Firm Culture

Lawyers Without Borders

As an Anglo born and raised in Montreal and living in Ontario for many years, I consider myself to be a political refugee from Quebec. (Some would say that I overstate my immigrant credentials somewhat.)

I moved from Montreal to Toronto in 1979 at twenty-four years of age with my brand-new law degree in hand to article for a mid-sized Toronto firm.  It was my third trip to Toronto. I had been in the city for a weekend when I was eight years old and again for a few days for articling interviews.

I knew nothing about the city, the province, business culture in general or Toronto’s business culture in particular, or the legal profession. I did not even have an undergraduate degree. I was not ‘worldly’ by any stretch of the imagination.

Nor was I a fashion icon. I had two inexpensive suits, one pair of dress shoes, some cheap ties, and no fashion sense. I was driving a 10-year-old rusted Plymouth Scamp. At that point I had not even developed my brilliant sense of humour that today stands as a beacon that lights up the world

Knowing practically no one in Toronto and nothing about the city or the legal profession, it is perhaps unsurprising that as the colloquial fish out of water, I did not put my best foot forward in my articling job. Nor was it shocking that the reason that I was given for not being offered a permanent job was that I did not have enough self-confidence. Unspoken was that I simply did not ‘fit in.’  In retrospect, perhaps it was not really that I lacked self-confidence, but that the firm lacked confidence in me because I was nothing like the partners or the other articling students.

I persevered and had a successful legal career as a partner and managing partner of a law firm and as a rainmaker.

But this story is not about me, as difficult as that may be to discern at this point. It is about internationally trained lawyers who come to Canada with diverse skills and experience but often without being acclimatized to our culture and the legal profession in Canada. 

I now understand that my unfamiliarity with the local culture and the legal profession formed a fog that obscured my potential as a lawyer from the firm that I articled with. In the same way, I wonder whether Canadian law firms lose the opportunity to hire talented, internationally trained lawyers because they are not able or willing to look past their own comfortable familiarity with the nature of local candidates to see the unique talents and experience that these newcomers may bring to their practice.

We homegrown folks tend not to bother to find out much about the accreditation process that internationally trained lawyers go through to be licensed in Canada. If we did, we might have a newfound respect for people who have chosen that path.  Instead, we make a lot of assumptions and then often take the ‘easy’ path of offering opportunities to people who have followed a path with which we can more easily identify.

There is a world out there, folks. It may just be a good idea to have some people on our teams who know something about parts of it that are foreign to the rest of us.

This article was originally published by The Lawyer’s Daily (, part of LexisNexis Canada Inc.

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