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How Diversity is a Strength in Law

June 15, 2018

Roz Bahrami

A few weeks ago, Osgoode Hall Law School hosted Osgoode’s Internationally Trained Lawyers Day (OITLD) to showcase the strength of internationally-trained talent in Toronto.

We had a diverse array of lawyers from different countries attend to meet other like-minded individuals so they can build their own networks in Canada.

The objective: to provide an opportunity for internationally trained lawyers to network with supportive and experienced members of the legal profession and to learn more about the process of accreditation and licensing.

We had the pleasure of sitting down with Donika Selmanaj, an Osgoode Hall Law School graduate and internationally trained lawyer, after the event to get her perspective and thoughts of OITLD and her overall experience with law in Canada.

Tell me a little about yourself, your background and what made you study law?

My name is Donika Selmanaj; I obtained a Bachelor of Laws (LLB) from the University of Shkodra “Luigj Gurakuqi”, in Albania. Once I graduated, I moved to Canada where I continued my education by pursuing a Masters Degree (LLM) in Canadian Common Law at Osgoode Hall Law School. I have completed all my NCA requirements and I am currently contemplating whether to choose the LSO’s Law Practice Program or the traditional articling route. At the end of the articling or LPP, I will have a total of six years of legal training.

There are several reasons I chose to study law: first, I always had the tendency to get involved in various community activities. I believed pursuing a legal career would enable me to further assist my community and others who need legal advice and representation. In addition, I enjoy analyzing and critical thinking, so I thought a law career is one of the most effective ways to practise these skills. Finally, I wanted to pursue law because, in my opinion, it is one of the most respected professions.

As an International student, what was the biggest challenge for you and how did OITLD help you? 

One of the biggest challenges for me as an international student was to create legal networking opportunities. Osgoode’s Internationally Trained Lawyers Day is ideally designed to enable us (internationally trained lawyers) to interact with other professionals in the legal field. During this event, I had the opportunity to meet with many other internationally trained lawyers and exchange ideas with them.

What was the biggest learning for you from this event? What learning stood out the most?

One recurring advice we received from most of the speakers at the event was that networking is the key to success in the legal field. Many legal professionals advised that in order to be successful in the legal field, we should not hesitate to reach out to lawyers and ask them for a few minutes of their time, to either discuss any opportunities they might be aware of or receive any advice from them. As Michael Vrantsidis, a lawyer and former Osgoode LLM student put it. “We should not cross the line, but we should not be afraid to go to the line.”

What was the most surprising thing you learned at OITLD?

I learned that diversity has a positive rather than a negative effect in every organization or workplace in Canada. Statistics presented by keynote speaker Hadiya Roderique, lawyer, journalist, and Ph.D. candidate at the University of Toronto, highlighted that workplaces that consisted of diverse employees performed better than the ones that consisted of non-diverse employees. These statistics definitely boosted my confidence and reminded me that being an internationally trained lawyer and having a different legal, social and cultural upbringing is an asset rather than a weakness.

Was there someone you were particularly interested in meeting?

I was very interested in meeting the panel consisting of former Osgoode LLM students. Students who have successfully completed their licensing process and are currently practising law in Canada. I was eager to hear about their inspiring stories regarding their successes and struggles in the legal field. Learning from other professionals’ mistakes and achievements was definitely very helpful.

Do you think this event is important for international lawyers?

Absolutely! This event enables internationally trained lawyers to learn from the experts about everything they need to know about the licensing process. During the NCA session, we learned how to apply for the NCA assessment and what criteria the NCA committee uses for determining the number of required courses an internationally trained lawyer needs to take in order to fulfill the NCA requirements.

During the LSO Licensing Process session, we learned how to register with LSO, what to expect at the Bar exam, and what the best ways to prepare are. We learned about the practical components of the licensing process (articling and Law Practice Program) and the abridgments and exemptions that might reduce the articling term for those who have been called to the Bar and have practised law in their home jurisdictions.

During the Law Practice Program session, we learned how this program will prepare us to practise law in Canada and what areas of law the students would be exposed to for the duration of the program. In addition, OITLD offered professional wellness and mental health advice for dealing with different stresses and potential self-esteem fluctuations during this challenging process. It also offered strategies and techniques focused on building soft skills, resumes, cover letters, and preparing for interviews. Finally, it enabled us to create a network with other internationally trained lawyers and learn from their experiences.

What is your advice for an internationally trained lawyer wanting to practice law in Canada?

As an internationally trained lawyer and newcomer to Canada, I had many questions regarding the process of becoming a lawyer here, the accurate and complete answers to which could not always be found online. It took me longer than I anticipated to figure out this process and to start my LLM studies at Osgoode. Based on my experience, I highly recommend any internationally trained lawyer interested in becoming licensed to practise law in Canada, attend next year’s OITLD.

I also highly recommend Osgoode’s Canadian Common Law LLM program to better prepare for the challenging process of becoming a lawyer in Canada.

Has OsgoodePD better prepared you for your career in law?

Yes, definitely! For several reasons: first, having an LLM degree from one of the top law schools in Canada, has minimized the “stigma” of being an internationally trained lawyer. Second, the Canadian Common Law program enabled me to meet all of my NCA requirements, without having to write any challenge exams. Finally, the program enabled me to learn about all the core areas of Canadian law, including Constitutional Law, Administrative Law, Tort Law, and Canadian Professional Responsibility, which differ significantly from their equivalents in a civil law jurisdiction, where I was trained.

Donika Selmanaj is an internationally trained lawyer with a Bachelor of Laws (LLB) from the University of Shkodra, Albania and a Masters Degree (LLM) in Canadian Common Law from Osgoode Hall Law School. 

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