Lawyer Immigrating to Canada - One Woman's Success Story!

Faye Gelb, Editor

What Can we Learn from a Lawyer Who Immigrated to Canada?

We asked a member of Her Legal Global to share with you her experience in immigrating to Canada.

Until you have left behind your culture, friends, family and the land of your youth, it is impossible to fully appreciate the upheaval that such a move can have on you socially, emotionally and physically. Just a small point - there's no snow in Nigeria but there's plenty in Calgary, her new home.

Because Canada requires lawyers immigrating to re-qualify, many of the lawyers going through the process are well established lawyers who may have practiced for years. That is 'Funke Fasunon's story. She created her own firm in Nigeria in 2007 and it is still going strong.

When considering a NCA "student" for Articles, firms can't go wrong with a person who has significant legal experience, business experience and the resilience and determination to start over after practicing for years.


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Q: What is it like for a lawyer immigrating to Canada?

Immigrating to Canada, Canadian Lawyer, Nigerian lawyer, Her Legal Global

Funke (Olaogun) Fasunon is a Legal Researcher, writer and Nigerian-Business Law lawyer now in Calgary, Alberta. Currently seeking articles in Calgary as the precursor to qualifying for Law Society of Alberta membership. Articling opportunities or information - contact here: hub@gramoire.ca

Immigrating to Canada

Immigration is tough! I anticipated the difficulty and made up my mind to integrate into Canadian culture as fast as possible. I had heard that immigrants get lonely and experience micro-aggressions so I thought to myself how can I fix loneliness and address racial issues?

After I landed, I immersed myself in the community. I took up volunteer roles in two organizations. As a family, we chose a multi-cultural church and schools that had few Africans. Then I discovered that Calgary was highly cosmopolitan and Canadian culture depended on who you were interacting with at the time. So I needed to understand how to read body language and ask direct questions like 'is it okay to do or say this?' I needed to master how each person in my circle wanted to be related to in social and work interactions. No one rule fits everybody. 

Next Step to Practicing in Canada is an Articling Position

My next step is articles in Calgary to qualify to be called to the bar in Alberta. I have prepared for this by accepting volunteering positions. This is allowing me to integrate into Canada and learn additional skills. I served at the front desk of the Canadian Red Cross and Elizabeth Fry Society of Calgary (eFry) before lockdown. I handled mails, telephone calls forwarding, visitor logging and security cards. I also supported court users through the provision of information and assisting self-represented court attendees.

eFry trains and supervises us in the court centre. We did experience a stoppage when the court closed briefly during the lockdown. The protocols have changed rapidly. I have thrived in this environment to the point that when my obligatory one-year commitment was completed, my supervisor requested I remain on a regular shift. I was delighted to continue. It was a beautiful introduction to Canadian culture and I thoroughly enjoy it.  

Volunteering is the Best Way to Learn a New Culture

Volunteer work helped me to break into the corporate culture without the fear of a job loss hanging over my head. I have volunteered in 3 roles with 2 organizations for about a year now. I take kindly to corrections because I am there to learn. I am also bold enough to ask what a subtle act meant just to be clear if an act seemed like a micro-aggression.  With time, I saw that the racial issues came from badly behaved persons who exhibit other acts of immorality generally.

Created my Own Business - Legal Research & Writing

Having to deal with all the above while raising two children and juggling bills is tough. Then you add the pandemic and nothing makes any sense. Fortunately, I have been able to stick to my desires. I wanted to be self-employed and I wanted to volunteer to gain Canadian experience. I entered a government-sponsored self-employment training program that lasted for 9 months.

During the program, I established a federal operation that offers writing and legal research support to lawyers/law firms and the general public.  Busy lawyers or law firms send me their research requirements. They may submit for publication, apply to have briefs or any number of projects. These are done with their framework and materials. I also write content for advertisements and website use. I have branched out into fiction based on people's true-life stories, helping critique drafts of books and other additional work as a ghost writer.

Our Family is Thriving in our New Home

The icing on the cake for us, as a family, is the members of the community in which we reside. We met most of them through the church we attend in the community. We were able to focus most of our funds on capacity building because the community members gave us all that we needed to furnish our apartment and to keep the children busy, gave me free rides to my volunteer work, kept an eye on the children when we had to be at work, even lent us a car (last month) with the insurance paid by the owner.

Capacity building refers to increasing technical and soft skills for our preferred area of work or service offered so we can achieve higher earnings or obtain a career path with promotions and attractive benefits. We undertake training, short courses, and similar skill and knowledge building activities to build capacity.

Calgarians Assisted this Lawyer Immigrating to Canada

Immigration is challenging but I won't trade my experience for anything else. I have been pleasantly surprised by the level of kindness displayed by our old and new friends in Calgary. After we arrived at the airport, the family that picked us up gave us food that took us about 2 weeks to consume. The family had secured our apartment before we arrived and another contact had paid the 1st-month rent and deposit to secure it. Then when my husband lost his Dad, church members set up a roster to drop off meals for a week. The meals served us for a month.

My partner and I are hopeful that our capacity building will raise our income level significantly so we can raise our standard of living and give more to the community. 

The process of re-qualifying as a lawyer has been made easy by clusters of internationally trained lawyers who give guidance and organise study groups for the exams and assessments.

Overall it has been a super beautiful experience. We are not lonely. We have not suffered direct or subtle racist attacks. We are financially sound. Our capacity-building efforts are on track and our children are well adjusted.

The Law Firm I created prior to Immigrating to Canada

I launched a fully private practice starting my own firm in 2007 in my country of origin which is still going strong. I am an experienced lawyer focused on business and real estate law, corporate law, commercial law and service to medium and small businesses including real estate conveyance and perfection of title documents. For the latter, we do not have a credit system in Nigeria so land conveyance is a cash payment transaction. The firm is noted to be extremely reliable and trustworthy.

The firm still runs and I have some oversight capacity. The time difference has enhanced our service delivery to customers too because when tasks are escalated to me, I can work outside Nigerian work hours and deliver faster than when I was there.

Long term Clients and Staff in My Law Firm

My first support staff in Nigeria still works with the firm I created. She joined in 2007 and got her 1st degree while working with us. My first client post-call, the Director of a multi-national bank, is also still served by the firm.  I met him as an undergraduate, when we were stranded during a foreign school trip. He was an alumna of the school and was known for his mentoring. He met us at the airport and kept us company until our flight took off in 2003. I sent him a thank you email and started getting festive cards from his office. I reached out for mentoring, and then, when his lawyer passed away, he switched his business to our firm.

The firm I founded prides itself on great relationships both with our staff and clients. I thrive on efficient customer expectation-management and customer retention.  

Canada - I love my new home!

Canada has been welcoming and a great new home, even during the pandemic!  I am a people's person and I love my new country. It allows me to continue to make friends easily, earn trust and display integrity in my studies and volunteer work. I am looking forward to bringing my skills, experience and solution oriented mindset to my new challenge - articles. 

Articling opportunities or information - please contact here: hub@gramoire.ca 

7 Tips if you are a Lawyer Immigrating to Canada

1. Set up contacts and a network before landing

2. Consider volunteering in order to learn the culture and obtain work experience

3. Consider if you can still do legal work in your country of origin

4. Be open to learning

5. Microaggressions could be a cultural difference - be curious but confident

6. Take advantage of any programs your status allows you to access

7. Give back 

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Lawyer, Faye Gelb, Founder, Her Legal Global

About The Editor

Faye Gelb, founder of Her Legal Global is passionate about empowering lawyers to have a career that makes them smile when they wake up in the morning. Lawyer, Entrepreneur, startup cofounder, front end web developer, photographer and business consultant. Her goal is to help you use your law degree and have a career you love, on your own terms, throughout your career.