Law society to fix licensing process

Having law students write the licensing examinations before they take the skills program is just one of the suggestions put forth after a recent evaluation by the Law Society of Upper Canada into this year''s new licensing process.

Last week, the law society released its preliminary evaluation of the 2006 licensing process, prepared by Diana Miles, director of professional development and competence. The report was presented to Convocation by the professional development, competence and admissions committee.

This year marked the first time the law society ran the licensing process in its new three-part format, with a five-week skills and professional responsibility course followed by two seven-hour barrister and solicitor exams and a 10-month articling term. The new process replaced the former 12-week Bar Admissions Course, a series of lectures, seminars, and eight exams held before the articling term.

With respect to the skills and professional responsibility program, held in the five weeks prior to the exams, the report noted that "significant negative commentary was received from students on the anonymous evaluation forms in 2006."

According to the report, the three main themes that came out of both the student and instructor feedback were that the exams should be held before the skills program, that the program should be condensed, and that while assignments and assessments were useful, feedback time was insufficient.

"Feedback indicated that most students did not begin to study until one week prior to the examination dates because they were involved in the skills session. Holding the examinations prior to the skills session will allow students a minimum of four weeks of uninterrupted preparation time," according to the report.

As articling student Tanya Stephens noted in the Sept. 11 issue of Law Times, "The materials were voluminous and the time to prepare for the June/July exams was short. I raced through the materials just to get through them and understood or retained little."

Offering the two licensing examinations before the skills program is only one of the suggestions in the report, which cautions that if approved, the changes must be implemented within the next few months, if they are to be available for 2007. The next set of barrister and solicitor exams are scheduled for Nov. 6 and 15.

The report also suggests that the skills program should be reduced to four weeks or 19 days, totaling 52 hours of instruction, not including assessments.

Law society Treasurer Gavin MacKenzie recently noted, "The law society assures students that all of their input has been reviewed and considered and, as a result, changes have been made to aspects of the process. This is the first year of the licensing process and adjustments are inevitable. Despite the concerns expressed, the candidates' success rate to date is almost identical to that of the previous admission process."

If approved, the new licensing schedule for 2007/2008 would have students finishing law school at the end of April, writing the barrister and solicitor exams at the end of May and beginning of June and taking the skills and professional responsibility program from mid-June until mid-July.

Shortly after this year's exams, several students told Law Times about some issues they had experienced with respect to the new licensing process, including a lack of communication of expectations, and a number of organizational and administrative problems.

"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 Osgoode student Jason MacIntosh.

"If it was a corporation doing it, and it was actually customers, they would be giving discounts or partial refunds," a student from the University of Western Ontario commented at the time.

Miles' report also addressed the administrative issue: "improvements have and will continue to be made to the security and administration for the examinations, particularly in Toronto where over 900 students wrote simultaneously and the ability to ensure compliance with the examination writing protocols was challenging.

With the exception of the scheduling of the first writing of the examinations, addressed below, no suggestions for change to the examination content or development process are proposed at this time."
According to the report, 92.41 per cent of students passed the June 26 solicitor exam, while 95.35 per cent passed the barrister exam, held on July 6.

"There has only been one writing of the licensing examinations and the pass/fail results have been extremely positive for the overall student group when compared to the previous admission system," noted the report.

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