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NorthStar

A career as a Crown Counsel for a foreign trained lawyer - LLMs and other such queries

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Hey folks, I've been following this forum for a few weeks now and I've found some great information here. I've had a few questions myself and I'd be more than grateful for any help.

My background- I qualified the Bar in New Delhi, India in 2014 and I have been practising here for 5 years now. I spent the last 4+ years in solo practice and I am doing reasonably well. I've had the opportunity to work on several civil and criminal trials in these 4 years. On the criminal practice front, I've worked on matters ranging from attempted murder, white-collar crimes and some smaller criminal work. I have done quite a bit of pro bono work as well. I am representing a 7-year-old victim of a horrific gang. I am also handling an appeal under our Prevention of Corruption Act involving a decorated civil servant convicted for having assets disproportionate to his income. On the civil side, I just won my first domestic arbitration a few months back. I have worked on plenty of civil suits as well ranging from suits for recovery of damages/specific performance under contracts, evictions and partitions of family estates. I have handled some family law matters as well though this practice area does not interest me as much (it does pay a lot of the bills for now). I am also empanelled as a Legal Aid Counsel (Civil) with the State of Delhi. I have a good work-life balance for the most part. I manage to take out 3-4 weeks a year on vacation and work out / spend time with family / have alone time quite often (at least when compared to my peers). On the other hand, I'm touching 29 years of age with zero savings. But on the bright side I have zero debt for now.

My English is pretty good too; I got a perfect 9/9 in the listening, reading and speaking modules of the IELTS. I am planning to make the move to Canada if you haven't figured it out yet. I should have my COPR (confirmation of permanent residence) in a few months. The reason why I would want to give up a comfortable life and take on student debt in a foreign country could be an entire post in itself! I have a feeling that I'm going to "fit in" with relative ease and won't have to go through the extended learning curve that most (if not a lot) of immigrants go through while trying to assimilate into Canadian work culture.

My areas of interest- Ideally, I'd want to work towards a career at the office of the Crown Attorney. I don't, however, want to spend a significant amount of time working with/as a criminal defence lawyer. I love criminal law but I don't particularly enjoy the business end of criminal law practice. Criminal law is dominated by solo practitioners and small firms. Working for one will only get you that far and eventually you need to start brining in your own clients to be successful. This is unlike civil/commercial litigation where you could be reasonably successful at a firm where you are primarily responsible for executing work. I am, however, making these assumptions based on my limited experience in India. Could someone please shed some more light on this? 

I'd be willing to put in 2-4 years including my articles working with a criminal defence lawyer. I hope to be able to move into the Crown Attorney's office by then. My apprehension is that if I am unable to make the switch to the CA's office, it may be too late for me to move on to my second area of interest, i.e. commercial litigation/arbitration. How should I go about this?

Where should I move (ON versus BC) - I'm planning to move to Ontario to work. That was the obvious choice as there seem to be a lot more opportunities there. BC looks lovely too (I love the outdoors) but I have my reservations. I'd be more than happy to work in a city such as Nelson, BC. Which would be a good first province to move to between ON and BC? Taxes and cost of living seem to be lower in BC but so are the salaries and work opportunities. Toronto seems exciting and I have a feeling that making a move from ON to BC would be easier than from BC to ON? I read in another post here that the LLM from Oz may not be as highly valued as the one from UBC. That being said, I think studying in the province that you wish to work in is the way to go. 

My LLM options: I am applying for my masters in U of T, Oz and UBC. I am going to use this time to study, clear the licensing process and network. I know LLMs usually don't help you get work but I just would not feel confident without having studied the domestic law of Canada one bit. I am going to go with the Common Law LLM if I end up in Oz or UBC.

What I am doubtful about is the area of study if I am admitted to U of T. Would an LLM in Criminal Law (they have a specialised stream at U of T) improve my chances of working at the CAs office? Or should I hedge my odds and take the Business Law stream if that will increase my odds of finding work. As I said, I might not want to do criminal defence for long. I read in some of the other posts here that a lot of lawyers at the CA's office have a civil litigation background. But I think this applies to only very experienced lawyers. Would practising criminal law substantially improve my odds of being placed with the CAs office in my first few years of call?

Honestly, if I didn't have to think about work prospects, I'd love to do the Legal Theory concentration at U of T! Law & Economics and Competition Law (antitrust) were my favourite subjects in law school. My grades aren't good at all so I am not even sure if I'd be admitted. But if I am, what would be a good LLM concentration based on the work I want to do? I am going to have to take a loan to study so I'd like to this right.

My final thoughts - Is there a good chance that it might take me 5+ years to join the CA's office in Ontario? If so, I might not want to pin all my decisions on that outcome. I have an interest in civil/commercial litigation and arbitration as well and I would do just fine at a firm. But given the choice, I'd be happy to work as with the CA/CC in a smaller city with more time and disposable income in my hands. Appearing in court and studying the Law are what I truly enjoy. The business end of it however just does not come naturally to me. I'm willing to start from scratch and with debt as long as I have a definite goal in my mind. Moving back to India however will no longer be an option.

I am sure this post is too long already so I will leave it at that. I have found some of the contributors here are extremely insightful, so a big thank you for taking out the time to help up and coming lawyers and law students.

@Malicious Prosecutor and @Diplock - I do hope to hear from you both in particular because you've got the most experience and insight in this area! Thanks a ton!

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1 minute ago, Luckycharm said:

Are you coming to Canada as a Visa Student or a landed immigrant ?

Read the following:

https://lso.ca/becoming-licensed/lawyer-licensing-process/call-to-the-bar

LLM will not meet the requirements for licensing.

Hey @Luckycharm, thank you for your reply. I'll be there as a Permanent Resident (PR) i.e. a landed migrant. I am aware of the licensing requirements for the most part.

The LSO will evaluate my qualifications and inform me of the courses / NCA challenger exams I need to take. The Common Law LLMs at UBC and Oz meet most of the NCA requirements. If I am admitted to U of T then I would have to write a few challenger exams and get my certificate of qualification. Only then can I write the bar exam. Either way I know that I will have to navigate the licensing process in some form or the other.

My queries are on a different tangent (I know its a long post). Thank you for replying though! 

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@NorthStar it's always a good idea to bring up the immigration consequences, because a lot of times these kinds of questions are asked by people who haven't considered them.  Glad to here you're alive to the issue.

A caution before I try to answer your specific questions: "fitting in" goes well beyond speaking perfect english.  There's just a huge cultural barrier that immigrants can sometimes find even though they speak the language.

Yes, working as a criminal defence lawyer means you're going to try to rely of getting your own clients.  Be warned that most criminal clients come through legal aid.  That can be advantageous in that once you're well established legal aid will just call you with with new clients for you, rather than having to pound the pavement yourself so to speak.  But they of course do not necessarily pay well.

I can also advise there's always a demand for lawyers that can speak foreign languages.  There's of course a large indian diaspora community in Canada, so a fluency in Hindi, Punjabi or any of the other languages of India could be a great assistance.  So finding clients may not be as difficult as you think.

Where to move to - I really can't offer any guidance here.  I think it would probably come down to a more personal choice: is there one place you have family, or other social connection to?  Also consider that Canada has more locations than BC/Ontario.  I know Alberta also has a large indian community.

Working at the Crown's office as a foreign born-and-trained lawyer...  my only colleague in that situation actually went and took a Canadian law degree, despite already having a foreign law degree and some time in practice.  Not a common law country, for what it is worth.  So on the one hand the Crown's office tries to use a neutral and objective hiring process, rather than relying on vague concepts like "fit".  So in Alberta (and most other jurisdictions I think) you're asked a series of substantive law questions.  So on the one hand this means you're on an equal footing with Canadian born-and-trained lawyers.

But on the other hand these questions are not hard, but are the kinds of questions you would know the answer to by actually going out and practicing criminal law.  So yes, other than hiring brand new articling students, almost everyone we hire are working criminal defence lawyers.

So yes, working in criminal defence would be a significant advantage in trying to get a job here.  Could it take five years?  Absolutely.  Could you ultimately never get a job with the Crown's office?  Yes that's possible too.

And I'm afraid I have too little experience with LLMs to give any meaningful advice.

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13 hours ago, Malicious Prosecutor said:

YOu might also want to ask this to a more general board, or re-post your question.  I wouldn't have seen this normally except you tagged me in it.

Reposted here with some edits.

@Malicious Prosecutor, thank you for taking out the time to reply. I have some clarity on my queries now. From what I can gather, get as much experience in criminal law and keep a look out for openings at the Crown's office.

Is there a significant advantage in residing in the province that has openings?

The ACPS seems to have several openings for now. That being said, it will take me 2 years to be called to the bar and the situation might be quite different then. It might not be wise on my part to move to AL based solely on the present status of the ACPS. However on the other hand the market seems to be saturated in ON and may continue to be so with most folks deciding to move and work there. My language skills will not be of much use in BC based on the demographics.

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7 hours ago, NorthStar said:

Reposted here with some edits.

@Malicious Prosecutor, thank you for taking out the time to reply. I have some clarity on my queries now. From what I can gather, get as much experience in criminal law and keep a look out for openings at the Crown's office.

Is there a significant advantage in residing in the province that has openings?

The ACPS seems to have several openings for now. That being said, it will take me 2 years to be called to the bar and the situation might be quite different then. It might not be wise on my part to move to AL based solely on the present status of the ACPS. However on the other hand the market seems to be saturated in ON and may continue to be so with most folks deciding to move and work there. My language skills will not be of much use in BC based on the demographics.

First: Alberta's postal abbreviation is AB.  AL is Alabama.

Second, I don't know why you think (from your other thread) that BC has a smaller Indian diaspora.  According to Wiki Ontario population is 9.9% "south and west asian", whereas BC is 9.1% (Alberta is smaller at 5.8% south asian).

Is there an advantage to residing in a province when applying for Crown jobs?  Yes. You're more likely to be a known commodity - we've appeared opposite you on some files.  The government doesn't have to pay relocation fees.  You can start more quickly.  But it's not essential either - we have hired people from out of province before.

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