A week after making a bombshell last-minute announcement that it was canceling the upcoming online barrister and solicitor exam after discovering potential leaks, the Law Society of Ontario has rescheduled the tests, which will now be administered in person in two sittings next month.
More than 1,100 candidates were originally set to take the online exam last week and during the final week of March but will now have to write them on paper and in person only in Toronto next month. The LSO pulled the plug on the online exams just days before the first one was to take place, saying it had information that exam questions had been leaked.
It brought in external investigators and now says there is evidence that third parties were involved and previous sittings of the exams, which went online in June 2020 due to COVID, may also have been compromised. Some candidates who wrote earlier exams are having their calls to the bar held pending the outcome of the investigation.
Ontario has the largest number of licensed lawyers in any of Canada’s nine provinces and three territories.
One candidate, a lawyer trained in India who is sitting for Ontario’s licensing exams, said he had been making connections with other student groups on Facebook and had random people reach out to him trying to sell him “legal papers” for $1,000 that would help him pass. He said he refused and then reported it to the LSO.
The Toronto Star reported that online academic cheating is big business and the leak of Ontario’s bar exam is just the most recent and visible example.
Ocean Enbar, president of the Law Students Association of Ontario, said students are generally pleased they won’t have to wait until the summer to write their bar exams. He added, however, that many candidates who aren’t in or near Toronto are concerned about the financial impact of the new dates and in-person requirements.
Another candidate, who preferred not to use her name, told Law.com International that she is insulted that the LSO scheduled exams during Ramadan, which runs the full month of April.
“The holy month for me is deeply important, it’s a very emotional thing to realize that the month will in large part be focused on study instead of faith,” she said. “I feel they would never do it during Christmas. It just makes me feel like Muslim licensees are of little consequence to the LSO.”
The Indian-trained lawyer said he moved back to Canada and hasn’t worked for the past few months while focusing on his studies and that clarity on the timing of the new exams was crucial, as his wife is joining him this week and the couple are expecting a baby in the next few weeks.
For these reasons, there are a number of petitions circulating that call for the LSO to allow either online or take-home exams.
Diana Miles, chief executive officer of the LSO, said in a statement that the organization understands the new dates could create logistical issues. But reverting to the in-person, paper exam “is the most effective solution and balances the need for confidence in the examination process with the needs of candidates to continue their licensure journey.”
The LSO said the new exam sittings will include “heightened invigilation protocols and strengthened rules,” including COVID-19 protocols. It did not respond to requests for further comment.
The leaks have again raised the controversial argument that it would be best to get rid of bar exams, which are self-study, multiple-choice, and open book, in Ontario all together.
“I still believe Ontario’s bar examinations must be abolished—full stop,” Samantha Peters, the director of legal initiatives and public interest at Black Femme Legal and an LL.M. candidate at Queen’s University, wrote in an opinion piece in the Canadian Bar Association’s magazine. “They are an unnecessary gatekeeping tool that inadvertently keeps many out of the profession, particularly those who are internationally trained and those who are low income, disabled, Black, Indigenous, women, members of the 2SLGBTQI+ community, and or members of other marginalized groups.”