Banyk Chia refuses to give up on her dream of practising as a lawyer. And for that, she is ready to overcome any challenges she faces; indeed, she is more than halfway there.
Chia was a Lawyer-in-training in her birth country, Cameroon, when she and her husband moved to Canada in 2014. Although Chia is primarily French-speaking, they landed in Edmonton, Alberta, because her husband is Anglophone.
With very little information on how to proceed but remembering advice from her mentor in Cameroon, that she would need some retraining to practice in Canada, Chia contacted the Law Society of Alberta and the Federation of Law Societies of Canada for direction. She soon realized that the required courses to become a lawyer in Canada were prohibitive for a newcomer. The tuition fees for the Internationally Trained Lawyer Pathway program at the University of Alberta were $30,000. Since students do not qualify for university scholarships or government student aid, Chia worried about funding. As only her husband was employed, she opted to take a legal assistant course, and enrolled at CDI College.
As a newcomer, Chia had no idea that she could get advice from a Settlement Agency. She wished such services were available from her home country, so potential immigrants would learn the pros and cons of settling in, finding employment and credentialing before embarking on their immigration journey.
There were times when she felt pressured to choose between pursuing her dream or finding a survival job to supplement her family income, Chia told Immigrant Muse. But she decided to pursue her education and completed the legal assistant course. Then Chia began applying for jobs at law firms and faced another hurdle; being francophone, potential employers had difficulty understanding her English, she explained.
Not to be deterred, while working on perfecting her English pronunciation, Chia started volunteering at law firms and organizations that provide legal services. Her volunteering took her to the Court House, and there she learned about Legal Agents, commonly known as Paralegals.
Chia decided that if she could not practise as a lawyer right away, the next best choice was to be a Legal Agent.
Again, she faced a challenge when she found that no governing body regulates Legal Agents in Alberta. That was in 2017, and she spent a year checking out the pros and cons of the job and her role and responsibilities. She explains that spending time on due diligence helps ensure you will not be open to lawsuits. “With no guidelines or governing body, it is up to you to check every aspect of the business and make sure you make no mistakes.”
Once satisfied she had covered all her bases, Chia launched her business, Alternative Legal Service Firm Inc. (ALSF) in 2018. To grow her business, she realized she would need to expand her network. She joined the Micro Business Centre to learn the art of networking and marketing.
“I bought a good computer when I received a payment from my first client. Until then, I had been managing with one that did not function very well, and I would go to the library for printouts”, she admitted. In 2019, after building her business from home and working with ten clients, Chia decided it was time to move her firm to an office away from her home. She now has a Legal Agent and an Accountant on staff.
Not every day is the same; some are busier than others, explains Chia, who says she enjoys working with clients who need help resolving Workers Compensation Board issues. She also functions as an affiliate to an Immigration Consultant. Legal Agents typically represent their clients at tribunals, small claims courts, and advice clients on issues involving tenants and landlords or traffic violations.
“Most would give up, but I promised myself, never to give up on my dream.” In September 2022, Chia plans to join the University of Alberta to complete a one-year bridging program and finally achieve her dream of becoming a fully licensed lawyer in Canada.