The Brazil Canada Bar Association (BCBA) directors are thrilled to announce a new benefit that will be offered to BCBA’s lawyer, paralegal and professor members.
The “Meet our Members” series will showcase our talented members and raise awareness to the growing community of legal professionals of Brazilian origin in Canada.
In our first issue, meet Barbara Vaz, an immigration lawyer at Garson Immigration Law and our first ever lawyer member.
Barbara’s experience in Brazil
Before graduating law school in 2012 at Paraná State University in Londrina, Barbara acquired extensive experience working for the Brazilian government at both the federal and provincial levels, including the Attorney General of Paraná and the Revenue Agency of Brazil. Her experience was mostly in the areas of civil litigation, tax law, family law and criminal law. After being called to the Brazilian Bar in 2013, Barbara decided that she wanted to have an international experience and applied for a work permit to come to Canada.
Barbara’s path to become a lawyer in Canada
Barbara spent two years working as a financial assistant when she first came to Canada in 2013. While she had some exposure to Canadian tax law by assisting a company export goods to Brazil, her experience was mostly unrelated to law.
In 2015, she returned to Brazil to find the country in a different economic situation. The salary being offered to first year associates in private practice was extremely low, and Barbara did not want to spend years studying to take the entrance exams that are required to get a government job in Brazil. Having just been in Canada and fallen in love for the country, it was an easy choice to return to Canada to start her legal career here. How lucky we are that she made this choice!
In 2017, Barbara enrolled in a College specialization in immigration law. In 2018, as a Certified Immigration Consultant, she started her own practice to help Brazilians and other foreigners with Canadian Immigration applications. Barbara decided to become a lawyer because she wanted to have exposure to other areas of the law and become a member of a more supportive Bar Association. Unfortunately, she says the body counsel for Immigration Consultants is not as supportive to their members as the Law Society and, as such, the work they can do is more limited.
Barbara began the National Committee on Accreditation (NCA) process right before the pandemic started. The path she chose to complete the NCA was unconventional and she does not advise others to do what she did. Although being successful in the end, she thinks there are less isolating ways to complete the process.
Barbara decided to complete the NCA requirements by enrolling in single courses at the University of British Columbia and Osgoode Hall Law School. She satisfied all the mandatory subjects through a combination of remote classes in both schools instead of completing some requirements through the NCA exams or enrolling in a Master of Laws program. Barbara regrets this path because studying remotely did not allow her to network as much as she wanted.
After completing the NCA requirements during the global pandemic, not a small feat for which Barbara should be very proud of, she self-studied for both Ontario Bar exams while being a resident in Quebec and working as an Immigration Consultant. Without surprise, she passed both exams on her first attempt. On that, her advice is that people take the Barrister and Solicitor exams separately to allow more time to digest the over two thousand pages of materials.
Another unconventional decision she took was to complete her articling placement for the Ontario Bar in a law firm specializing in criminal and family law in Quebec. Yes, you read it correctly, Barbara not only is fluent in English but also in French. Through her articling placement, she was given the opportunity to appear in court and argue cases in French. She also completed other tasks that are common to articling students, such as draft pleadings, research memos, prepare clients to court, and compile court materials.
Barbara’s career as an immigration lawyer in Canada
Barbara was called to the Ontario Bar in February 2022. She worked for almost one year for a fully remote full service law firm as an immigration and civil litigation lawyer. This year, she started a new position as an Immigration Lawyer in a law firm that specializes in immigration law. She decided to be an immigration lawyer because it gives her flexibility and allows her to work anywhere in the world. Also, she says that after being exposed to other areas of law during her articling, she confirmed that her passion lays in immigration law and chose not to move away from it.
At Garson Immigration Law, Barbara offers immigration services to companies that want to bring foreign nationals to Canada. She works together with the companies through the entire process of bringing foreign workers to Canada, which includes preparing the Labor Market Impact Assessment for the employer, and, following that, the work permit visa applications to individual employees. Her work also focuses in completing paperwork related to international agreements, including the CUSMA agreement which is the agreement between Canada, USA and Mexico. She also helps individual clients in applications to overcome criminal inadmissibility and with the paperwork to apply for Permanent Residence under the Federal Economic Class, Provincial Nominee Programs and Family Class.
As an immigration lawyer, most of Barbara’s practice consists in drafting submission letters to immigration officials arguing her client’s eligibility to a program, doing legal research, filling out forms, meeting clients, requesting documents from clients, doing document review, and ensuring that every documentation that her clients send to immigration officials is complete. Barbara says that other immigration lawyers also litigate at the Federal Court by bringing judicial reviews to decisions of the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC). Barbara emphasized that irrespective of whether the immigration lawyer litigates or not, working in the field requires counsel to constantly update themselves in the law, including reading daily updates on multiple immigration programs.
In addition to Barbara’s busy practice, she helps the Brazilian community by assisting low-income women in immigration matters connected to domestic violence cases.
Barbara’s advice to other internationally trained lawyers
The first piece of advice Barbara gives is to network and have a few mentors to help through the NCA and licensing processes. Because most of Barbara’s NCA process happened remotely, she could not network as much as she wanted. She advises others to enrol in a course and attend in person classes instead of completing classes online.
The second advice she would give is to be openminded. In Barbara own words, she says “The legal professional is completely different from Brazil. It is important to be extremely cautious with the way you behave in Canada. The way you talk with people is observed more in Canada. Instead of doing the same as in Brazil, try to adapt to the way they behave here without, of course, losing our Brazilian characteristics. That is, without stopping being gentle and welcoming people. There is a way of doing that by observing what others do. Never forget that multiculturalism is central to Canada’s identity”.
Barbara’s third piece of advice is to be patient. She says “the equivalency path is a hard path. It is not easy at all. Some people may have different experiences, but your process and your experience are unique. Do not compare yourself to others because at some point that will just bring you down.”
BCBA thanks Barbara once again for taking the time to allow us to interview her. Stay tuned to our next “Meet our Members” issue.
Priscila Atkinson, BCBA Director and counsel at the Ministry of the Attorney General