at 1:59 PM, iReminisce said:

Hi all,

I'm currently a 0L looking to get some perspective on the legal job market in Toronto and the rest of the GTA. Specifically, how much does being bilingual in English/French help in landing OCI/articling positions/permanent positions.

I did my undergrad in Ottawa but was originally from Toronto. The limit of my french education was the mandatory curriculum up until grade 9 (I did well... but on paper that's not saying much). Honestly, it was a bit of a culture shock moving a little up north because there's so much emphasis on bilingualism and how it helps in job prospects. I majored in accounting so it wasn't as bad, but I definitely felt like a deer in headlights when conversations would break into french, either in a school/work environment.

Any experiences shared would be appreciated.

I don't think learning French would be a major asset to your employability prospects in Toronto, but I do occasionally see a few positions within the government (within the Ministry of the Attorney-General) that considers French as an asset, sometimes even a necessity. If you aren't interested in the public sector, then it would be worthwhile to focus on another language as others have mentioned (i.e. Mandarin, Arabic, Punjabi, Korean, Vietnamese, Farsi, etc.).

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French is an asset in Quebec and Ottawa. In Toronto and Vancouver Chinese (Cantonese or Mandarin), Korean, Farsi, Spanish, etc, will be more useful. A language is only really handy when the client can't speak English. Outside of Quebec I've never met a unilingual French speaker.

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You might also think about what your interests are.  If you're interested in biglaw, you'd be interested in speaking the languages of potential international clients - Mandarin, Hindi (or other major Indian language), Spanish, Japanese, maybe German.  If you're interested in practicing, say, family law or criminal law, you might think about the list of languages regularly spoken at home in the GTA - Cantonese, Mandarin, Tamil, Spanish, Tagalog, Italian, Portuguese (in Toronto), Punjabi,Urdu or Polish in Peel.  If you're interested in immigration law, maybe look at the source countries for recent immigrants.  

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To speak a language well enough to use in court and in discussions about complex legal matters with clients takes discipline. If you are unilingual in English only and are in your 20s or 30s or beyond it may not be easy unless you have a hitherto undiscovered talent for languages. Some of the languages mentioned like Mandarin or Korean have very different sounds that English. There are lawyers who are completely fluent in those languages. If you are going to hold yourself out as speaking them, you need to be as comfortable as they are. 

All that to say that I don’t know that it would make sense at this stage to put huge effort into learning, say, Tamil. The benefit to a firm of a lawyer who speaks Tamil is not just their language ability, but their connection to the Tamil-speaking community and their ability to bring in clients from that community AND serve them in their mother tongue. I am not sure what value there is to an Anglo with imperfect, recently-learned Tamil. There are better places to put your energy. If you already speak multiple languages and/or can learn them quickly and well, my answer may be different.

For recent immigrants, add Arabic and Somali to the list of languages.

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I think it would be less about holding yourself out as fluent or to use in court - I agree, that's unlikely to happen - and more an effort to show some modicum of effort to understand your clients or potential clients.  

Put it this way, your argument applies equally to French (despite the asshat belief of our PM that anyone can learn it), given that  you're going to try to learn a language, no reason to choose French over any of the others. 

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40 minutes ago, maximumbob said:

I think it would be less about holding yourself out as fluent or to use in court - I agree, that's unlikely to happen - and more an effort to show some modicum of effort to understand your clients or potential clients.  

Put it this way, your argument applies equally to French (despite the asshat belief of our PM that anyone can learn it), given that  you're going to try to learn a language, no reason to choose French over any of the others. 

Well if you want to work in government or be a judge French is the clear choice. Whether it is easy to learn is another matter. But Canada offers more opportunities to learn, practice or use French than some other languages. And most people have at least some exposure to French from school ie. OP says he studied it until grade 9.

 I don’t think law school or preparing to apply to law school is the time to worry about learning any language. 

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45 minutes ago, maximumbob said:

I think it would be less about holding yourself out as fluent or to use in court - I agree, that's unlikely to happen - and more an effort to show some modicum of effort to understand your clients or potential clients.  

Put it this way, your argument applies equally to French (despite the asshat belief of our PM that anyone can learn it), given that  you're going to try to learn a language, no reason to choose French over any of the others. 

The reasons to learn French are different, too. Learning French is more about career opportunities for you and less about connecting with clients. 

Again, I don’t know how much a new speaker of a language not connected to the community would add to their understanding of their clients. Many of my family members don’t speak English and they are really most comfortable with people from our community who share the same customs and experiences. I’m not sure they care that an outsider has learned a few phrases of our language and sometimes it can even be condescending when someone tries to speak it or like they want to be told how amazing they are. 

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3 hours ago, AnonLaw said:

French is an asset in Quebec and Ottawa. In Toronto and Vancouver Chinese (Cantonese or Mandarin), Korean, Farsi, Spanish, etc, will be more useful. A language is only really handy when the client can't speak English. Outside of Quebec I've never met a unilingual French speaker.

I have - immigrants from Congo, Senegal etc. Haitians too.

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