Practicing Law In Canada

I could use some help settling a small debate with my roommate. He’s a pre-law student majoring in justice studies, and I’m a political science major. Earlier this week, we got into some joking about leaving the U.S. to pursue careers instead of staying here.

I was arguing that it might be possible to make the same amount of money working as a lawyer in Canada as opposed to in the U.S. He’s very skeptical about it and said because the economy and market are much smaller, there’s just no way to make the same amount.

That makes superficial sense to me. Aren’t there other factors that might let someone have a better legal career in Canada instead of the U.S.?

This is a rather difficult debate to settle, given the nature of the argument itself. In some respects, your roommate is correct in terms of market opportunities. The U.S. dwarfs Canada in almost every way, which will clearly have a meaningful impact on things like career advancement, housing opportunities, consumer product options, etc. That being said, there are other important factors that can influence the trajectory of practicing law in Canada, or anywhere, for that matter.

Sally Kane published a salient piece in The Balance covering some of the highest paying legal jobs in the U.S. Consider starting your research there. As she explains, there’s a wide range of salary outcomes for lawyers depending on “geographic location, market demand, experience level, practice environment and employer size – and the job itself.” In other words, a corporate tax attorney practicing law in San Francisco is likely to yield more favorable returns than a public defender serving in the rural outskirts of a Canadian province.

While not necessarily salient to your debate, you might still find it interesting to learn that practicing law in the U.S. doesn’t necessarily mean you can practice in Canada, and vice versa. Foreigners expecting to practice law in America must often begin from scratch, according to Alison Monahan, who published an article about what it’s like to practice law in the U.S. with a foreign law degree. The same is true for American expatriates hoping to practice law in Canada. One U.S. expat chronicled the experience firsthand.

This is all to say that deciding to practice law elsewhere is likely to incur significant upfront cost well before you can expect to see lucrative returns. However, there are plenty who consider the price tag worthy of the investment. Matt Rosenberg wrote a compelling piece on Above The Law explaining that an increasing number of American firms are proactively recruiting Canadian lawyers. You’ll notice that he acknowledges the comparative decrease in salaries when practicing law in the U.S. versus Canada, but qualifies the statement with the fact that the cost of living north of our border is sufficiently lower to effectively negate the impact of any wage reduction.

That means a smaller practice such as Preszler Law operating in British Columbia could achieve better lifestyle outcomes than its standard American counterpart in Boston. At the end of the day, this argument has much more to do with nuanced circumstances than broad conceptualizations. Suffice it to say practice law as a foreigner isn’t likely to be easy, but it’s quite possibly a good idea, depending on your perspective.

“The loneliness of the expatriate is of an odd and complicated kind, for it is inseparable from the feeling of being free, of having escaped.” – Adam Gopnik

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