Putting your best self on paper: Composing a winning application package

The journey to practice for internationally trained lawyers is not an easy one.  First, you need to make sure you pass the National Committee on Accreditation (NCA) exams.  Second, you are confronted with the daunting task of having to prepare for and get through the Bar admissions process in the province you want to practice in.  Third, and arguably the most important and difficult, you need to find a job in Canada as a lawyer. 

You have practiced law in your home jurisdiction for 5 years already. Getting employers to see your value should be simple, right?  Your work experience will speak for itself, right?  Wrong. Putting it bluntly, a lot of internationally trained lawyers who embark on their legal career journeys in Canada are surprised to find themselves starting from scratch in their search for employment.  You may be surprised to find that employers do not see the value you bring as easily or as clearly as you thought they might. 

After rigorous, time consuming and costly NCA and Bar prep, finding a job and ‘convincing’ others of your value might seem like a mountain too high to climb. I recently had the opportunity to speak to the head recruiter of national Canadian law firm Borden Ladner Gervais’ Toronto Office Angela Sordi about how internationally trained lawyers can prepare their application packages. She spoke to me about cover letters, saying:

“Your cover letter really becomes your writing sample and a really important piece in letting us know who you are and what your story is. What we do is approach every application quite holistically, so there is not a single piece of your application package that is more important than another. Yes, your transcripts are an important part of your application package, so we do want to see strong academic performance, but that is only one piece of the evaluation. I also want to see a really great and engaging cover letter, which is really an opportunity to tell us who you are, what your journey has been and why are you here now looking for a summer or articling position? What kind of experience are you bringing to the table? Why are you different to the other candidates? So, cover letters are extremely important in demonstrating how you communicate in writing and also really begins to highlight what your strengths are.”

The key takeaways from my conversation with Angela were to make sure your CV is short and sweet (no longer than two pages) and that your cover letter goes above and beyond the CV. Use the cover letter as an opportunity to show law firms your personality and drive. You are an internationally trained lawyer with diverse and nuanced experiences that can really benefit a Canadian law firm. Your job is to explain to law firm recruiters what that experience is and why you are the best candidate for the position. Go get ‘em!