In 2010, a year after graduating with a law degree from Keele University in England, Denim arrived in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.
Up until this moment, Denim hadn’t experienced what it was like to practice law. However, he had dreamed of working in this profession since he was a teenager.
When Denim was a kid, his grandfather bought him a Reader’s Digest “Know Your Rights” book, an unusual present for a child. He never looked at it. At sixteen, while working as a sous chef in a local restaurant, he believed the owner was taking advantage of him. One afternoon, they had a discussion, which led to his boss refusing to pay Denim his wages.
“I went home and saw my grandfather’s book. There was a section on employment standards, which outlined the rights and obligations of individuals. I crafted a letter and posted it on the door of the restaurant. By the time I got home, my employer had called me. He was incredibly apologetic and said, ‘I’ll sort out a cheque for your four weeks, plus your holiday, and I’ll put a little bit extra in there to apologize for any inconveniences it might have caused you. It was a complete misunderstanding. My apologies.’ At that point, I realized the power of understanding the law. I knew I wanted to study law, in order to help others understand it,” recalls Denim.
While in university, Denim discovered how difficult it would be to become a lawyer in England and work as a barrister. He wasn’t enrolled in a top-tier university, neither of his parents were lawyers, and he didn’t come from a wealthy family.
After Denim received his law degree, he continued working as a chef in France and Italy, an occupation he had enjoyed for 13 years and that funded his way through university.
“When I returned to England, I got the opportunity to come to Canada and potentially fulfill my dream of becoming a lawyer. A friend from university who was practicing here told me I should give it a try,” says Denim.
Denim got a work permit through the International Experience Canada (IEC) program. Soon after arriving in Saskatoon, he set up interviews with law firms. Unfortunately, they all fell through. He was back in a restaurant kitchen in no time.
A year and a half after arriving in Saskatoon, Denim secured a job as a paralegal at the same law firm where his friend from university was practicing. A paralegal isn’t a lawyer, but paralegal work requires knowledge of the law and legal procedures. In Saskatchewan, a designation wasn’t needed to become a paralegal, so Denim was perfect for the position.
Two years later, Denim moved to another firm as a corporate paralegal. For four months, he worked as a floating legal assistant. His initiative and willingness to go above and beyond got noticed, and he moved to a junior paralegal position. Eight months later, Denim was training his replacement and took over a senior corporate paralegal job.
One day, via his university friend, Denim found out about the National Committee on Accreditation (NCA) at the Federation of Law Societies of Canada. He contacted them and applied to start the assessment process of his law degree. The NCA explained the process he needed to embark on to become a law professional in Canada.
At the same time, Denim learned about Windmill Microlending. “A young lady who was doing her articling placement at my firm told me about Windmill and said, ‘It’s a great opportunity.’”
Denim contacted Windmill to learn about the application process, and a couple of weeks later, he applied. “You have a fantastic turnaround time. I think it’s almost as if you understand the urgency of people applying,” points out Denim.
His Windmill loan was approved in 2014, and initially, it helped Demin pay for the NCA application.
After processing Denim’s application, the NCA assessment indicated he needed to write nine NCA exams. To practice law, professionals must be permanent residents or Canadian citizens, but Denim was neither at the time. So, he put the process on hold.
Finally, after five-and-a-half years in Canada, Denim became a permanent resident. Now it was time to continue the NCA process. In under nine months, he passed the exams, which the Windmill loan helped fund. In 2016, Denim received NCA’s Certificate of Qualification, making him eligible to apply for entry to the law society bar admission process.
One of the steps in the process was the completion of an articling placement to gain experience working in a legal environment. However, “one of the downsides of being an immigrant is your network is limited. You need to have very strong ties with lawyers and law firms so that you don’t become another application being lost in the pile,” notes Denim.
Denim couldn’t secure an articling placement, but he had an alternative. He could attend a law practice program (LPP). With Windmill’s support, he enrolled at Ryerson University in Toronto.
In 2017, Denim was required to pay a call to the bar fee, and since he didn’t have enough money to cover it, he reached out to Windmill one more time.
During the eight months it took to complete the LPP program, Denim’s life was hectic. He studied for 30 hours a week and worked as dining room manager at a restaurant for 60 hours a week. In addition to this, Denim decided to study for the Ontario Barrister and Solicitor Licensing Examination, both of which are a requirement to be called to the bar. With determination, Denim was able to pass the Bar exams, on the first attempt, and the LPP program. Denim was now a lawyer.
In 2018, only one day after finishing the LLP program, Denim packed his car and drove back to Saskatoon. Three weeks later, he received a job offer from a law firm he had contacted when looking for an articling placement. Denim signed the rolls with the Law Society of Saskatchewan and was called to the Saskatchewan Bar in 2018. There, he was presented with a Degree of Barrister-at-Law and a Court Certificate of Qualification.
“Had Windmill not been there to provide financial support, I don’t think it would have been financially viable for me to become a Canadian lawyer. Having an organization that says, ‘we’ll give you some financial support,’ helps a lot of people. I know. It helped me significantly,” observes Denim.