Quebec Bar School has recently gone through its most drastic changes in 20 years: let’s have a look.
First and foremost, there is effectively no longer Bar School. Yes, there is around a week of classes on ethics and a couple of presentations, but beyond that, you need to entirely self-study for your Bar Exam. On that topic, there are now three different components to the Bar Exam which must each be passed independently: an Ethics Exam; a Drafting and Theory of a Case Exam; and an Applied Law Exam.
Each of the exams has multiple sitting dates and they can either be taken all one after another or spaced out instead over several months or even years. The Ethics and Drafting Exams are each 5 hours long and the Applied Law Exam is 10 hours spread over two days (5 hours each day). In terms of the structure of the actual exams, the new format brings many changes.
Applied Law Exam
The Applied Law Exam is the actual law analysis exam which was the main Quebec Bar Exam in the past. The exam used to cover only 6 topics which were announced around a month before the exam. Now, all 10 topics plus civil procedure are on the exam. In addition, the old format used to have one day of multiple-choice questions and a second day of short-answer questions (with a single drafting question at the start). The new format is only multiple-choice, 100 to be exact spread over two days, with 10 questions per topic.
Unfortunately, the level of difficulty of these multiple-choice questions is just as hard if not even harder as the previous Bar Exam multiple-choice questions. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but in the previous format, it was the multiple-choice exam which was the really killer for most students and this trend seems to have continued in the pilot-project. So don’t kid yourself, preparing for this exam is a monumental task and even the Bar recommends that you study full-time for several months before writing it. I definitely second the statement that you need to devote several months of full-time studying to have a chance of passing this exam as you need to know your law inside and out to pass it. The fact that it is open book doesn’t change anything as the answers are not found in the Collection de droit and you wouldn’t have time to find it there even if it was.
Don’t expect the Applied Law Exam to be like the Ontario Bar Exam which can be prepared for over the course of several weeks and a good index is going to solve everything. This exam is in an entirely different league and extremely challenging. In addition to studying your codes and relevant doctrine, the best way to prepare is to do as many past exams as possible as this will get you into the Bar Exam mindset and help you understand the types of trick questions which the Bar likes to ask. You can follow this link to all of the publicly distributed past exams that I have been able to compile (Quebec Bar Past Exams). Even though the format of the exam has changed, the past exam questions remain highly relevant.
Drafting and Theory of the Case Exam
The Drafting and Theory of the Case Exam is an entirely new exam from what existed before. For the first part of that exam, you need to draft a proceeding, likely an Originating Application. This is a serious departure from the previous format where you only had to draft the conclusions and maybe the header. Now, you need to draft the entire proceeding from start to finish.
Remember, even though this is a drafting exam, you need to be on the lookout for the trick in the question and you need to know the applicable law well before writing the exam. For example, the particularities of solidarity and how a debt is divided between multiple solidary defendants is a favourite drafting trick question scenario.
For the second part of the exam, you need to be able to answer questions on the theory of the case framework. For example, what is the applicable recourse, what are the underlying components of that recourse, the different parties, the arguments in favour and against, the appropriate court to institute those proceedings, the possibility of appealing an unfavourable decision, the applicable appellant court, etc.
The fact pattern for the theory of the case question is normally set in a torts (respo civile) context, so you need to make sure that you have a very strong foundation in that subject before writing the exam.
The Ethics Exam is the only part of the new Bar Exam format which remains relatively unchanged from its previous iteration. Although the exam is now 5 hours long instead of 3, the structure of the exam itself hasn’t changed much. The first part is still identifying the ethical lapses (manquements) committed by a lawyer in some fact pattern. For each ethical lapse, you need to identify the lapse itself and a single supporting article to back it up.
The second part of the exam consists of answering a number of short-answer questions based on several different fact patterns. It is essential to remember that writing a shorter answer is always better than writing a longer one since the Bar employs negative correction (one wrong part of your answer means that you lose all of your points on that question). You also cannot nuance your answer whatsoever. I cannot stress enough the importance of this point as a nuanced answer is just about a guaranteed zero on the question. You also need to be mindful of the number of articles cited. Most questions should be able to be answered with only one or two articles cited at the end; too many articles can also make you lose all of your points in a question.
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If you are unsuccessful on any of the three exams, you need to redo that particular exam again with the slight caveat that if you fail one of the two days of the Applied Law Exam resulting in a total failing grade between the two days, you only have to redo the day that you failed. Just to be clear, if your overall mark based on the two days is a pass, the fact that you failed one of the two days has no consequence and you don’t need to redo anything.
Once you’ve passed the three different exams, the new Bar added an additional step before you can start articling. You now have to participate in a 13-week legal clinic dealing with real people’s problems (assuming people actually show up, which was an issue during the pilot project.) This is evaluated on a pass/fail basis.
The end result of all of these changes is that the new Bar Exam process is longer, harder and since it’s self-study, the onus is now entirely on you to master the exam material without the aid of professors at Bar School. It will be interesting to see how the program evolves to take into account some issues during the pilot project (2022-23 academic year). Most notably, the pass rate dropped considerably in the new program as compared to the previous one. Only 37% of students passed the exam on their first attempt with an overall pass rate after the rewrite of roughly 65%. This is not surprising as the new format has exams which are of a similar difficulty as those which came before it, but there is no longer any instruction provided to help you learn that material and more topics are on the exam. Strictly speaking, there are a number of online pre-recorded video modules, but you don’t have the opportunity to immediately ask questions if you don’t understand something. Good luck with your prep and I always like to hear from our readers!