What They Don’t Tell You About The Ontario Bar Exams: A Series (Part III)

The Ontario Bar Exams, Part III: What Do The Questions Look Like?

We’ve discussed in a previous blog post the mechanics of the exam: multiple choice, 7 hours, etc. Now I want to turn my attention to the type of questions you might face.

The questions are largely scenario-based where an individual, or groups of individuals, have some sort of interaction or transaction or incident that touches on the areas of law that you’ve read about in the materials. The question may have several layers that require an assessment from different lenses (e.g. criminal law component and a professional responsibility component). Because the exam is divided by the areas of substantive law (i.e. all the criminal law questions are bundled together, civil litigation questions together, etc) you will have no problem recognizing which section of your materials you should be turning to in order to find the answer. If you’ve studied the materials well, you should have no problem recognizing which topic within that section you should be turning to (e.g. if you recognize that the question is about sentencing a convicted accused, you will know which section of the materials you should turn to). The challenge, however, sometimes comes with figuring out which specific subsection or paragraph in the materials you need to refer to in order to find the answer. That’s where your navigational tools should come in handy. 

This is where pre-reading and understanding the materials comes in handy: if you can’t even pin-point the general area/chapter where you would likely find the answer, this means you’ve either misunderstood the question, or you haven’t studied the materials well. The navigational tools should only be used to simplify your search through that section of the materials. If you find yourself flipping back and forth through the materials or the index, unsure of where to look, then you may not have grasped the materials or the question that well. 

This is why pre-reading and engaging with the materials is key. Doing this with the materials well in advance of the exam helps you to grasp as much of the concepts as possible. It will also help reduce the number of questions you’re unsure about drastically. For example, in my Barrister exam, I found I was unsure about only 10 out of approximately 230 questions. 

Therefore, I cannot stress this enough: struggle and grasp the materials well in advance of the exam. Understand the concepts so that you can limit the questions you’re not sure about as much as possible, and so that you don’t find yourself learning new things during the exam!

The Professional Responsibility Questions

The most commonly difficult questions to tackle are the professional responsibility questions. Unlike the other substantive areas of the law, they are not contained within a specific section of the exam, but are interlaced all throughout the exam. They are often worded in ways that may seem simple or open-ended, but are actually carefully designed to test whether your reaction to certain professional dilemmas would be in accordance with the Rules of Professional Conduct and the various by-laws of the LSUC. Tackling these questions requires a general familiarity and understanding of the various LSUC rules and by-laws (these are provided to you in the materials, and should be read at least once, as they will definitely pop up on both exams). 

Take this question as an example, designed by me and is not an actual question from the LSUC exams:

“Martin, a lawyer for corporation XYZ, has become aware that the company is engaging in various money laundering operations. He has warned his supervisor of the illegality of this conduct, but the supervisor has not taken any steps to stop this activity. What is Martin obligated to do to be in compliance with his Rules of Professional Conduct responsibilities?”

a) Report the illegal conduct to police immediately

b) Report the illegal conduct to the next level of managerial authority in corporation XYZ

c) Inform a member of the press anonymously

d) Do nothing.

Answer: (B)

Before we assess the answer, note that I wrote the question to explicitly inform you that this is a Professional Responsibility question. You may face questions on the real exam that are not as explicit in pointing your attention in that way explicitly. Therefore, on exam day, put every question you see through a professional responsibility lens and see if it’s a component of the question!

So now that we know it’s a Professional Responsibility (PR) question, we must look to what the question is asking. The question is worded to ask “what is Martin obligated to do to be in compliance with […]”, which should be read as “what is the course of action that Martin must take, or else he’s in trouble?”. This implies that there is a positive action required. This means that option (D) is the least likely to be correct, so we can confidently cross it out. 

Now, we are left with three choices of actions for Martin to take. He could take any one of them, and you could certainly make a strong case as to why Martin should take any one of those three options. But for the purpose of a multiple choice exam, you’re not asked what decision should he take, you’re asked what decision must he make. This means that there must be one correct or “most correct” answer. And to help you decipher which of these options is the most correct option, you have to turn to the Rules of Professional Conduct. 

The short explanation to this question is this: the Rules do not allow whistleblowing to the police or to the press any confidential information belonging to your client unless there is an imminent public harm that will happen. The LSUC does not classify money laundering as imminent public harm, so blowing the whistle on your client to the police or the press is a violation of your obligation to the duty of confidentiality to the client. This eliminates options (C) and (A), leaving us with the most correct answer, (B) (as per Rule 3.2-8).

If you got that question wrong, don’t worry – I used to get them wrong too. But understanding the rules and giving yourself time to apply them in various contexts will help you tackle these questions with confidence and give you the momentum you need to push you forward in the exam. Give yourself time to sit down with the rules and grapple with them, and make sure to reach out to friends or colleagues if you don’t understand particular rules!

The Tax Questions

The Solicitor’s exam, like its Barrister counterpart, is also interlaced with professional responsibility questions. However, unlike its Barrister counterpart, it is also interlaced with tax-related questions, since so many topics within the Solicitor’s exam relate to tax consequences and benefits.

This will become apparent to you as you read the Solicitor’s materials. Almost every chapter and every topic discusses the tax consequences of various aspects of the law. Although, contrary to popular belief, these questions usually do not ask you calculate the tax consequences, but usually asks you who will benefit or have to deal with these tax consequences. The most complicated of these questions usually relate to the corporate tax consequences.

For example, a question may ask you if the sale of shares in a specific corporation will trigger a deemed dividend, to be calculated at an Adjusted Cost Base (ACB) or some other format. Or the question might ask you to make a simple calculation in figuring out who will have to bear the tax consequences (e.g. the deemed dividend will be $200, or $1,200, etc)

If you don’t understand any of these things and are starting to get worried, there’s good news: these types of questions are limited on the Solicitor’s exam. Corporate tax questions have usually been a limited handful on the exam over the past few years, and it seems to be a pattern that’s holding. 

Some have even claimed to have passed the exam without even trying to comprehend corporate tax. Although I don’t recommend it, I would certainly recommend that you spend less time studying for this component of the exam, especially since you’re better off spending that time understanding other aspects of the Solicitors materials.

Best of luck in your preparations for the exam. I hope these posts have been helpful!

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