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UK school/firm views from a Canadian who is studying and working here

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Hello students and professionals!

Long time reader, first time registered member and poster. As the title suggests I am a Canadian currently residing in the UK, with a view to qualify as solicitor/solicitor advocate and permanently stay here! I am happy to answer any specific questions, but thought I would give a little insight to those considering alternatives to studying/practicing in Canada.

First off, a little about me. I am in my (very) late 20s, and hold a BA in social sciences from a big Canadian university, and completed a two year "senior status" LLB from a UK university. I worked for a little bit as a paralegal after graduating, and now back in education doing the dreaded "LPC". This is the ungodly expensive, practical training course that solicitors must do; you learn how to file claims at court, how to execute wills, legal drafting, and all the technical "lawyer" stuff. The British LLB is a true undergraduate degree so it focuses on the theoretical side of the law, hence the requirement for such a course. People interested in becoming a barrister to the BPTC, which is even more ungodly expensive. I am in the final stages of training contract interviews at a leading UK law firm headquartered outside of London. For those who don't know, training contracts (TCs) are two-year articles. Through my own work experience, law firm insight evenings, and friends and colleagues here in the UK, I have connections and experiences with a good number of major law firms.

First thing Canadians are normally surprised to hear about with regards to law life in the UK: it's HUGE... maybe even worth describing as YUGE. Yes, the UK population is roughly double of Canada, but the law of England and Wales is easily this nation's best export. There's usually around 5000+ TCs on offer a year, and a further 400-500 pupillages (the one year articles for wannabe barristers). The Magic Circle firms are massive: Linklaters' London office has around 1100 lawyers. For the longest time Clifford Chance occupied an entire 1,000,000 sqft office, which was a full 33-floor tower. They sublet a few floors out to a German bank these days for extra revenue. Some of their offices contain gyms, health clinics, restaurants, and Clifford Chance has a full size pool. Allen & Overy has a basketball court, multiple restaurants, and essentially a night club in its office. I'm interviewing with a "regional" firm that houses over 400 lawyers in one office, and their partners all take home around the half million mark (in GBP...do the conversion to CAD). If you qualify at any of the top 100 firms in the UK, you're in great standing for a profitable career.

The next surprise that Canadians hear about is that you don't need a real law degree to become a lawyer! For example, my LLB from a UK top 20 law school is often undermined by a BA in fine arts from Cambridge/Oxford at the magic circle/leading international firms. BA in fine arts will just do the 1 year law conversion course, the GDL, then undertake the LPC. This a specific example, but it none the less means you'll be competing with LLB graduates from 85 qualifying law degree providers, plus every other university graduate interested in becoming a lawyer. In fact, many young kids with legal dreams are choosing to do a non-law degree like History at a good university, as it is much much easier to get higher grades. They then use their higher grades from a good university to get interviews. I chose to do the LLB instead of the GDL as it helps to have a UK institution behind your name, and the 2 year LLB provides me with the option to go back to Canada should everything go completely tits up here.

Some admissions:
1) I have really struggled to get my foot in the door in this country. The application process at most firms is long, taxing, and insanely over subscribed. For example, Clifford Chance receives nearly 1000 applications a year just for the 60 spots on their two-week internships. They offer ~80 TCs a year and have well over 2000 applications for those. I got good marks on my LLB by UK average standards, but dead-average marks for most (realistic) training contract applicant standards. I've submitted damn near 100 applications (these 13+ page online forms and assessments they all make you do) over the last 4 years and I am FINALLY getting to final interview stages with a realistic chance of getting an offer. Other Canadians who were on the same programme as me and got higher marks also found interviewing tough, but have been more successful than me and secured places at great firms.

2) I am originally from the Vancouver area and I cannot believe how expensive this country is (not just in London). If your funds are from Canada, prepare to dig DEEP. I have definitely been surviving off an ever increasing loan. Groceries are extortionate, with the exception of dairy products. Utilities can be pricey, but phone bills are way better than Canada. If you wish to live comfortably, the prices raise exponentially.

3) Staying in this country is easier for me as I have dual citizenship. For this reason I cannot provide any insights into the visa process.

4) I have lived only in Southern England (and now, right in London). I have no idea what its like in Manchester or Liverpool, other than I cannot understand any of their accents. Through working, family connections, and general travels throughout my life I am familiar with Bristol, Oxford, Reading, London, the good parts of Kent, and a few areas of Birmingham.

Do let me know if you have any questions about UK law life!

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18 minutes ago, LawAbroad said:

First thing Canadians are normally surprised to hear about with regards to law life in the UK: it's HUGE... maybe even worth describing as YUGE. Yes, the UK population is roughly double of Canada, but the law of England and Wales is easily this nation's best export. There's usually around 5000+ TCs on offer a year, and a further 400-500 pupillages (the one year articles for wannabe barristers). The Magic Circle firms are massive: Linklaters' London office has around 1100 lawyers. For the longest time Clifford Chance occupied an entire 1,000,000 sqft office, which was a full 33-floor tower. They sublet a few floors out to a German bank these days for extra revenue. Some of their offices contain gyms, health clinics, restaurants, and Clifford Chance has a full size pool. Allen & Overy has a basketball court, multiple restaurants, and essentially a night club in its office. I'm interviewing with a "regional" firm that houses over 400 lawyers in one office, and their partners all take home around the half million mark (in GBP...do the conversion to CAD). If you qualify at any of the top 100 firms in the UK, you're in great standing for a profitable career.

...


2) I am originally from the Vancouver area and I cannot believe how expensive this country is (not just in London). If your funds are from Canada, prepare to dig DEEP. I have definitely been surviving off an ever increasing loan. Groceries are extortionate, with the exception of dairy products. Utilities can be pricey, but phone bills are way better than Canada. If you wish to live comfortably, the prices raise exponentially.

3) Staying in this country is easier for me as I have dual citizenship. For this reason I cannot provide any insights into the visa process.

Some additions/counterpoints

 

The vast majority of UK law grads don't get to work as lawyers, in any way. The figures you've given here (which I'm assuming are accurate) allow for absorption of some 5,500 new lawyers a year. Sure, that's a lot. It's also under 1/4 of people getting an undergraduate law degree annually (https://www.lawsociety.org.uk/Law-careers/Becoming-a-solicitor/Entry-trends/ - 2016/17 saw 17,855 UK and 4,910 international students, total 22,765, begin undergraduate law degrees. LS then says 6,346 solicitors were admitted. I think most Canadians would be stunned to learn how few law graduates in Britain will ever work in law). The students-starting number doesn't even include the people doing the conversion course which you talked about. I know you said 'competing with everyone who wants to become a lawyer', but the numbers are helpful to put the scale of the problem in perspective.

 

I disagree with the cost of living issue, although a lot of that depends on location, in both - London is by far the most expensive place in Britain for rental/house purchase, and Vancouver is generally cheaper, yes. My grocery bill is about 4x higher in Canada than it ever was in Britain. I'd say cars are both available cheaper and less necessary in Britain (although gas is cheaper in Canada, and used more for the longer distance between places). Flights are incredibly cheaper around Europe, electricity tends to be more expensive. So it does depend on an extent to your personal 'basket' of goods & services.

 

For people who don't have explicitly British citizenship (and possibly Irish), the current government's main focus is on finding a way to drive down immigration numbers, so anyone without a clear route to long-term residency should give a lot of thought to that.

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28 minutes ago, lookingaround said:

The vast majority of UK law grads don't get to work as lawyers, in any way. The figures you've given here (which I'm assuming are accurate) allow for absorption of some 5,500 new lawyers a year. Sure, that's a lot. It's also under 1/4 of people getting an undergraduate law degree annually (https://www.lawsociety.org.uk/Law-careers/Becoming-a-solicitor/Entry-trends/ - 2016/17 saw 17,855 UK and 4,910 international students, total 22,765, begin undergraduate law degrees. LS then says 6,346 solicitors were admitted. I think most Canadians would be stunned to learn how few law graduates in Britain will ever work in law). The students-starting number doesn't even include the people doing the conversion course which you talked about. I know you said 'competing with everyone who wants to become a lawyer', but the numbers are helpful to put the scale of the problem in perspective.

Thank you for the break down of the numbers. I figured my first post was long enough. To be honest, I am not sure what the hire rates of Canadian JD grads are so I wasn't sure if it would be THAT big of a surprise. The legal sector has been growing more than expected, the last recent figure was 5728 TCs across the UK in 2015-2016. Just over half of those were in London. There were ~430 pupillages available, with 320 spots in London. The next biggest city for pupillages was Manchester, with 24 on offer.

This is a major concern faced by both Canadians I've studied with here as well as the vast majority of British kids I know. It's definitely worse for those wishing to become barristers. The last numbers that came out showed that at least 80% of all pupillages at top 50 barrister chambers went to graduates with credentials from Oxford or Cambridge. The vast majority of the London commercial bar has the famous Oxford BCL. It's been estimated that Oxford and Cambridge grads account for maybe 20-25% of all TC offers in London. There were 300+ LLB graduates in total from my year, 2016, and I don't know of a single one that has yet to secure a pupillage (I know a good number who went on to do the £19,000 BPTC in London, and are still searching... most of the wannabe barristers all graduated with incredible marks). I think less than 5% of my class had secured a TC or even an internship before graduating. I'm sure the number is a little better these days for my class, but law grads from my university are known to be paralegals for 2-3 years before bagging a TC offer or wind up in the civil service. Keep in mind that my law school has a pretty decent reputation, and is easily a top 20 UK institution. I know of 7 or 8 kids who bagged TCs from leading firms, including Linklaters, Clifford Chance, and the London office of Latham & Watkins.

This should also be considered by Canadians who don't have dual citizenship. It's mainly the top 50 firms that are willing to sponsor people for visas, but obviously not all will. University choice and grades are both incredibly important, and that goes for both Canadian degrees and UK degrees. A McGill or Toronto grad with a LLB from a leading UK university (especially Oxbridge, although they call it a BA Jurisprudence at Oxford and a BA Law from Cambridge) will be very popular.

It should be noted that you get to skip a LOT of hoops if you're already a qualified Canadian lawyer. I haven't looked at it in a while, but I believe if you're qualified in a common law jurisdiction for 2 years or more you can do the Qualified Lawyer Transfer Scheme, which is just exams, and apply for an associate role at any firm as a qualified solicitor (again, assuming sponsorship for visa if required). I've heard of a few Canadians doing this at Slaughter and May, Clifford Chance, and Herbert Smith Freehills. I think they still paid a few of them in relation to their actual number of years of lawyer experience vs just classing/paying them as newly qualified.

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1 hour ago, LawAbroad said:

I am not sure what the hire rates of Canadian JD grads are so I wasn't sure if it would be THAT big of a surprise

For any Canadians debating this path, articling rates from most law schools are greater than 90%.  

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2 hours ago, BlockedQuebecois said:

For any Canadians debating this path, articling rates from most law schools are greater than 90%.  

Can you give a source for that figure? All I ever hear is the fact that we've got a surplus of JDs that can't find articling positions, so I thought it'd be closer to 70.

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1 hour ago, RNGesus said:

Can you give a source for that figure? All I ever hear is the fact that we've got a surplus of JDs that can't find articling positions, so I thought it'd be closer to 70.

The overall articling (not including clerkship) rate in Ontario was ~85% in 2012, though that number didn't account for graduates that found articles after March (http://www.lawsocietygazette.ca/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/ArticlingTaskForcefinalreport.pdf). Most of that is concentrated in certain law schools. These schools in Ontario all list >90% articling+clerkship rates: U of T, Queens, and Western. I don't think Osgoode does, but they sent me their report when I emailed them last year and it was well above that mark as well. 

It's also worth remembering that 1 or 2% of each class will go into another field or academia instead of being called. 

Edited by BlockedQuebecois
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I don't know if NCA students are counted, as they have a harder time finding articles generally and contribute to the numbers of people looking. I also wonder how they count people who give up looking and find non-law jobs. And of course the articling numbers include anyone with unpaid articles.

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4 hours ago, providence said:

I don't know if NCA students are counted, as they have a harder time finding articles generally and contribute to the numbers of people looking. I also wonder how they count people who give up looking and find non-law jobs. And of course the articling numbers include anyone with unpaid articles.

That is definitely true; however, I believe the issue regarding unpaid (and underpaid) articles doesn't only pertain to NCA students. Here are excerpts from an article:

Quote

“I’ve heard of people getting $20 for lunch money every day. And that’s really it in terms of wages.” This person even told me that the firm made them pay disbursements on files and cases out of their own pocket. This student recalled one scenario where they had to pay $750 in cash for a real estate closing fee, for which the firm never reimbursed them. The only way they could do this, they said, was because they had the support of their parents. “If I didn’t have parents who were willing to support me, then honestly law would have been too expensive for me to continue with.”

Quote

Perhaps the saddest story I heard was of the NCA student who, as a newcomer to Canada, volunteered with a firm for a year, completed unpaid articles, but was not ultimately offered a position and the firm refused to assist with their Permanent Residency application. In the end, the NCA student could not find an employer willing to assist with their application, lost hope and left Canada. My unproven hypothesis is that a significant number of racialized individuals and women are accepting precarious articling positions because they see no other opportunities to enter the profession.

Quote

 

These problems are not limited to small firms. Another student who attended a Canadian law school, earning top grades and winning numerous academic prizes, told me that they did not receive an offer after the second year OCI process, or after interviews during third year. When a reputable downtown Toronto law firm offered them a position, the salary was for only $15,000. Moreover, the firm was unwilling to assist with licensing fees. For most licensing candidates, this amounts to approximately $4870 – in other words, a third of this person’s pay for their entire term. With no other options, the student accepted the position. The student acknowledged that this was only feasible because they had parental support. Regardless, the experience left the student feeling undervalued and demoralized. “It still felt shameful the entire time. It makes you feel like you are not as good as everyone else for some reason, and that you deserve less.”  This student has since built a successful practice with another firm, but looking back, can see the inequality of bargaining power between a law student in need of a job and the law firm offering the position. 

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5 hours ago, timeisticking said:

That is definitely true; however, I believe the issue regarding unpaid (and underpaid) articles doesn't only pertain to NCA students. Here are excerpts from an article:

I didn't say it pertained only to NCA students.

I have to say though, for the second quote, wherever that is from, is a firm really obligated to offer anyone a job, and assist with a permanent residency application, on top of articles? They let the person volunteer and then offered them unpaid articles. It sounds to me that the student was the one driving the process - convincing the firm to let them "volunteer" and then pushing to turn that into articles, and the firm acquiesced but was not willing to pay for that. Then the student seemed to assume that because they had done unpaid articles, they were entitled to more.

I don't really see what the third student has to complain about. Underpaid articles were feasible for them because they had parental support, and completing articles allowed them to build their successful practice with another firm. The salary paid and the inability to pay licensing fees likely just reflects the financial position of that firm and not the worth of the student. I know in this society people tend to measure the value of everything in financial terms, but it's not always true. I understand that some students truly can't afford to take unpaid articles, but here there are two examples of people who had parental support and could do it. Articles are primarily about learning, not getting paid a lot.

But this is probably off-topic of the original thread - there have been lots of threads on this subject already.

Edited by providence

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I actually think the firm in the third paragraph what being charitable. There's no way I would pay $15,000 to somebody that doesn't realize until after "building a successful practice" that there is an inequality of bargaining power between employers and students. 

Win all the prizes you want, if you're that dull I wouldn't expect a job. 

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4 hours ago, providence said:

I didn't say it pertained only to NCA students.

I have to say though, for the second quote, wherever that is from, is a firm really obligated to offer anyone a job, and assist with a permanent residency application, on top of articles? They let the person volunteer and then offered them unpaid articles. It sounds to me that the student was the one driving the process - convincing the firm to let them "volunteer" and then pushing to turn that into articles, and the firm acquiesced but was not willing to pay for that. Then the student seemed to assume that because they had done unpaid articles, they were entitled to more.

I don't really see what the third student has to complain about. Underpaid articles were feasible for them because they had parental support, and completing articles allowed them to build their successful practice with another firm. The salary paid and the inability to pay licensing fees likely just reflects the financial position of that firm and not the worth of the student. I know in this society people tend to measure the value of everything in financial terms, but it's not always true. I understand that some students truly can't afford to take unpaid articles, but here there are two examples of people who had parental support and could do it. Articles are primarily about learning, not getting paid a lot.

But this is probably off-topic of the original thread - there have been lots of threads on this subject already.

I don't think the firm is obligated to offer anyone a job. I'm just reinforcing your point that NCA students have a much harder time getting articles, despite the numbers not being published. It's also true that unpaid (and underpaid) articles are much often than we think there are, which includes both locally-trained graduates and NCA students.

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There's no way that a firm should be making a student pay disbursements, any student, not just one who is not being paid.

It would be nice to have more information about the NCA student who was new to Canada. Why did he need a firm to help him with PR status? On what basis did he enter the country?

Many employers do not pay licensing fees, not just sole practitioners or small firms. If you're doing a clerkship, don't expect to have your fees paid.

I feel for some of the students who are unable to find an articling position. I don't know many, and some of them are good candidates who for whatever reason, have not found a spot, but not all are good candidates and there are likely reasons that some of them find themselves in this position.

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Without getting too much into the running debate here, what very little I know about UK hiring practices seems to confirm the common sense view that comparing Canadian paths to employment in Canada vs. UK paths to employment in the UK is very much apples to oranges. Not only are we comparing a true undergraduate degree where many students in the UK enter into "law" programs without ever intending to practice, to Canada where it's the over-whelming majority of law students who intend to practice law, but articling in Canada is simply a last step in training whereas in the UK (as far as I can tell) taking on a graduate and qualifying them generally represents a real intention to hire that graduate on an ongoing basis. In fact, these two differences may well be related. Exactly because in the UK there's no expectation that every graduate needs to be called, there's no push to create opportunities for them to become lawyers over and above actual jobs available. Meanwhile, in Canada, we're all familiar with the push to create articling positions only for the sake of helping graduates to get called.

In other words, yeah. Huge apples to oranges situation. I can't comment on which is objectively "better." But I'll say that comparing a snapshot of one to the other, at just one stage in the process, is probably foolish.

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12 minutes ago, erinl2 said:

It would be nice to have more information about the NCA student who was new to Canada. Why did he need a firm to help him with PR status? On what basis did he enter the country?
 

I'd also love to know more about that, couldn't find the article online to see if there were any more hints. My guess would be entering on a young person's work permit (a study permit is less likely for NCA, especially since they wouldn't qualify for post graduate work permit after). That would allow them to enter Canada, do the year's articling work, but then they'd need a path of some kind to long-term residency (and I'm guessing a Canadian law firm would struggle, at best, to get an LMIA proving they can't hire a Canadian to do it). 

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Without commenting directly on news stories, I'm also going to say that the media traditionally has a God-awful idea of how legal practice and employment in the legal sector actually works. So I'll agree that abusive and exploitative employment situations do exist, and that's deplorable. I'll also agree that clueless and entitled students exist, and they are obnoxious. I do not, however, trust any reporter or would-be journalist to parse the equities of a specific situation and to determine what's really going on and who's getting shafted.

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Wow! Definitely got off topic on this one. But definitely a great and important conversation to be had when discussing studying abroad. Bringing this back a little to discussions about graduate recruitment at UK law firms:

59 minutes ago, Diplock said:

[...] whereas in the UK (as far as I can tell) taking on a graduate and qualifying them generally represents a real intention to hire that graduate on an ongoing basis.

You spotted an important point to qualifying as a solicitor of England and Wales. Most big firms (again, the ones that are willing to sponsor those who require visas) fund the GDL if required, the LPC and often provide a maintenance grant to help with some cost of living. Usually around £6-8K a year during both the GDL and LPC if you're living in London, £4-6 if you're at a big firm outside of London. During the two year TC you will have billable hour requirements/targets at most firms, but in reality the vast majority of your time will be written down and not charged out to clients. As a result, it costs a big London firm £200k or more to get a graduate qualified these days. So yes, if you are offered a TC it is with the full intention that you will be kept on afterwards unless you're completely useless, which does happen.

The magic circle firms have a rep for only having retention rates around 65-85%, but that's because many do the TC, realize that working for those behemoth firms isn't the life for them, and bail to in-house or smaller/regional firms as a newly qualified. It's also affected by major market shifts, as we all can understand. For example, Brexit really hurt NQs looking to qualify into Corporate M&A or Finance departments, but opened up a whole bunch of seats in dispute resolution and competition!

Another issue effecting the NQ retention rates is that there's a massive wage war going on between the London outposts of elite American firms, and the established British brands. For example, Kirkland Ellis and Akin Gump pay their NQs £50k a year more than Herbert Smith Freehills and Macfarlanes, which many consider to be two of the most prestigious non-MC firms to work at in the City.
 

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