The process to be a licensed lawyer in Ontario is strenuous, to say the least. When you take into account your schooling, examinations, and the experiential component, you’re looking at a process of at least six to eight years! What exactly goes on during that time, and what does the law licensing process look like in Ontario? This blog post will give you a general idea of what you can expect.
Keep in mind that while these are the major “checkpoints” that you typically satisfy, how you choose to pursue each step is entirely up to you. The road to law school is not linear, and many students, me included, did not go to law school immediately following the completion of their undergraduate degrees.
Step 1: Obtain an Undergraduate Degree
To attend law school, you likely have an undergraduate degree (e.g., BA, BBA, BSc, etc.) or related work experience. Contrary to popular belief, an undergraduate degree in a specific field is not required in order to pursue law. My degree was in history and communication studies, while my classmates’ degrees ranged anywhere from philosophy to biology.
Don’t pursue a degree in a subject area simply because you think it will appeal to law schools. Major in a subject that you will succeed in and, most importantly, one that interests you. After all, law school applications are competitive, and you will need strong grades. You don’t want to spend four years of your undergraduate degree struggling to get good grades in a subject you don’t enjoy.
Step 2: Write the LSAT
The LSAT is one of the most dreaded parts of becoming a lawyer, but it’s a necessary step for acceptance to a Canadian law school. The LSAT is a four-part multiple-choice test designed to cripple your spirits — I mean assess your reading comprehension and problem-solving abilities. It is generally a 2½-hour exam marked on a 120-180 scale. While there is no “passing score,” a higher score may improve your chance of admission at certain schools, in addition to other highlights in your application.
If you find that your LSAT score is not as high as you’d like, don’t be discouraged. Many rewrite the LSAT a second or even third time to improve their score. It’s very common!
Step 3: Attend Law School
You’ve graduated with an undergraduate degree, and you’ve written the LSAT, so now comes the most anticipated step: law school.
To be a licensed lawyer, you must attend law school to earn a Juris Doctor (JD). Law school will be the most intensive three years of your academic career when you will learn the basics of the legal practice, such as contract law, civil procedure, criminal law, and torts. Be prepared for the infamous “Socratic Method,” a teaching strategy where your professors will spontaneously call on you in class to answer a question or provide a summary of the facts of a case. If you’re called on to give your interpretation of the law to a set of facts, you can never go wrong with answering “it depends.”
Step 4: Write the Bar Exam
It’s been a long three years, but you graduated law school. Now comes the final exam hurdle: The law licensing examinations (generally referred to as the Bar Exam). The Bar Exam consists of two multiple-choice open-book exams:
- Barrister Exam – covers criminal law, public law, civil procedure, family law, and professional responsibility.
- Solicitor Exam – covers business law, estate planning, real estate, and again, professional responsibility.
Once you’ve passed the Bar Exam, you can say farewell to ever having to write another exam again! If you’re curious to learn about the Bar Exam, check out my fellow articling student Derek Hambly’s blog: Benefits of Studying for Bar Exams.
Step 5: Complete Experiential Training
You did it! You’re a law school graduate and you’ve passed the Bar Exam! So, are you a lawyer now? Not quite. Before you can be called to the bar in Ontario, you must complete at least eight (8) months of experiential training. The most common pathway is Articling, but you can also complete a Law Practice Program. Both of these options offer the same thing: Real, hands-on opportunities to learn how to be a lawyer. Your experiential training takes all the theory you learned in law school and gives you the chance to apply it to the real world.
Step 6: Call to the Bar
Once you’ve completed all the steps required to be a licensed lawyer, the Law Society of Ontario will “call” you to the bar. Lawyers are members of the Bar Association, with the “bar” being the name given to the legal profession. Once you have been called to the bar in Ontario and meet the Law Society’s Good Character Requirement, you are formally recognized as a licensed lawyer.
Step 7: Celebrate!
You’ve been called to the bar. You are now officially licensed to practice law in Ontario. It’s been a long road, but you’ve earned it. There’s nothing left to do now but celebrate your achievements, and maybe take a long, well-deserved nap.
Katie Warwick finished her articles at Harrison Pensa and is now an Associate with the Family Law group and the Labour and Employment Law group.