Doing Justice to a Long Career in Law

Charles IbehThese days Charles Ibeh has a busy Civil Litigation practice as an associate at Shory Law, in Calgary’s rapidly growing North East quadrant, but it wasn’t always so. When Charles first arrived from Nigeria in 2012 he brought over 20 years of experience as a lawyer with him, but he lacked the license required to practice law in Alberta.

Needing to support his wife and son, Charles found himself working as a security guard, a position which greatly underutilized his extensive legal experience. He clearly recalls the culture shock he faced as he realized he would have to work in a job that didn’t use his skills. However, like all immigrants to Canada, Charles was driven to succeed and was determined to re-enter his profession.

Charles applied to the Law Society of Alberta to have his credentials assessed. Fortunately for Charles, Nigeria’s legal system is based on the same British Common law model as Canada’s, but nevertheless he lacked certain knowledge of Canadian law and was told he would need to write 4 exams: Criminal Law and Procedure, Constitutional Law, Foundations of Canadian Law, and Canadian Administrative Law. Upon passing these he would then need to complete approximately one year of articling, while simultaneously taking a series of career preparation courses (CPLED), that all articling students in Canada need to complete before they can apply for licensure.

With the path clear, Charles set out to achieve his goal of being called to the bar in Alberta. He took night shifts at his security job so he could spend his days studying in the Law Society of Alberta’s law library. Aside from exhaustion, one of the biggest challenges Charles experienced was becoming a student again. Having been out of school for 20 years, he needed re-acquaint himself with academic study. He found that certain elements of the Canadian education experience, such as open-book exams, were particularly unfamiliar as well. Eventually Charles decided that in order to be successful he would need to commit more time to studying. However, if he reduced his hours at work to do so, he would have a difficult time supporting his family and paying for his exams.

After doing some online research into immigrant employment programs in Calgary, Charles discovered CRIEC (Calgary Regional Immigrant Employment Council) and its executive director Bruce Randall, who happened to be a lawyer, himself. As a lawyer, Bruce was able to give Charles some specialized advice and referrals to invaluable resources including Immigrant Access Fund. Charles recalled first hearing about IAF after seeing our booth at a Career Fair in 2012, and with Bruce’s recommendation, he decided to reach out in February 2014.

After discussing his situation with IAF intake staff, Charles applied for and received a loan to cover the costs of his exams, the first of which he registered for right away. Charles completed his final exam in January 2015, and started his articling in September of that year at the Alberta Civil Liberties Research Centre. During this time, Charles also applied for and received an additional loan to help cover the costs of his mandatory CPLED courses. He finished his articling at Smith Law Office, a private law firm, in June of 2016. The following month, Charles achieved his dream when he was called to the Alberta Bar. With this license achieved, Charles started his first job as a lawyer in Canada in August of 2016 at Dawe Law Office, before moving to his present position at Shory Law in January of 2017.

“IAF made it possible for me financially to write my exams, while also supporting my family,” Charles says. “As a result of IAF’s support I was also able to commit the needed time to properly study for and pass my exams. Without IAF I would have had to postpone writing my exams, or maybe go back to university and re-do my law degree from scratch. IAF really facilitated the whole enterprise.”

Every year, IAF helps hundreds of immigrants by providing loans to help them pay for the licensing or training they need to work in their field in Canada. Now more than ever Canada’s newcomers need our help. Please consider a donation to IAF today.