Studying for Bar Exams - Derek Hambly Harrison Pensa
If you are currently studying for the Barrister and Solicitor Exams, the title of this post may not resonate, but hear me out. Studying for the Barrister and Solicitor Exams (Bar Exams) is a valuable exercise for all prospective articling students.

The Bar Exam is a standardized test based on a two-foot-tall stack of study materials distributed by the Law Society. This stack of materials is basically the annually updated Coles Notes of the core areas of law in Ontario. Comprising the Barrister Exam are Family Law, Public Law, Criminal Procedure, Civil Procedure along with Ethics and Professional Responsibility. The Solicitor Exam includes Real Estate Law, Business Law, Tax Law, Bankruptcy Law, Estates Law, and, again, Ethics and Professional Responsibility.


The obvious benefit of studying for the Bar Exams is you become familiar with the basics of these core practice areas. This is particularly useful for those who aim to article at a full-service law firm. Studying builds an understanding of the core areas, something that is not always afforded to law students while achieving their JD. Introduction to terms of art, the general processes involved in a practice, and the basic legal framework of a practice area are invaluable for those of us not wishing to appear completely unaware at the outset of articling.


After a couple of months studying for the Bar Exams, you are less likely to find yourself lost in the ocean of legislation and case law when faced with an assignment or research question as an articling student. Understanding the basic legal framework of the respective field of law will save you from asking uniformed questions or not knowing where to start.


Another benefit of all prospective Ontario lawyers studying the same materials is that we all start on the same page. As a result of having to study the Rules of Civil Procedure, and the rules specific to each area of law, we all know the state of play and basic rules of the game. Also, as a result of having to study Ethics & Professional Responsibility we also all know how to play nicely. The Bar Exams ensure that although the narrative of our individual legal careers become quite varied, at the outset we all start on the same page.


The Bar Exams, for all the anxiety they cause, give self-confidence to those who pass. For students who don’t pass, you’re not alone. Acknowledge the loss and be kind to yourself. Even former U.S. first lady Michelle Obama failed her Bar Exam on the first try. Regroup. Prepare to rewrite. And use your first experience with Bar Exams to your advantage.

Valuable advice: don’t overvalue advice

Studying will be intense, no two ways about it. But your schedule, your hours, your methods and your involvement with others is up to you.  Take guidance from others, but keep in mind that people who insist the only path to a pass requires studying from dawn till dusk are usually the only ones who inexplicably had the time to boast and post about it while they were studying.

Instead, make a plan and stick to it, but don’t run yourself completely ragged. You need to get through all the materials AND you need to reserve some mental and emotional fuel to get through the exam days. After law school, your undergrad, and any other schooling you’ve completed to get this point you know what you need to do to prepare.

Derek Hambly finished his articles at Harrison Pensa and is currently an associate with the Wills & Estates group at the firm.