On Twitter, I offered to help students with study advice for the Ontario bar exam: https://twitter.com/elsaasce/status/1259263554164797441
I was flooded with DMs from students looking for advice and I decided to help streamline my tweet by writing a post on the Ontario bar exam and studying advice.
I wrote the exam in 2018 and I struggled. The exam didn’t come naturally for me and I actually flunked the first try. Thus, I approach this article as someone who struggled with the bar exam and eventually learned how to ace it. It is worth mentioning, the test won’t define who are you or how you will be as a lawyer (like the LSAT). But as of 2020, the bar exam is still a requirement for the Ontario licensing process. Hopefully my advice helps some folks.
1.Use whichever method you used in law school to help you for the Ontario bar exam.
The exam is split into two parts – the Barrister and Solicitors. The Barristers test you on professional responsibility, civil litigation, criminal law, family law, and public law. The Solicitors test business law, estate planning, real estate law, and also professional responsibility.
I didn’t take most of these classes in law school aside from the required classes in 1L. When I tried studying in the beginning, I was told to use highlighters and utilize a colour coding system. Truth is, this backfired for me because I never used highlighters in law school. I was that person who highlighted everything and her paper looked like a neon rainbow.
I’m a visual mapper. I would map out everything in law school to learn and grasp the concepts.
Trust your method. If you made it through 3 hard years of law school, I trust you know a thing or two on how to study. If you are a highlighter person, use that. If you are a visual mapper like me, use that. This is your study space and you need to cancel the noise from your peers. In addition, if you need to, see this study guide as a grain of salt if you trust your method.
2. Don’t underestimate professional responsibility, especially practice management
Professional responsibility seems obvious when you read it. But don’t be fooled – at the very least, the legal profession wants to make sure you know how to manage your legal practice, such as drafting a retainer, storing client files and trust money, and how to interact with clients – whether individual or institutional. I also found, from my own experience, that the test contained a lot of professional responsibility questions – but this may vary on sitting so don’t quote me on this.
3. Don’t just read the materials – you should actively read and organize as you go.
The bar exam is not a knowledge-based exam. It is an expensive and exhausting “Where’s Waldo” game. You are in search and rescue mode.
When I studied the first time, my first big mistake was just reading the materials and trying to understand. This is time consuming and frankly, it is hard to retain knowledge like that.
The second time I wrote it, I changed my approach: read and organize my charts/table of contents/indices as I read along. For example, I would read the chapter of service under Civil Litigation and I would have the charts with service timelines next to me. I would read and check if my charts are correct or if I understood the charts. I didn’t make the charts – I obtained them from upper years and it saved so much time and energy. Below this post, I have attached charts under a Google Drive.
I found this method of “active reading and organize as you go” helped me become more confident about during the exam. For example, during the bar exam, if a question asked about service times for a Notice of Application, I immediately knew which chart or portion of the table of contents to look for. It helped save time and I felt confident knowing I worked with my tools (charts, indices, table of content) before the bar exam.
4. Break each section into smaller sections
The Solicitors is known to be more dense (and kinda boring to study). Business law is a massive section with lots of law and very little time to understand.
I became overwhelmed trying to find an answer under business law because it felt as if I was trying to find a needle in a haystack. So the second time I studied, I broke the sections down into smaller sections. When I wrote the exam in 2018, I broke Business Law into 4 parts:
a) Business Organization (how to form a company and organize it with shareholders);
b) Creditor/Secured Transaction Stuff (so how to get your money if you are a creditor and the ranking of secured and unsecured creditors);
c) Restructuring and Selling the Business in case restructuring fails;
d) Miscellaneous (Domestic and International Trade, Tax, etc)
When I approached a question, the first thing I would do is ask “okay, what is this?” If the question asked creditor stuff, I would immediately eliminate the other chapters and just focus on the four chapters that talked about Creditors and Secured Transaction.
I even made a new Table of Contents with a broken down version of Business Law but I recognize that this is not necessary if you don’t have time.
The point of these exams is to find your answer fast and I found by breaking down each section into smaller portions helped me find my answer and move on.
Btw, tax: I skipped it. I only learned roll-over which is essentially deferring your tax.
5. PRACTICE, PRACTICE, & PRACTICE
If you are like me and you are not a fan of standardized testing, I can’t emphasize enough how important practice exams are. Practicing helps test your method of search and rescue, and learn what you need to do to adjust your approach. Are charts actually too cumbersome for you? Do you need charts? The truth is you won’t know until you try.
I used the OLE and lawexams.ca to practice. Personally I found lawexams.ca to be the best of the two but as long as you get some practice in.
6. Anchoring the test questions
I wrote about anchoring more at length in this post for BarExamCrackers.com https://barexamcrackers.com/how-to-write-the-ontario-bar-exam/
A lot of focus is devoted on how to study, but not how to approach the exam questions. I coined the term “anchoring” as basically focusing on the main point of the mini fact pattern. The Ontario bar exam is fact pattern, multiple choice format. You are thrown a lot in a fact pattern and it can be hard to figure out what you need to look for. After reading the question, I would ask myself, “okay what was the main point?” or “what does the client want from me?”
An example (btw I made up this question from my imagination, so please don’t come after me, LSO!):
Bob Ltd argues that their accountant, Sally Ltd, made a massive mistake on their revenue projections for the following year. As a result, stockholders and the market got nervous, sold their shares and left the company. You have been retained as Bob Ltd’s lawyer. Your client gives you instructions to negotiate a settlement agreement with Sally LTD. You have been informed that Sally LTD has retained a lawyer. You can engage with settlement talks with:
- the lawyer representing Sally LTD.
- The board of directors of Sally LTD
- The accountant at Sally LTD responsible for the Bob LTD file
- The account manager at Sally LTD responsible for the Bob LTD file
So lots of information is being thrown at you involving stockholders, revenue projections, settlement negotiations etc. Where do you begin?!
Breathe. Take a step back.
Let’s return: What is the main point of this question? The main point is “who can I (as lawyer for Bob LTD) speak with at Sally LTD regarding a settlement?” In other words, whom am I allowed to talk to for a settlement?
This isn’t a business law question. It’s a professional responsibility question because it touches on your role and responsibility as a lawyer.
This narrows your search. You no longer are wandering aimlessly. You now have an anchor to the materials: If you are using the table of contents, you’re looking under the Professional Responsibility materials for legal instructions. If you’re using the index, you’re looking for key words like “legal representation” or “Instruction” or whichever words fits the scope of the question.
In this question, the answer is (a). If the opposing side has retained a lawyer, you should talk to their lawyer first.
Anchoring takes practice but I found this technique to be the success to my bar exams. Furthermore, it helped me improved my confidence for the bar exams, knowing I had a strategy to attack the questions.
7. Timing – if it’s too hard, move on.
A minor update: timing – my golden rule is if it’s too hard, move on. Odds are, you aren’t the only one struggling with that question. As law students, there is a tendency to try and get everything correct. As far as I know, the LSO hasn’t officially revealed how they grade the exam (raw scores, weighted questions, or curve). But what I do know is I want as many points as I can. My rule for timing: if it’s too hard; guess because odds are everyone else is struggling; move on; and return later if you can.
8. Breathe. Smile. Laugh.
The bar exam is a stressful time. Don’t forget to practice self-care and anything that makes you happy.
You got this!
Lastly, I attached a Google Drive of the charts I used. Disclaimer: I did not make these charts – upper-year students handed them to me: https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1yqMP80tcKw9PuUnwg_gQzEVEvDUM2fUi?usp=sharing