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National Committee on Accreditation

This fall, the Law Faculty welcomed its first group of NCA students – a program approved by the National Committee on Accreditation, whose purpose is to allow people who completed their law degrees outside of Canada to become accredited to practice law in Canada. The program includes a mixture of first and second year required courses and admits 10 students per year. While it provides an important opportunity for students with international law degrees, the initial year of this program has also seen some confusion about the status of NCA members.


NCA student Rory Martin-Courtright is originally from Calgary and obtained his BA from the University of Victoria. He finished his law degree in July at the University of Aberystwyth in Wales. When he was accepted to law school in the UK, Martin-Courtright knew he would need to go through an accreditation program to practice in Canada. “I knew going overseas would be more work but I had this opportunity to go so why not?” he said. “We live in a globalized age now and I thought it would be good to have international experience.” Martin-Courtright found out about U of A’s NCA program while researching accreditation options in Canada.


Unlike most Canadian accreditation programs that are based on self-study and online tutorials, the U of A program provides a full classroom experience where NCA students participate in courses along with regular law students. The exact curriculum for each student depends on what courses they took in their previous law degree, but can include five to seven courses which are a mixture of first and second year requirements. NCA students don’t get to choose most of their classes, but are assigned them by the faculty. Students have five years to meet the accreditation requirements but may take all their required courses in one year.


NCA student David Okoroji chose law school at the University of Bedfordshire because he had family in the UK and the common law system in use there is similar to that of Canada. However, Okoroji is a Canadian citizen and chose to return because he believes there are more career opportunities in Canada, a factor that Martin-Courtright also cited. Unlike the Canadian system in which lawyers are both barristers and solicitors, UK law graduates must choose either barrister’s or solicitor’s training and accreditation, and becoming a barrister is extremely difficult.


One issue that has come up for NCA students is whether they are members of the Law Students’ Association and what services are available to them. Currently, NCA students are members of the University of Alberta Students’ Union, which includes all undergraduate students and provides services such as the UPass and student health plan, but not the LSA. SU VP Academic Fahim Rahman explained that NCA students were assessed SU fees, but not the LSA’s $50 membership fee, or the law faculty’s $50 fee which is used to fund Career Services. Membership in the LSA is optional but includes services such as lockers in the law building and reduced prices on LSA events.


Martin-Courtright says he originally tried to sign up for a locker, was told he was not a member of the LSA and paid $50 to get the locker. However, later he was refunded the $50 and told the NCA program now covers the cost of lockers. Martin-Courtright would like to be included in the LSA and said, “I’m here to get equivalency and want to enjoy my time here – I don’t want to be held back in social life.” Okoroji also believes the LSA should include NCA students.


The LSA constitution merely states that students enrolled in the Faculty of Law are members of the LSA, and does not specify that any programs are not included. According to LSA president Dharampreet Dhillon, the exclusion occurred inadvertently because the program was new. “The LSA is working with the Students’ Union to find a solution that will allow the NCA students to become LSA members and enjoy the benefits of an LSA membership as soon as possible,” Dhillon stated.


The cost of the NCA program has also been an issue for some students. NCA tuition is not regulated like domestic tuition and is significantly higher. The full tuition fee is $40,000 for the entire program but this year’s class received a discount of $10,000 as a promotion, paying $30,000. Martin-Courtright said he would prefer if NCA students were able to pay in two instalments in September and January, which is how regular students pay their tuition, instead of the entire $30,000 being due in September. Okoroji also brought up the cost of tuition as a concern and would like to see NCA students become eligible for loans from Student Aid Alberta to cover their tuition. “Other schools that have the program, student loans are able to cover all the fees but not here,” Okoroji explained.


Some NCA students such as Martin-Courtright have also been concerned about whether they will receive help from Law Career Services to find articling positions in Canada after they get their certification. Law Career Services Officer Pat Neil says she provides career services for all 560 regular law students, but Courtney Wagner, the faculty’s NCA Coordinator, is dedicated to providing career assistance and other services to the 10 NCA students.


Overall, the NCA students seem to be having a positive experience. Okoroji says he is glad that U of A launched the program and he’s enjoying it so far. Issues such as LSA membership and services for NCA students will hopefully be resolved by the time the next class of NCA students arrives in 2016.