The Rugged Road to Becoming a Lawyer as an Asian Immigrant

Yinzi Gao
24 min readJun 12


This image was created with the assistance of DALL·E 2

Put down interests to get employers interested

“Why should I put an ‘interest section’ in my résumé?” I asked my career advisor.

It was the year 2020, and I was a first-year law student searching for a summer internship. Much to my surprise, I found every résumé template provided by my law school’s career office featured an “interest section.” As a first-time job seeker in Canada, the idea of highlighting my personal interests to potential employers seemed peculiar, and frankly, unprofessional.

“Your interviewers can use your hobbies as a conversation starter or icebreaker,” my advisor explained patiently. “After all, they want to get to know you as a person before becoming your colleague.”

As I nodded along, I could not help but feel like a “newborn” in Canada, especially in the Canadian legal profession.

I had some professional experiences in my birth country, China. In 2015, I was looking for my first full-time job as a journalist in Beijing. It was a customary practice in the Chinese media industry for applicants, mostly women, to include their ID photo, age, and a high precision “casual photo” that would showcase their youthful, cheerful, and attractive appearance. This sexist practice was grueling to me.

The “interest section” of the Canadian résumé posed another daunting hurdle. It inadvertently disclosed my non-white and non-Canadian identity to the interviewers before they could even see my face or listen to me speak. As a girl growing up in China, I was guided by both teachers and parents to be a well-behaved and hard-working student, concentrating exclusively on academic pursuits. Sports, artistic endeavors, and travel — the favored pastimes of Canadian youths — were all out of reach for me. And school and work swiftly eclipsed my budding enthusiasm for music and photography during my early twenties. It was only upon attaining emotional and financial autonomy in my mid-twenties that I finally gained the freedom to rekindle my passions. Yet, ironically, after being molded into a “workaholic,” my newly-acquired biggest hobbies were all work-related — a combination of reading, researching, and writing. Although I enjoy cozying up on the sofa or wandering around the city, I do not think these activities are appropriate to list on a résumé for law recruitment.

Not surprisingly, in all my interviews with Canadian employers, I have never been asked about my interests. This stood in stark contrast to the experiences of local Canadian friends, as nearly all of them had interviews where they enjoyed discussing their hobbies with the interviewers.

Having few common interests to talk about during the interview was not the only factor that distanced me from legal recruiters. I was also unaware of the importance of a thank-you note, which cost me a job opportunity when a law firm assumed I had pursued other opportunities when I did not send one. Finding the proper attire also posed great difficulty. For one in-person cocktail reception, I wore a white suit, which was a safe choice for my previous career in journalism. However, I soon found out that I stood out awkwardly among other candidates dressed in black, dark blue, or grey. I realized that a completely white appearance might not convey a professional image for a legal job applicant. At the same reception, I struggled to engage in conversations about preferred ski destinations and beautiful beaches, and eventually made an excuse to leave early. Gradually, I realized this strong sense of being disoriented cannot be attributed solely to my gender or race.

After talking with my peers, I found my personal experience is not unique, as it is shared by almost everyone who has a similar non-native and non-white identity to mine. Being first-generation and English-as-a-second-language (ESL) immigrants, we faced another layer of challenge. While the principles of equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) are making strides in the traditionally white male-dominated legal profession, little attention has been given to those who straddle multiple intersections of gender, race, immigrant, and ESL identity. Many of us are experiencing a “bamboo ceiling”[1] that blocks us from entering and advancing in the legal profession.

With the increasing number of international students in Canadian law schools and foreign-trained lawyers in the job market, I want to make our voices heard. In twelve in-depth interviews with eight ESL Asian legal professionals (six women and two men), two talent recruiters, and two law school career advisors, I sought to explore and amplify their experiences and perspectives.

Here is what I’ve found.

Law firms want “Canadian experience”

The legal profession is a strictly regulated occupation, requiring practitioners to obtain specified education and licensure before practicing law. Given the importance of law practice for the entire Canadian society, this strict regulation is not without merits. For immigrants to be eligible for licensing examinations, they must either graduate from a Canadian J.D. or LL.B. program,[2] or apply to the National Committee on Accreditation (NCA) to obtain a Certificate of Qualification if they have received legal training outside of Canada. Despite possessing impressive international credentials and extensive legal experience, many immigrants face significant obstacles when attempting to secure even the least coveted legal jobs.

Take Ellen,[3] for instance. After completing her undergraduate studies in Canada, she went on to receive a J.D. degree from a prestigious university in another country with a legal system similar to the Canadian one. She subsequently worked for a top international law firm in East Asia. With these accomplishments, Ellen seemed to have good prospects for obtaining a legal job in Canada.

However, she found that employers were not interested in her international credentials, despite the number of transferable skills. “They read my résumé, and asked, ‘Have you worked somewhere here’?” she said, noting that her international legal experiences were rarely brought up in interviews.

Olivia faced a similar situation. Despite holding law degrees from top-tier Chinese and UK universities, she found her experiences in China and the UK helped little in her job hunt. “Employers seemed to be more interested in my extracurricular experiences at the Canadian law school I attended, and local experience is much more valuable than international,” she said.

According to Statistics Canada, immigrant women have a lower labor force participation rate and lower income than Canadian-born women. In addition to racial disparity, a gender gap between immigrant men and women is also pronounced. From 2006 to 2011, the employment rate for women immigrants was 57%, about 20% lower than the 77.2% for men immigrants.[4]

A survey by the non-profit organization World Education Services identifies key obstacles for high-skilled immigrants in finding employment, such as a lack of professional connections, employers not accepting qualifications and experience, and international education not being recognized.[5] These barriers have been further confirmed by a recent report published by the Employment and Social Development Canada.[6] In a Catch-22, Canadian employers want newcomers to have “Canadian experience” in order to consider them for jobs.

Moreover, the legal profession presents unique hurdles for high skilled immigrants. A 2017 study shows that internationally trained lawyers had the lowest employment match rate compared with other regulated professions. Only 12% of foreign-trained legal professionals practice law after immigrating to Canada, as opposed to doctors (56%), nurses (56%), pharmacists (45%), and dentists (44%).[7] A cumbersome and costly licensing process may contribute to such an outcome.

Even when immigrants secure a job, barriers persist. Their multilingual skills and cultural heritage can lead to being assigned additional unpaid work that does not enhance their core legal skills, potentially limiting their professional growth.

Hailey, the only Chinese-speaking lawyer at her firm, handles a significant portion of translation and interpretation work in addition to her regular legal responsibilities as an associate. While she sees value in contributing her language skills and adding more value to the firm, it results in an increased workload.

The stereotypes regarding Asian lawyers can be detrimental at times. Daniel, an ethnically Chinese lawyer, told me that “even if clients are Japanese, I had to attend meetings with them because of my Chinese looks”. He eventually left his articling firm, due to his experience with biases against Asian lawyers and limited opportunities.

White men are presumed competent. Women? Prove your worth.

Many woman lawyers feel constant pressure to work harder to prove their competence.

Anna, a corporate lawyer, observed that it is common for women lawyers to produce lower billable hours compared to their male counterparts by being more conscious of efficiency and value added for clients, which is a subtle reflection of women’s discounting of their own abilities.

The billable hour is the time recorded by a lawyer, representing the hours spent on a client’s file. Law firms use this system to bill their clients. Typically, firms set billable hour targets for lawyers and reward high billers. As a result of discounting their billable hours, fewer women lawyers ascend to top positions on the corporate ladder.

Self-doubt is a recurring theme among women legal professionals with an immigrant background. Farah, a Crown prosecutor, says the first few years of her career were full of ups and downs. Although she was very passionate about practicing criminal law, she grappled with the decision to follow her passion when facing difficulties related to her gender and race. She worked extremely hard because she felt compelled to prove herself. “As a woman and ethnic minority, you have to justify your competence, while white men lawyers are deemed by the whole society as competent,” Farah told me. She later realized that working as a Crown prosecutor can be challenging for everyone, including native English speakers, yet ESL lawyers are more likely to attribute universal difficulties to their non-native speaker status, even if that may not be the case.

I experienced similar self-doubt when I entered law school. Normally, Canadian law students choose between two career trajectories: litigation or transactional law. Litigators resolve disputes, while transactional lawyers, also known as solicitors, facilitate transactions. As a former journalist, I knew that being a litigator suited my skills and interests since both journalists and litigators love storytelling and exploring novel social issues. However, I suppressed my desire to do litigation because I thought it would be impossible for an ESL lawyer to compete with native speakers in court. “What if I cannot skillfully respond to the judge’s question and damage my client’s case?” I asked myself. As a result, I avoided applying for litigation jobs out of fear of failure.

For me, this self-limitation could have led to a self-fulfilling prophecy if it were not for an article, Forget the Wind-Up and Make the Pitch: Some Suggestions for Writing More Persuasive Factums, written by former justice John I. Laskin. I realized in the modern Canadian courtroom, written advocacy carries equal weight to oral arguments, and I could build my strength by working harder, preparing more, and crafting the most convincing written arguments.

However, while self-doubt and self-imposed restrictions may seem like personal challenges to overcome, they are often the product of societal expectations and barriers that make certain paths seem unattainable for underrepresented groups. When the odds of success are low, it is natural for humans to consider giving up.

Courts are not free of (un)conscious biases.

Although Justice Laskin’s article reignited my passion for litigation, I still question my potential to become a competent litigator due to obstacles in the courthouse.

In my first-year tort law class, our professor imparted a piece of wisdom: “As a lawyer, your reputation matters, because the legal profession is an incredibly small place.”

I took this as a motto that could not be learned from textbooks or legal provisions, hoping that good work would pave the way to a good reputation. However, a question lingers in my mind: Do we truly have full control over our own reputations?

For Farah, the Crown prosecutor, the answer is no. Navigating the intricate web of relationships within the courtroom, she discovered that reputation and credibility are inextricably linked to her immutable traits.

Farah (along with other Asian women litigators) has often been mistaken for a clerk or an interpreter — anyone except a lawyer — in the courthouse, as she may not fit the image of a “typical” litigator. In the confrontational world of litigation, Farah must work around the clock to win trust from jurors who might subconsciously devalue her credibility based on her personal characteristics. Moreover, she needs to contend with aggressive tactics from defence counsel who might prey on her gender, minority identity, and junior status.

On one occasion, a senior white defence counsel who towered over Farah cornered her in a narrow hallway before a trial. Leaning in, he admonished her, saying, “This is not how you do your job.” Recognizing this as an attempt to intimidate her, Farah quickly responded, “I don’t need you to teach me how to do my job.” Her assertiveness caught him off guard, prompting him to backtrack and say, “Oh, I did not mean that.”

Like Farah, many Asian women litigators do not shy away from confrontation. However, this constant need for heightened vigilance in their daily interactions with others adds another layer of stress to their already mentally taxing work.

Despite the inherently adversarial nature of the Canadian justice system, Olivia, another ESL Asian woman lawyer, has noticed that hostility appears to be tempered among her white male counterparts. She observed that some opposing counsel treated her more aggressively compared to her white colleagues. “I felt that they could naturally develop a more reciprocal relationship, and it is easier for them to work together,” Olivia shared.

Judges, too, are not immune to unconscious biases against minority lawyers, who are more likely to be interrupted, ignored, or viewed with suspicion in oral advocacy.

When Olivia had a chamber application for an alternate service during the COVID pandemic, she found her application met with more skepticism compared to similar applications from other non-ESL lawyers. “The Master asked me a lot more questions. I was fully prepared and very familiar with my client’s case. I answered each question. But obviously, he was more cautious about my application.” Olivia said.

Daniel noticed an interesting phenomenon in his court experiences. “A judge may be more tolerant of minor mistakes I made in terms of the procedures of legal proceedings compared with my Canadian native colleagues. I guess that may be due to my minority status.” However, Daniel realized that this tolerance was superficial and came at a great cost, because it stemmed from a condescending attitude toward minority lawyers. Daniel found his legal arguments might have been assigned lower credibility than those of native, white lawyers.

Gender can be an aggravating factor contributing to discriminatory treatment. “If you are an East Asian woman litigator, judges may be tougher to you,” Daniel added.

Additionally, clients’ decisions to retain litigators also reflect entrenched gender, racial, and accent stereotypes. Daniel has encountered ethnic minority clients who specifically requested a white male litigator to represent them in court, even if they were more willing to talk with lawyers like Daniel who can speak their mother tongue. These clients assume that Canadian-born white men lawyers are more likable and trustworthy to judges compared to non-white or non-Canadian born lawyers. “For some Asian clients, an ideal team comprises an Asian solicitor and a white litigator,” Daniel explained. “They operate under the assumption that Asians excel in being detail-oriented and client-focused, while white lawyers are perceived as more competitive and well-spoken.”

I wanted to investigate why being an East Asian woman could have a negative impact on my career as a litigator. During my interviews, I asked about this, and some interviewees suggested that it could be due to the compounded stereotypes surrounding East Asian women in our society. They explained that while we are often seen as diligent and considerate, we are also stereotyped as subservient and timid. These stereotypes are amplified in the context of adversarial litigation, where traditionally white and masculine traits such as competitiveness, dominance, and loudness are often rewarded.

The “fit” standard does not fit everyone.

Last year, during the recruitment process, I frequently encountered two common phrases during interviews: “The firm is looking for candidates who are the right cultural fit” and “We want to know more about you as a person, and to see if people at our firm like you and enjoy working with you.”

Why did recruitment seem like a date, where everything depended on vibes, feelings, and intuition? I was puzzled by the elusive standards of fit and likeability. How could I possibly prepare for such subjective criteria? Should I try to persuade every employer that I am the perfect fit? I found it quite fake. And how can I demonstrate my “likeability” during a brief 20 or 30-minute conversation?

Sophia, a career counselor for J.D. students, questioned the fit standard: “‘Fit’ has been used by firms to justify hiring people just like them, discriminating against members of various minority groups and making it harder for them to find positions.” The nature of “fit” is the ability to meld into an existing mould.

This lack of transparency and objectivity in law firms’ hiring processes has historically been seen as necessary to assure effective teamwork. Many applicants are qualified for a position on paper with their exceptional law school grades, impressive professional experience, and numerous extracurricular activities. To identify the best match from a large pool of qualified candidates, employers often use more nuanced assessment methods. These may include unstructured interviews to gauge a candidate’s ability to carry on a conversation, as well as dinners, receptions, and cocktail parties to evaluate their social skills in informal settings. Generally, a suitable candidate should not only possess the necessary legal skills but also be able to cater to the communication style of the firm’s clients and fit in with the firm’s staff.

In a typical conversational interview, there are no fixed questions. An interviewer might first find a topic from the interests listed on a candidate’s résumé, using them as a starting point to find common ground and generate more conversation topics.

Rebecca, a director of the career office at a Toronto law school, argued that “conversational interviews are probably the most troubling to me when we’re talking about recognizing diversity, since, although they are not as difficult to prepare for, they are significantly less objective than substantive or even behavioural interviews. I’d like to know how someone is able to leave aside unconscious bias in deciding among candidates based purely on ‘conversation’. It would certainly be very difficult for me to do so, and very tempting for me to ‘rank’ someone higher to the extent that they shared the same views, opinions, and style of conversation as myself.”

It is understandable that a Canadian interviewer may struggle to find relatable topics in my résumé at first glance, given that I spent over 25 years of my life in a different country. In some unsuccessful conversations I had with employers, I would answer questions about why I left journalism and my home country to study law in Canada, only for the interviewer to run out of follow-up questions. To fill the remaining half of the interview time, they would ask if I had any questions for them. In those moments, awkwardness seemed to fill the entire space.

Although I gradually adapted to conversational interviews, I still found myself tongue-tied during dinners, receptions, and cocktail parties designed for recruitment purposes. At several receptions I attended, I had difficulty enjoying conversations because my mind was preoccupied with introspection: Did I ask a foolish question and offend the lawyer in front of me? Was my demeanor appropriate? My unease was not due to a lack of communication skills. I always have a genuine curiosity about others and a desire to form meaningful connections. Rather, my apprehension stemmed from a lack of understanding of Canadian social norms for such occasions.

Sophia confirmed the same experience is shared by other ESL law students: “Some students might not be as familiar with conventions associated with interviewing and social events held by legal employers. They may not feel as comfortable navigating these environments, and in reading between the lines when employers communicate intentions to make an offer in very nuanced ways.”

I am not saying that employers should not assess candidates’ social skills. After all, firms are profit-driven and client-centered businesses that have every right to look for candidates capable of building connections with clients in different settings. Yet, assessing candidates’ social skills based on a few such events will exclude individuals with exceptional communication abilities who simply have not yet become familiar with the cultural and social norms. Consequently, employers are missing out if they do not look beyond initial impressions and consider the potential of candidates, because those who may not be a “fit at first sight” can very well be more than suitable for the job.

Despite obstacles, ESL lawyers have smart coping strategies.

In discussions about equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI), members from minority groups are sometimes portrayed as passive victims — oppressed and exploited, awaiting EDI initiatives for relief, and hoping to become a diversity token within predominantly white, male institutions. Some are stigmatized as “diversity hires” after obtaining opportunities that have historically excluded them.

However, this narrative is far from accurate. In reality, despite facing challenges and barriers, the people I have interviewed all have developed coping strategies to not only survive but also thrive in the competitive legal profession.

One common approach is to form alliances with colleagues from a similar background to adapt and excel together. Anna, the corporate lawyer, shared that whenever she works in a new environment, it is always easier for her to connect with another minority colleague with whom she can start to build her support team.

“At my last firm, I had an ethnic Chinese co-worker who was very generous and shared with me information about the firm culture and who is who among colleagues. I quickly learned who I could approach for work and who I could ask for help,” Anna said. As an introvert, Anna found that having meaningful, supportive relationships with a few colleagues gave her a sense of community and belonging.

For junior lawyers, actively seeking support from senior colleagues is crucial. “The key is not only mentorship, but the sponsorship,” Farah explained, differentiating these two types of relationships. Although mentorship is commonly provided by almost all employers in today’s professional landscape, sponsorship offered to members of marginalized communities is much scarcer. A mentor offers guidance, feedback, and information to a junior, while a sponsor directly provides opportunities and advocates for their protégés.

During her first three years as a Crown prosecutor, Farah felt both mentored and sponsored by two women senior counsel at the Crown attorney’s office. They not only taught her legal skills, but also shared their resources and networks, increasing her visibility in the workplace. This relationship allowed Farah to persevere through the early, challenging years of her career.

Conversely, many lawyers from minority groups, upon advancing in their careers, have become increasingly committed to advocating for younger lawyers and law students who grapple with similar struggles.

Chris, a partner in a big law firm, has been actively involved in the Asian legal community. He became one of the Board of Directors at the Ontario Chapter of the Federation of Asian Canadian Lawyers (FACL Ontario), a not-for-profit organization striving to promote equity and opportunities for Asian lawyers in Canada.

Despite his demanding workload as a partner, Chris eagerly organizes and participates in events aimed at mentoring junior Asian lawyers and students, and combating anti-Asian racism. He also helped establish the ESL/Foreign-qualified Lawyers Committee at FACL Ontario, creating a supportive platform for immigrant legal professionals to share experiences and resources.

Another way to transform the inherent disadvantage of being a lawyer from a racialized group is to leverage multilingual skills and cultural competencies to establish clientele. For instance, Chris has built his reputation on high-profile cross-border transactions. Similarly, for Anna, being able to bring clients to her firm plays a significant role in her job security, and she feels a sense of satisfaction when earning trust from clients with her unique cultural ties.

Rebecca, as a career advisor, has heard employers speak about how impressed they have been when, on a large, cross-border M&A deal, a young Asian ESL associate was able to communicate effectively with Chinese clients. She also told me that legal clinics that serve certain communities would look favourably upon these language skills.

However, an ESL lawyer voluntarily using their multilingual abilities and cultural background to advance their career is distinct from being assigned unpaid translation work that may not involve substantive legal tasks. The former allows for demonstrating business development capability, while the latter is an imposed responsibility with little room for career growth.

As a law student, I also benefit from my immigrant background. While volunteering at a legal clinic for women in precarious situations, my own experience overcoming adversity has made me a more compassionate person, and nurtured my ability to understand the struggles of those who are disadvantaged. Recognizing the importance of seeking help and helping others, I have become more open to showing vulnerability and forging genuine connections with mentors, advisors, and peers. Contrary to the notion of “survival of the fittest,” I have come to believe in the survival of the “weakest” — those willing to grow, offer help, align themselves with others, and initiate change.

The profession is changing. But is the change fast enough?

After quitting journalism four years ago due to the increasing censorship in my home country, I ventured into law, seeking a more stable career path that would enable me to reach my potential. However, the journey has been challenging, and I am left wondering if a sustainable legal career is feasible for someone with my background.

There is momentum to push for more diversity and equality in the legal profession to reflect the reality of Canada’s demographics. In 2022, Canada welcomed a record-breaking 431,645 new immigrants.[8] These newcomers will interact with the Canadian legal system, and some may even join the legal workforce. The Law Society of B.C., in 2019, revealed that the number of lawyers coming from one of four groups protected by the Human Rights Code (Indigenous, LGBT, persons with a disability, and visible minority) has increased in the past few years.[9] However, the change still does not match the overall population. Despite the proportion of racialized legal professionals rising from to 12.8% (2015) to 16.2% (2019), racialized persons constitute around 25% of Canada’s population, as per the 2021 Census.[10]

As an ESL Asian woman, I feel compelled to amplify the voices of those I am intimately familiar with. But what can be done? Based on my interviews, there are three opportunities to foster inclusivity in law: advocating for systemic change within Law Societies, addressing subtle biases in the workplace and courtrooms, and reforming recruitment processes.

First, systemic change in the legal profession must come from the Law Societies governing it. For example, in Ontario, the Law Society of Ontario (“LSO”) regulates two crucial recruitment processes: summer student recruitment and articling student recruitment. To prepare for recruitment, there is much legwork beyond simply submitting a CV, cover letter, and law school transcripts. This may include, but is not limited to, polishing application materials with the assistance from law school career advisors, obtaining reference letters from law professors, attending firm tours or career fairs, having coffee chats with people working for your target employers, and getting to know the social norms of the legal profession. However, internationally trained lawyers and most LL.M. (Master of Laws) students in a one-year program may not have the resources and time to navigate this lengthy and grinding process. As a result, these LSO-regulated recruitments implicitly exclude them.

Audrey, a hiring manager at a prominent law firm, is an ardent advocate for diversity and equity. However, she pointed out that “the recruitment system in the legal profession is built on the prevailing assumption that you are a Canadian-born J.D. student.”

While many employers may appreciate the extensive experience of internationally trained lawyers, they often have not developed appropriate strategies to assess or train these more mature candidates on their unique merits and difficulties.

Here, Law Societies can aid in guiding employers to integrate such candidates into their talent pipeline. Beyond this, perhaps a more in-depth approach is to rethink the validity of these two regulated, costly, and demanding recruitment processes: are they truly effective and equitable? Could there be more suitable alternatives?

Furthermore, diversity training in workplaces, including courtrooms, should tailor content to cover the specific struggles faced by lawyers with international backgrounds. Factors such as immigrant status, varying accents, and a temporary unfamiliarity with Canadian workplace culture could trigger biases and discrimination. Yet, diversity training may backfire if treated as a mere formality. Studies have shown that mandatory diversity training in some corporations led to reduced diversity [11] or deteriorated behaviours among employees and managers.[12] Done correctly, however, training can be a crucial component of making the legal system more inclusive. Courts and legal employers can adopt strategies, including changing people’s behaviours rather than solely relying on raising awareness; tracking training outcomes with data; establishing new norms from senior leadership; and designing training to specifically tackle inequality in resource distribution.[13] More importantly, training can be fun and engaging. Audrey described how her firm has arranged activities such as a cultural exchange to give people a real sense of different cultures and communities.

In parallel, a thorough and profound reform in the recruiting and promotion process will complement diversity training. Despite being bound by profitability and client needs, private firms could adopt more equitable recruitment strategies, ensuring all candidates, irrespective of their backgrounds, have equal opportunities to showcase their legal skills and social abilities. In doing so, they could draw inspiration from public sector employers’ hiring policies by standardizing and improving transparency in the selection process.

Abby, a government legal counsel heavily involved in recruitment, explained her department’s hiring process: “Each résumé will be reviewed independently by at least two people. I can’t screen out applicants simply because I don’t like them. Every decision must be justified.” Furthermore, her department arranges written or oral exams for candidates, who may be required to give a 5-minute presentation analyzing a legal fact pattern (a hypothetical scenario). By focusing on competencies and skills, these methods promote a fairer playing field.

Abby’s account resonated with my own experience when interviewing with public sector employers. In the first round, I answered a set of behavioural questions common to all interviewees. The idea was to predict candidates’ future conduct based on their past behaviours. The interviewers also took notes and scored my responses. After I was invited for further interviews, several employers asked for a written assignment or a case analysis within a day. The follow-up interviews revolved around substantive legal questions, assessing my legal knowledge, judgment, and ethics. Although these questions were harder, I felt more comfortable with them, because at least I knew why I had failed or succeeded.

Having survived last year’s recruitment, I now stand on the floor of the legal profession, staring up at the daunting prospect of a “bamboo ceiling.” Will I have to cut back on my hours, as many women lawyers have had to? Will I need to brace myself for aggressive opposing counsel and doubtful judges, just like Farah and Olivia? Yet, unlike four years ago, when despair drove me away from journalism, I’m here to stay this time. Armed with hope and resolve, I stand ready to advocate for change.

This article series is part of the MBA Student Fellows Program at the Institute for Gender and the Economy at the Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto. GATE promotes an understanding of gender inequalities and how they can be remedied — by people of all genders — in the world of business and, more broadly, in the economy.


[1] Lu, J. G. (2022). A social network perspective on the Bamboo Ceiling: Ethnic homophily explains why East Asians but not South Asians are underrepresented in leadership in multiethnic environments. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 122(6), 959–982.

[2] The former group, to which I belong, invests a huge amount of time and money to obtain a law degree, but finding a legal job is relatively straightforward. We can participate in the summer recruitment and articling recruitment regulated by the Law Society of Ontario. However, for foreign-trained lawyers who opt to go through the NCA process, opportunities are limited.

[3] Note that all of the names included in this essay are pseudonyms to protect the privacy of my interviewees.

[4] Statistics Canada. (2016, February 23). Immigrant Women.; see also Statistics Canada (2021, April 28). Are the gaps in labour market outcomes between immigrants and their Canadian-born counterparts starting to close?

[5] World Education Service. (2019). Who Is Succeeding in the Canadian Labour Market? Predictors of Career Success for Skilled Immigrants.

[6] Employment and Social Development Canada, the Panel on Employment Challenges of New Canadians. (2015, March 4). Survival to Success: Transforming Immigrant Outcomes. Retrieved from the Government of Canada website: It states, “the most prominent barriers are a lack of Canadian work experience and recognition of foreign credentials.”

[7] Zietsam, D. (2010, February). Immigrants working in regulated occupations. Statistics Canada.

[8] Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada. (2023, January 3). Canada welcomes historic number of newcomers in 2022. Retrieved from the Government of Canada website:

[9] The Law Society of British Columbia. (2020). Demographics of the legal profession.

[10] Statistics Canada. (2022, October 26). The Daily — The Canadian census: A rich portrait of the country’s religious and ethnocultural diversity.

[11] Dobbin, F., & Kalev, A. (2016, July & Aug.). Why Diversity Programs Fail. Harvard Business Review, 52–60.

[12] Sanchez, J., & Medkik, N. (2004). The Effects of Diversity Awareness Training on Differential Treatment. Group & Organization Management, 29(4), 517–536.

[13] Colón, A. (2018, January 15). Debate: Does diversity training work? The Institute for Gender and the Economy.


Colón, A. (2018, January 15). Debate: Does diversity training work? The Institute for Gender and the Economy.

Dobbin, F., & Kalev, A. (2016, July & Aug.). Why Diversity Programs Fail. Harvard Business Review, 52–60.

Employment and Social Development Canada, the Panel on Employment Challenges of New Canadians. (2015, March 4). Survival to Success: Transforming Immigrant Outcomes. Retrieved from the Government of Canada website:

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada. (2023, January 3). Canada welcomes historic number of newcomers in 2022. Retrieved from the Government of Canada website:

Lu, J. G. (2022). A social network perspective on the Bamboo Ceiling: Ethnic homophily explains why East Asians but not South Asians are underrepresented in leadership in multiethnic environments. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 122(6), 959–982.

Statistics Canada. (2016, February 23). Immigrant Women.

Statistics Canada. (2021, April 28). Are the gaps in labour market outcomes between immigrants and their Canadian-born counterparts starting to close?

Statistics Canada. (2022, October 26). The Daily — The Canadian census: A rich portrait of the country’s religious and ethnocultural diversity.

The Law Society of British Columbia. (2020). Demographics of the legal profession.

World Education Service. (2019). Who Is Succeeding in the Canadian Labour Market? Predictors of Career Success for Skilled Immigrants.

Zietsam, D. (2010, February). Immigrants working in regulated occupations. Statistics Canada.