Last week, benchers of the Law Society of Upper Canada voted to participate in the National Standards Project, which aims to synchronize the licensing processes among all law societies nationwide.
The project’s focus is to make the licensing of lawyers across the country consistent. Currently, Ontario lags behind the other provinces, mainly in terms of the number of times candidates can attempt the licensing examinations and the time limit in which they must successfully complete the exam.
“[Implementing these changes are] to bring us in line with what’s a common practice everywhere else,” says Roy Thomas, the LSUC’s director of communications. “As it exists right now . . . you could rewrite the exam up to nine times.”
Convocation, the governing body of the LSUC, accepted the four main areas of change that the committee hopes to implement in the licensing process, starting with the candidates entering the process in May 2012.
The LSUC first plans to change the time period within which lawyer candidates must successfully complete the two licensing examinations — the solicitor exam and the barrister exam — from three years from program entry to three years from initial registration in the law society.
It will also reduce the number of times to three that candidates can attempt the exams. If a candidate fails all three attempts, he or she will be able to request a waiver of the three-attempt rule. Such a request can only be made once, is only valid for a fourth and final attempt, and must be approved by the law society’s director of professional development and competence.
If a candidate fails the three or four attempts, his or her registration with the law society will be cancelled. There’s a cooling off period of one year from this cancellation date before individuals can re-register with the law society and even then the applicant must first prove to the director of professional development and competence that there has been a change in circumstance; for example, recovery from a prolonged illness.
But law students and graduates shouldn’t fear a complete overhaul in the law society’s licensing process.
“[All] this means is that you have fewer opportunities to rewrite the exam,” Thomas says.
In its report to Convocation, the professional development and competence committee addresses the concern regarding fewer rewrite opportunities. Since 2006, only 1.5 per cent of candidates who have written the exam asked to write it more than three times. The LSUC will also continue its program for tutoring candidates who fail after their first go at the examinations. In the report, the committee says it hopes the tutoring program will help to reduce that 1.5 per cent even further.
“The statistics suggest that only a handful of candidates might be affected by a decision to reduce the number of examination writing opportunities to three times,” states the report. “Greater use of the law society’s tutoring opportunities by candidates who have failed examinations might further reduce that small number.”
With these strategies in place, the law society and its members stand only to benefit from this change to the licensing process.
“I don’t think there should be significant differences in the licensing process from one society to another,” says Thomas. “The benefit is that we will all be aligned.”