Law Group Offers New Direction For Canadian Immigrants
Team building and connecting during our new virtual reality is challenging at times. Gathering as a group online is not the same as getting together in person. Still, people around the world are finding effective ways to engage remotely.
In the case of a study group organized by Directions for Immigrants, participants and facilitators manage to do so with remarkable and life-changing results.
The internationally trained lawyers have come to Canada to start a new life and hope to resume the career they built in their home countries. But before being called to the bar, they must pass exams demonstrating they are proficient in Canadian laws such as Canadian constitutional, administrative, and criminal law.
Directions for Immigrants started the study groups in February 2020 at no cost to its clients. Like-minded people with the same end goal can meet to discuss upcoming exams, go over case law, and bounce ideas off one another. It’s also an opportunity to prop one another up, to share anxieties, but also to share a laugh.
Debbie Wilcox is one of the facilitators. She had been a commercial oil and gas litigator in Nigeria before moving to Canada in 2018. After running an informal study group with friends to help one another, Directions for Immigrants sought her help to design an outline and help lead its study groups. Wilcox says these get-togethers are about studying, but they are also about networking.
“I have a genuine passion for teaching,” says Wilcox. “I will take satisfaction from helping at least one person come into the country and not be as lost as I was. I hope all of them have a smooth journey. My hope is that they not only pass the exams and get qualified but that they make meaningful work relationships and have a good foundation to excel in their legal careers.”
Wilcox has since been called to the bar. She takes satisfaction in knowing she helped a community of internationally trained lawyers who are fulfilling their dreams of becoming lawyers.
One of those lawyers, Francis Chiejina, landed in Canada in 2019 after immigrating from Nigeria with his wife and children. After working as an associate at Walmart and then at an audit firm, he discovered Directions for Immigrants and realized it is possible to get back into the legal profession.
“It was daunting, not knowing where to start. You need to know what the examiners are looking for. I looked at the possibility of joining study groups or tutorials, but the cost was prohibitive. Directions for Immigrants was just a blessing,” says Chiejina.
The study groups for internationally trained lawyers are fully funded by the Government of Alberta and the Government of Canada. Directions for Immigrants brings in subject matter experts, teaches exam time management skills, gives tips on how to be successful in an exam by focusing on their writing and reasoning skills, and runs mock exams. Participants then take the official exams in foundations of Canadian law, Canadian constitutional law, administrative law, professional responsibility, and Canadian criminal law. So far, the results have yielded a 93 per cent pass rate. Directions for Immigrants thinks it’s a remarkable feat, especially considering the participants are doing it all during the coronavirus pandemic.
“The success rate is so high for a few reasons. Our instructors are people who have gone through the process themselves. They know the information, but they also want to help our clients become a professional in Canada,” says Karen Jenkins, manager, Career Services – Immigrant Professionals. “Also, our coaches take the time to support our clients. And the clients have the motivation to restart their careers. The study group gives them structure, but they also study on their own and consume all of the material.”
Clients need to go through an assessment to determine if they are eligible for the service. For those who qualify, Chiejina says there is no question that they should pursue it. “Without Directions for Immigrants, I don’t know how the exams would have gone. If you have the opportunity to register for your study preparation, I think it is a fantastic idea. It really has been fantastic for me going through this journey.”
Directions for Immigrants is operated by Bow Valley College. The Province of Alberta is working in partnership with the Government of Canada to provide employment support programs and services.