The first set of barrister and solicitor exams from the Law Society of Upper Canada’s new licensing process are now complete. However, some students who wrote the exams say there are a few problems with the new system that the society needs to sort out.
The exams were held in Toronto, London, Windsor and Ottawa on June 26 and July 6. They make up the second part of the new process, designed to replace the former Bar Admissions Course, which involved lectures, seminars and exams held over a 12-week period before the articling term. The new process is made up of three parts: a five-week skills and professional responsibility program, the seven-hour barrister and solicitor exams and a 10-month articling term.
As this was the first time the exams were run in the new format, students acknowledged that there were inevitably going to be some issues, but some say they are disappointed with the way the process was carried out.
One student from the University of Western Ontario told Law Times the exams themselves were essentially fine, but there seemed to be some problems with planning and administration at the Toronto location. He added that this included 900 students waiting for hours to be registered by only six or seven people.
Other students also mentioned issues with the search process — students had to take labels off drink bottles and a number of proctors came by repeatedly to check even into the start of exam writing. During the solicitor exam, which was scheduled for seven hours, many students were there for almost 12 hours as the exam started late, lunch breaks were cut short, and there were long waits to get exit passes after the exams ended.
“I think Toronto was the problem just because of the volume of people. I would suspect they didn’t have the problems in London because I think there were only 60 or 70 people there,” said the student.
“I know the first time you run through stuff there are obviously going to be bumps,” he added.
“If it was a corporation doing it, and it was actually customers, they would be giving discounts, or partial refunds,” he said.
However, Jason MacIntosh, a student from Osgoode Hall Law School, said, “Considering it’s the first time it was run, they had to learn from their mistakes and I think they learned from their mistakes from the first exam to the second exam — it was much better organized.
“Obviously there are going to be mistakes when you haven’t done something this large before, but I think going forward they will be fine,” said MacIntosh. While he said that the planning aspect of the exams would improve over time, he added that “from a student perspective, you’re trying to write a seven-hour exam, it is frustrating when it’s not run smoothly right away.
“Everything has to be put in perspective, it’s the first time they’ve ever done it this way, it’s a new system so of course there are going to be bumps along the way,” he said.
A few students also commented that they had been expecting an apology for the organizational problems that had been experienced at the solicitor exam the previous week, at the start of the July 6 barrister exam in Toronto. They said an apology never came, but that they were instead given a dressing down by law society staffers about students leaving their seats at inappropriate times the week before.
“If they would have come up and just acknowledged some of the problems and that they were working on it, they could have got a lot of good feeling out of it,” said the Western student.
Another Western student added, “I’ve had the benefit of experiencing professional exams on both sides of the border. [Needless] to say the LSUC exams did not go according to plan. This is unfortunate given the amount of time and effort LSUC clearly put into developing [these] new exam processes and procedures.”
Other than administrative problems on exam day, several students told Law Times they had concerns about other aspects of the new process.
“I think a lot of the problems experienced by my colleagues and me could have been alleviated or avoided with proper communication. From the very get go, we were left in the dark as to [what] the nature, extent, and expectations were with regards to these exams,” said the Western student.
Critiques included a lack of practice exams as well as communication of expectations.
Patrick Groom, a student who wrote the exams in Toronto, expressed concern about the amount of material to be covered during the self-study period between the five-week course and the first of the two exams.
“It’s true, the only advantage is it’s done faster, but you’re just trying to cram way too much information into too short a period of time,” he said.
“I definitely would have benefited more from the old system of [for example] an intensive 10 days on business law and then the business exam, et cetera,” said Groom.
“Overall, I think the biggest problem was just the timing of the exams, because we did the five-week, in-class sessions, had a week to study for the first exam, had a week to study for the second exam. It is a very tight timeframe, especially seeing that most people have just finished the last year of law school,” said MacIntosh.
The new process was designed as a self-study format, as opposed to the Bar Admission Course of previous years, which included lectures and seminars. However, there was a private exam prep course called CanBarPrep offered to students this year, which its organizers say “was designed to complement the Law Society’s resources and materials for the new licensing process.” Organizers of the course say it was run for a full class of students in June.
The law society said last January that it did not endorse the content of any preparatory program and that “no preparatory course is necessary in order to embark upon any of the components” of its licensing process.
Groom said one of his biggest concerns is that within a few years, the norm will be privatized classes to replace what used to exist.
A spokesperson for LSUC said a report about the new process is being putting together by Diana Miles, director of professional development and competence at the law society, to be delivered to Convocation in the fall.
The next set of solicitor and barrister exams are scheduled to be held on Nov. 6 and 15.