Firm Culture

Biased Much?

I recently went for a ‘preventative health examination,’ which is code for ‘private healthcare,’ which is something that is in fact available in Canada – to those who are willing and able to pay for it.

I was given a stress test which involved having me walk on a treadmill while hooked-up to a computer. Being me, I quipped to the technician that I was counting on her to make sure that I did not have a heart attack during the test. She reassured me that if I did, I would be in good hands, because ‘back home’ she was a cardiologist.

It is not a very well-kept secret that in Canada we make it difficult for immigrants to qualify to practice their professions.

So let’s talk about lawyers.

Few of us home-grown lawyers have much of an idea of what internationally trained lawyers go through to become accredited to practice law in Canada. I might write about that another day, but for the sake of today’s rant, let’s assume for the moment that the system works to guarantee that when internationally trained lawyers complete those requirements they are just as ill-prepared to practice law as any other recent law school graduate. Any reader who has done their research and knows for a fact that I am wrong about this is welcome to ignore the rest of this article. I am going to guess that none of you have. So please read on.

If there is in fact a system in place to assure us that the training of internationally trained lawyers is just as poor as the training afforded to Canadian lawyers, why do internationally trained lawyers have such a difficult time getting jobs in Canada?

I have been speaking to people who actually know something about this topic, and here are some of the things which I have learned:

  1. Internationally trained lawyers breakdown into two broad categories.
  2. In the first category you will find internationally trained lawyers who are not Canadian citizens. They are educated elsewhere and have often practiced law before coming to live in Canada.  We home grown lawyers assume, without actually doing any investigation, that their legal training is inferior to the training received in Canadian law schools. If you think about it, that is really quite the astonishing assumption to make, considering that we generally do not think much of how Canadian law schools prepare students to practice law.
  3. Of course, we home grown lawyers tend to assume that the internationally trained lawyers who studied in the United States, the United Kingdom or Australia have received a better education than those who studied in India, Pakistan, Nigeria, or Ghana. We don’t actually have any evidence that this is the case. We just tend to think so because we are more familiar with those countries and their legal and political systems.
  4. The second category of internationally trained lawyers is comprised of Canadian citizens who are educated elsewhere. Here the assumption is that if they were any good, they would have been accepted to a Canadian law school. This could be true, but there is also the possibility that there are other factors at work.  Perhaps a family situation made studying abroad a good choice. Maybe the student chose to study in a foreign country to widen their worldview or attend a prestigious foreign law school. Or perhaps they really did have difficulty being accepted to law school in Canada for one reason or another but nonetheless excelled in their studies abroad.
  5. Some of these internationally trained lawyers have a wealth of skills that our homegrown lawyers do not have. Things like: (i) exposure to other cultures; (ii) the ability to speak several languages; (iii) actual experience practicing law; or (iv) time spent at a foreign law school which actually teaches practical skills. In addition, many of them have demonstrated resilience and flexibility in making the move to Canada. And yet all of this is discounted by the geniuses who hire lawyers at Canadian law firms.

One would imagine that in an industry where finding the best people is crucial for success, firms would have sophisticated knowledge and procedures to enable them to obtain the competitive advantages inherent in fully understanding the available talent pool, instead of making decisions based on a lack of knowledge and the application of stereotypical biases.

But we are dealing with law firms here, and I don’t think that anyone who is familiar with Canadian law firms would say, with a straight face, that they are known for being particularly good at human resource management.

So, I think that it is fair to ask those who are responsible for hiring lawyers: biased much?

This article (under a different title) was originally published by The Lawyer’s Daily (, part of LexisNexis Canada Inc.

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