Turkish lawyer adept at languages turned to UAlberta Law to qualify to practise in Canada

New graduate of Internationally Trained Lawyer Pathway says program pays off

Helen Metella - 12 June 2020

Once you learn about Demet Altunbulakli’s impressive history as a student, it makes sense that she invested considerable effort to requalify as a lawyer in a new country and in a foreign language.

Altunbulakli is a student in the University of Alberta Faculty of Law’s Internationally Trained Lawyer Pathway, a one-year program of study that is allowing her to complete the Federation of Law Societies of Canada’s National Committee on Accreditation process and qualify to practise law in this country.

She is also a young lawyer from Turkey who worked there for three years before moving to Canada in 2018.

To become a lawyer initially, she graduated from Istanbul’s prestigious Galatasaray University and its faculty of law that admits only 50 students annually. Her studies were in French and Turkish, except for the period when she was an exchange student at the University of Florence. There, she studied law in English and in Italian—a language she taught herself to speak the summer she was 19, by social interactions and by listening to Italian music.

Not content to concentrate on one area of law, Altunbulakli specialized in criminal and civil as well as corporate commercial law simultaneously.

“It was exhausting but allowed me to quickly gain the necessary experience,” she said. “Litigation is an asset if you’re doing corporate commercial work or being a legal consultant.”

Her comprehensive education and her facility with languages helped Altunbulakli find fascinating legal duties in Istanbul.

As an articling student, she worked on both the criminal and civil litigation side of intellectual property law cases on behalf of such corporations as HP, Samsung and Konica Minolta. Protecting those firms’ copyrights included setting in motion the seizure of counterfeit property.

After articling, she was employed by a firm that dealt in media and entertainment, property and real estate law, maritime, tax, commercial, labour, family and criminal law, as well as in mergers and acquisitions — and she had the opportunity to be involved in all of it.

“In Turkey, when you work for a medium-big law firm, it is usually the client who chooses you and then comes to you with all their work. You never want to say no to a client.”

Moving Abroad

Marrying a Turkish-Canadian and moving to Edmonton meant she exchanged a thriving career for ambiguity and struggle. “Without Canadian experience or education, it is difficult to start a career in Canada,” said Altunbulakli.

Nor was it clear to her how to put her legal skills to work until she discovered Global Lawyers of Canada, a professional organization started in 2014 that helps internationally trained lawyers with networking and professional development. She became the director of events for its Edmonton chapter, organizing social gatherings. From there she learned about UAlberta Law’s Internationally Trained Lawyer Pathway, informally known as the NCA program.

The National Committee on Accreditation (NCA) assesses legal credentials of foreign-trained lawyers and determines which extra requirements are necessary for them to attain the accreditation that would allow them to apply for licensing through a provincial law society in Canada. The Internationally Trained Lawyer Pathway allows students to take the courses that would meet these requirements as a part of the Faculty of Law. Students in the Pathway attend courses, workshops and events alongside JD students while studying to get accredited in Canada.

Taking classes alongside JD students and benefiting from the guidance of law professors was far more effective than trying to study solo for the NCA, said Altunbulakli. “It saves you a lot of time and allows you to understand the system better in a Canadian educational environment.”

Still, there are hurdles ahead as she will eventually be looking for an articling position amidst the economic cutbacks that COVID-19 has produced.

Altunbulakli trusts that her combined experiences in international corporate commercial law, immigration consultation and as a litigation lawyer who speaks multiple languages will be an appealing calling card when she seeks employment.

With Alberta likely looking for international investors in a variety of sectors in the coming years, “they will need legal services from a professional with international work and education background and that’s what I’m hoping to do,” she said.