CEO Diana Miles explains how the Law Society of Ontario designed the online solicitor’s exam

Requirements for new online exam means candidates will break up exam in a five-day window

CEO Diana Miles explains how the Law Society of Ontario designed the online solicitor’s exam
Diana Miles

Candidates taking the bar exam in Ontario’s new online format will be able to give their first and second choice of a morning or afternoon within a five-day window, says Law Society of Ontario CEO Diana Miles.

“As the law society, in partnership with our test supporters, will provide windows of opportunity for those exams. The flexibility for the examinee is that there are windows and they can choose mornings or afternoons,” says Miles. 

“Of course, with our March solicitor examination, which we had to cancel, those are our priority. We have many of those people, this was their last step [in the licensing process]. We want to make sure that they're in the process, in the most the earliest exam windows, so they've got an opportunity to write in early June or then again in mid-to-late June if they choose.” 

Miles says the LSO is hoping the system is designed so candidates can manage their personal and family obligations and take the exam without having to scramble or disrupt their lives. With well over 2,000 candidates to schedule, Miles says they may not be able to give every candidate their ideal schedule — but are hoping that any conflicts a candidate has can be flagged in the weeks leading up to their “window.” 

“The way we're putting it together is with the pandemic in mind. But absolutely, this is our first foray into all of this. And we're going to really carefully assess and evaluate as we move forward, how this works for everyone, and take what we're going to have to take it one step at a time and modify from there,” says Miles. “We do anticipate that other examinations will have to be offered online over the summer months just because of the COVID situation and its progression.” 

The providers of the online examination were chosen based on their on-demand customer support and security, says Miles, as well as a review of vendors used by other top legal organizations and regulators. The online exam does have specific requirements, including smartphones and computers with certain software, as well as a physical space that is clear of banned materials and closed to passersby.

“The pandemic came upon everyone much more quickly, I think, than anyone was planning. We made our decisions in gradations, of course. And we had to deal with the immediacy of the health crisis. The reality that the large-scale, in-person testing modality was just not going to be viable,” says Miles.

“The initial decision was to make sure that we were making everyone safe and we weren't putting any of our participants in any harm. We, did of course, postpone the exam. But then as we saw what was going on, our priority very much began to be focused on being responsive to what the candidates were going to need as we went forward. Because this was obviously going to be extended. We knew that it was causing significant stress.”

While some provinces have alternatives to the bar exam, Miles says it was important to keep the Ontario bar exams as they are integral to ensuring competence in the province’s entry-level licensing process.

“For most of our candidates coming in new each year, the examinations are actually the first thing they tend to prefer to do. Some of them will take them throughout the year but they've got other things they need to complete like articles or the LPP or other activities. For now, examinations are still an important part,” says Miles. 

“It would be difficult for us to permit people to skip requirements . . .  It's a lot of people to keep track of if we don't have some sort of assessment protocol in advance. So I think right now as a regulatory body, we're comfortable with our policies that we do need to have these point in time assessments to assure competency.”

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