Internationally Trained Lawyer Finds New Footing

Call to Alberta bar follows study in Internationally Trained Lawyer Pathway

Helen Metella - 17 October 2018

Anyone who thinks that their life's path has twisted and turned too often to achieve the career they yearned for as a child should meet Radhika Gokul for inspiration.

Gokul graduated from the first class of the Internationally Trained Lawyer Pathway at the University of Alberta's Faculty of Law in 2016. The program, informally known as the NCA pathway, allows foreign-trained lawyers to complete courses required by the National Committee on Accreditation Process, so they may practise law in Canada.

Gokul will be called to the Alberta Bar on October 17, after a lengthy, fascinating journey that started in a small town in the interior of South Africa.

"I was always interested in the law," she said. "because I grew up during apartheid. There was blatant racial discrimination that was put on the statute books and legalized."

Under apartheid, anyone who wasn't of European descent -- including Gokul, who was born in South Africa into a family that had emigrated from India several generations earlier -- lived with social, economic and political rules imposed by the white-minority government. Among them were laws mandating separate entrances to post offices, hotels and other public institutions and businesses. In addition, the Group Areas Act of 1950 assigned each race to specific residential and business areas. When Gokul's home on a piece of country property was declared part of a white area, her family was forced to move.

"It's important to know that 87 per cent of the land was allocated for white people," Gokul said in her quiet, measured voice. "Just 13 per cent for everyone else."

Other obstacles her family faced put a career in law out of reach. Her father, an accountant, died when he was 40. While her mother ran a small photography studio, there wasn't enough money for law school. So Gokul earned a teaching diploma and for five years taught English and math in primary and junior high schools.

But then she returned to school and obtained a B.Proc (similar to a JD), and began lecturing in law and accounting while studying part time for her LLB.

In 1977, she married a physician and they came to Canada, briefly living in Halifax, where her son was born. Her husband took a job in Texas, the marriage ended and Gokul and her son returned to South Africa.

With a scholarship, she was able to add an LLM to her credentials and followed that by becoming a senior lecturer in law at Durban University of Technology for 19 years.

"I had a passion for teaching law, " she said.

She is clearly dedicated to lifelong learning. In 2004, her son, by now a medical doctor, landed a job in Edson, AB, but found it difficult being so far from home and family. Gokul visited often and he finally convinced her to move to Canada. Her visa was being processed through an office in Buffalo, NY, where it was scheduled to take about a year, so Gokul enrolled in university there and earned an international LLM.

Settling in Edson, and later in Edmonton, Gokul helped her son with his side business, buying and managing rental properties. But she grew bored. She wrote the Life License Qualification Program exam and marketed life insurance for a while but wasn't satisfied.

Then she discovered UAlberta Law's NCA pathway program was launching in 2015. She completed it in two semesters.

"It was an excellent experience for me," said Gokul. "I could have done the NCA myself (through self-study) but here I could interact with Faculty staff."

RMLO Law LLP gave her the opportunity to do her articles

After her call to the bar, Gokul plans to work for herself in real estate, family law, wills and estates.

"I was keen to pursue this because I believe I can still contribute," she said.