My Experience Of The NCA Law Exams | South African Law Degree in Canada

Jul 22, 2018

Finally, 2 and a half years after I moved here, I can say I have officially completed the NCA Law Exams in Canada! The long process of adjusting to our new home included realising that my career would inevitably be put on the back burner. Realising that I was in for several more exams was extremely daunting! In hindsight, the process, while completely annoying, was relatively easy. I breakdown my exam schedule, tips and lessons learnt below to help future applicants throughout the NCA process:

Read: Part of Why I Struggled as a South African Expat Living in Canada… My Expat Depression as a Trailing Spouse.

What is the NCA?

The National Committee on Accreditation (NCA) of the Federation of Law Societies of Canada assesses the legal education and professional experience of individuals who obtained their credentials outside of Canada or in a Canadian civil law program. This assessment is done before an individual may apply for admission to a law society in a Canadian common law jurisdiction, and is based on the academic and professional profile of each applicant.

My Profile?

I was a recent LLB Graduate from the University of Cape Town, in South Africa, with a Psychology and Sociology B. Soc. Sci Undergrad. I had not yet completed any portion of my articles in my home country, nor had I attempted the Bar exam.

The Process:

There is a five step process involved in each NCA assessment, as illustrated:

  • 1)  You submit your application with required documentation and payment;
  • 2)  The NCA reviews and assesses your credentials;
  • 3)  The NCA notifies you of assignments or deficiencies;
  • 4)  You complete your assigned requirements / NCA Law Exams; and
  • 5)  The NCA issues a Certificate of Qualification to you and the requested Provincial Law Society(ies)

Then:

  • 6) Apply for a student-at-law status with the Provincial Law Society in which you intend to work.
  • 7) Complete the articling process, which involves finding a lawyer to article with for a one year period.
  • 8) Students-at-law must complete the CPLED program which is a six-month bar admission course which can be completed at the same time as your articles. CPLED is run by the Legal Education Society of Alberta (LESA) and all documentation can be found on their website.

Finally:

  • 9) The Law Society Member Enrolment Process, following completion of articling and CPLED, you can apply to become a member of the Law Society.

Read: Things I Learned Moving Abroad

STEP 1: Submit Your Application to the NCA

The application is submitted through your online portal here. In your application, you will add your personal details as well as your education details. Once completed, I had to get my South African University, UCT, to send my official transcript directly to the Federation of Law Societies of Canada in order for them to confirm my Education merits. You are also required to pay an amount to submit your online application.

STEP 2: Receive Assessment Results

Once a file is assessed by the NCA, you may be asked to complete one or more exams and/or complete specific law school courses within a prescribed time frame. Usually, NCA assessments will focus on the core common law subjects in which applicants must demonstrate competence, including five Canadian subjects which are mandatory for all applicants. They are:

I, unfortunately, had to complete all 9 of the above exams. I did not, however, have to complete: Family Law; Civil Procedure; Evidence; Taxation; Commercial Law or Trusts. I was given 5 years to complete all 9 exams.

STEP 3: Complete the NCA Law Exams

The exams are all self-study:

The NCA supplies the syllabus and suggests materials, but each applicant has to study all the materials and buy all study materials on their own. Based on the syllabus, I would read relevant case law and notes, but decided against buying textbooks as the exams were pricey enough as it was (See the costs outlined below). I focused on reading and understanding the case law, and using some of the “canned notes” and answer frameworks available online.

  • TIP: ALWAYS check that you have the latest syllabus. They change regularly! See here
  • TIP: Search for “canned law notes” or “answer frameworks” online. 

The exams are open-book:

That means you can bring in all the study materials you want! Obviously, it helps to bring in materials that you know and have organised into some working order that is relatively easy to find during the exam and that does not waste time. I chose to retype ALL of my notes into a manner that suited me best in an exam. Particularly helpful were the past exams, and sample answers I came up with. Electronic devices are obviously not permitted.

  • TIP: Colour code and flag ALL your notes. Be aware of where each topic/case is in your bundle of study materials. 
  • TIP: Come up with your OWN answer frameworks including recent case law; relevant ratios; and construct it in IRAC. 

Attempting a few exams at a time:

You are permitted to attempt as many or as few exams in each exam session as you wish. Generally, most applicants attempt 2-4 NCA Law exams per session with varying degrees of success. You must however complete all the subjects assigned within the time frame indicated in your Assessment Result Report. Based on that, I decided to divide my exams into 3 sessions with 3 exams each.

Choosing what exams to take when will also be somewhat determined by the schedule here.

For me, I would not have been able to do all 9 at once, even if I had wanted to as not all 9 were available in once exam slot. The exams are held in January; April; August and October each year.

  • TIP: Plan your schedule/exam load according to the exam schedule so you don’t waste time/months that you cannot write.
  • TIP: Organise exams together when possible if the subjects compliment each other:  Foundations and Constitutional, for example.

My exam load:

When I started the process, I wasn’t working at all, so I had loads of time to study. I decided during my first round of exams in April, to do Foundations; Constitutional and Professional Responsibility. Spending a good 3 – 4 weeks studying, I found these exams incredibly easy and had wished I had chosen to complete more.

  • TIP: Foundations; Constitutional and especially Professional Responsibility are good exams to start with!
  • TIP: I’ll be writing a follow up blog post on all my tips specific for each of the NCA Law exams I wrote! Sign up for our newsletter so you don’t miss it!

That said, I was much busier the second round in August, and instead of completing the 4 exams I signed up for, I ended up cancelling them all. To be completely honest, I could ave written them… but there was a lot going on. I missed October’s deadline to sign up for the exams, and ended up having to wait until January to write the next 3 exams. My last 3 exams were completed in April. The last two rounds of NCA Law exams I wrote with a full time job, and travelling often.

So, my Final Exam Schedule looked like this:

  • Feb 2017: Received Assessment back from NCA.
  • April 2017: Wrote & passed Foundations; Constitutional and Professional Responsibility.
  • August 2017: Applied for Admin; Criminal; Business Org and Torts — but ended up cancelling them all.
  • October 2017: Missed deadline to apply.
  • January 2018: Wrote & passed Admin; Business Org and Torts.
  • April 2018: Wrote & passed Criminal; Property Law and Contract Law.

The exam results usually took 10 – 13 weeks to come out after the exams — just in time for the next round. Most of the time, I received an email notification of the release of exam results.

The Total Cost: $ 3854

  • Application Fee: ± $ 410
  • NCA Law Exams Fees: 9 x $ 357 (incl. tax) = $3213
  • Cancellation Admin Fee: 4 x $ 57,75 = $ 231

STEP 4: Request Certificate of Qualification

Upon successful completion of these requirements, the NCA issues a Certificate of Qualification. Most law societies in Canada require the NCA’s Certificate of Qualification to access their bar admissions process, so I’m just waiting on that for the next step!

Read: A South African in Canada — Frequently Asked Questions!

Career back on track,

Edmonton Blogger

  1. Nicole

    July 24th, 2018 at 12:14 PM

    Leigh, congrats on passing your NCA exams!
    My husband and I are both just starting the Express Entry process (yet to submit our docs to WES, so we haven’t even entered the pool yet). Anyway we are debating due to all the admin costs involved in this entire process, whether to begin writing the NCA exams or whether we should just go over and start new careers all together (the idea of going to Canada with no job prospects is crazy scary though). Would you reccomend doing the NCA accreditation?

    I was relieved to note that you passed your NCA exams without having purchased the textbooks (I hear they cost as much as the exams!). Is there any chance you would be willing to make your study notes available?

  2. Sinead

    August 15th, 2018 at 11:49 PM

    Hi! I’m so grateful for coming across this article! I’m looking into doing the exact same thing. I received my degree from UP (TUKS) in 2016. I was wondering what your advice would be on applying through the NCA while I’m still in South Korea. I’m looking to stay here until August 2019? How early would you say I need to get started on the process? Can I complete all the necessary requirements remotely? Or would it be better for me to be in Canada?

    Thanks!

  3. John

    August 21st, 2018 at 11:11 AM

    Hi it was so heart warming and informative to read your blog. I’m a final year LLB student at Tuks in South Africa. I would like to know on what basis did you enter Canada as i would like to start the process immediately. It would really help me if you could andwed this.

    Thank you in advance

  4. lcdorkin

    August 22nd, 2018 at 7:23 AM

    Ah, I’m so glad! I entered into Canada on a visitor’s visa because at the time, that was what worked best for me when I moved over with my then boyfriend who had a work permit. Your options would be either a work permit or through express entry (I’m assuming that lawyers qualify) and to start this process you can have a read of this blog post with all the documents to get lined up: https://theglobediaryblog.com/immigrate-to-canada-south-african/

    I think it would be difficult the work permit route if you were looking for an articling or law job as you still need to ‘convert’ yours, which would require time and money before you even start working in a law practice. It does make things difficult 🙁 I would consider converting first while you’re still in SA. You can write the NCA exams there and then come over with your certification and it would make looking for jobs much easier.

    Hope that helps!

  5. lady

    October 2nd, 2018 at 4:17 AM

    Hi Leigh.

    I wish I could hug you! Your post is extremely encouraging. Could you provide us with links to the best places or sites to get affordable study texts (or a list of preferred texts). The examination is already expensive enough as it is. I sincerely look forward to your reply.

    Thank you once more Leigh. Your post is highly insightful.

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