Changing the rules of law
By Becky Somerville
A task force is making recommendations for change to the Law Society of Upper Canada after a large proportion of aboriginal and visible minorities were found to have failed the bar admissions exam.
Harriet Sachs, chair of the admissions and equity committee of the Law Society and task force member, said an assessment of all students who failed the exams in 1996 and 1997 found systemic factors that were barriers to their admission.
Essentially, the recommendation is asking the Law Society to re-allow those students who fail the bar exam to make an appeal and have their individual circumstances assessed, Sachs said.
Forty-nine out of 2,400 students failed the bar-admissions exam in 1996 and 1997. Out of the 42 students assessed by the task force, 12 were self-identified visible minorities, seven were aboriginal, six were francophone, five had medical problems or physical disabilities and the remainder were from outside of Ontario or mature students, Sachs said.
"They're often women with children," she added.
While the recommendation for discretionary appeals will be debated today, changes have been approved by the Law Society's Convocation, its governing body and are in effect this month, Sachs said.
All students now have the opportunity to review their exams to see which questions they got wrong, whereas they could not previously, Sachs said.
Sachs explained one additional hour is being granted to every student since it takes longer to read the French version of the exam. Many aboriginal students translate the exam into their native tongue so they can absorb the material, she added. "Practicing law is not a time-limited exercise."
Another change removed the mandatory attendance requirement which, according to Sachs, created an emotional and financial burden to students who lived outside the community.
Special groups with special needs can excel if they have support services, Sachs said. "Implicit in this, there's not just one testing method that can determine the competent from the incompetent," she added.
While associate dean of the faculty of law at Western, Robert Solomon, would not comment on the topic, lawyer Kevin Rogers said the bar admissions exam should be objective and reasonable in order to protect the public with competent lawyers.
Nicole Koteff, third-year law student, said cultural perspective should be considered when the bar exams are prepared. "I think any racially-oriented flaw needs to be taken out so that everybody starts from ground zero," she said.