How Many Times Can You Take The Bar Exam In Canada

Last Updated on April 14, 2022

Canada is made up of ten provinces and three territories. Each province has different regulations when it comes to licensing and education. In this article, we will discuss the number of times you can take the bar exam in various Canadian provinces.

Today in Canada you can only take the Bar Exam—which is administered by the Federation of Law Societies of Canada—three times in a row, with three years between each attempt. In the US, you can retake the bar exam no more than six times per state. So if you’re out of work, or just need to get a job right away, it pays to stay up-to-date on your legal skills!

The Bar exam is a common requirement to become a lawyer in every province of Canada. But how many times can you take the Bar exam? Some people may need to take it multiple times before they finally pass it. However, other people may only need to take it once.

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The bar exam is difficult in any province, but there are some ways to make studying for it easier, so you can reduce the number of times you need to take the bar exam.

Canadian Bar Exam For Foreign Lawyers

There are 14 territorial and provincial law societies across Canada responsible for controlling over 120,000 lawyers as of 2019 (as well as 3800 notaries in Quebec and 9000 independent paralegals in the public interest in Ontario). The national coordinating body of Canadian lawyers is The Federation of Law Societies of Canada (FLSC), which is responsible for developing national regulations standards for the legal profession.

There is a tendency among Ontario law students to be cavalier about the licensing exams. “No one fails!” some assure you. Others conjure pass rates out of thin air: “You know, 90% of law students in Ontario pass the bar. It’s not like New York!” This kind of dismissive attitude around the bar exams is misleading, and makes it especially difficult if you do fail the bar exams because you’re left wondering how you could possibly have failed such “easy” exams after studying so hard.

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How many people really fail the Ontario Bar Exams?

Although the LSO does not publish an official pass rate for each sitting of the Ontario Bar Exams, the FLSC does publish an annual report that sheds a small amount of light upon this mystery. The most recently published statistic regarding the pass rate for the Ontario Bar Exams indicates that, in 2012, about 87% of students who were registered to write the licensing examinations were called to the bar over the course of that entire year. What this statistic doesn’t specify is how many times these students had to take the bar before they passed it that year, and how many of the 13% who failed went on to pass the following year. The statistics from 2011 were lower – only 82% were called to the bar – and statistics from 2013 onwards are not yet published.

In short, it is quite common for students to write the bar two or three times before passing. However, it is less common for them to share this information with friends and colleagues, which contributes to the myth that “everybody passes.”

Does failing once mean that my law career is doomed?

Absolutely not. Many high achievers with outstanding careers did not pass their bar exams the first, or even second, time that they wrote. Smart, high-achieving students can fail the Ontario Bar Exams for no discernible reason, even after passing the bar in other provinces or countries. Some better-known examples of people who have failed the bar exam include Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton, Brian Mulroney, Franklin D. Roosevelt, JFK Junior, and Benjamin Cardozo.

Okay, so what should I do now?

When you first get the bad news, it can be demoralizing. Allow yourself to feel the sadness, anxiety, and disappointment. Taking the exams over is initially going to seem overwhelming, so you need to properly process your emotions before moving forward. Take the time you need to do this, so that you can be in a clear and positive state of mind when you get into gear for the next attempt.

Once you’ve allowed yourself enough time, create a strategy for the rewrite. Figure out if you want to take the exams at the next sitting, or if you prefer to wait for a year. You can look into taking a bar prep course to boost your confidence, and to help structure your studying methods more efficiently.

I’m ready to re-write, what do I need to consider first?

It is important to try and identify your areas of weakness so that you can rectify your study methods accordingly for your second kick at the can. This is easier said than done for the Ontario exams, which rely heavily on strategy and time management rather than knowledge of the materials. However, there are a few common stumbling blocks for students, and chances are that you failed for one of the following reasons:

  1. You didn’t manage your time well on the exam and spent too long on certain questions, which led you to run out of time.
  2. You didn’t read the LSO materials fully (or at all.)
  3. You didn’t take practice tests, so weren’t fully prepared for what to expect or which subjects/types of questions would be most challenging for you.
  4. Your study aids were poor quality, or you didn’t spend time reviewing and practising with them.
  5. Your reading comprehension suffered under the pressure, causing you to skim over important details and not fully understand what the questions were asking.
  6. You were in a poor state of mind for personal reasons, such as illness, family issues, financial issues, anxiety, or grief.

It is important to look after your mental health at this time. Sometimes students fail exams purely due to stress and anxiety. Failing the bar exam will bruise your confidence, and it is important to be cognizant of this so that part of your strategy includes stress-management activities.

Don’t be afraid to seek support from those who can help you.

As mortifying as it might seem, reaching out is a good idea. You’ll be surprised at how many intelligent, accomplished people you know and respect had to take the bar exams more than once. The Ontario Bar Exams might not have the same notorious reputation as the New York Bar, but they are not easy. However, with some help, some strategizing, and some deep breathing, you can and will pass the rewrite.

Foreign lawyers in Canada: How to become Accredited by the NCA

Many foreign-trained lawyers find themselves unable to practice law in Canada because their credentials are not recognized. For that reason, the National Committee on Accreditation has created a re-certification process that evaluates law credentials obtained from outside of Canada and gives international lawyers an opportunity to speed up their preparation for the Canadian Bar exam.

This article gives a brief overview of the NCA assessment and accreditation process to help you prepare for your re-certification.

What is the National Committee on Accreditation?

The National Committee on Accreditation (or NCA) is a standing committee of the Federation of Law Societies of Canada (FLSC). According to the FLSC website:

The primary mandate of NCA is “… to protect the public interest by assessing the legal education and professional experience of individuals who obtained their credentials outside Canada or in a Canadian civil law program, and want to apply for admission to a common law Bar in Canada.”

In other words, the NCA aims to ensure that a degree obtained from abroad or a Canadian civil law degree meet the national standards for legal practitioners in Canada. This way, candidates do not need to follow different entrance requirements to practice law in Canadian provinces and/or territories. The only exception is the province of Quebec as the Barreau du Québec and the Chambre des Notaires du Québec have different evaluation procedures.

The NCA assessment needs to be done prior to entering the licensing process to practise law in a Canadian common law jurisdiction.

The NCA Assessment

Internationally trained lawyers can apply for the NCA assessment at any time, even prior to coming to Canada (citizenship and residency are not looked at during the assessment process). FLSC identifies the following formalities that are necessary in order for the NCA assessment to be processed:

  • Online assessment application form, including a payment of CAN$450, plus applicable taxes;
  • Official set of final academic transcripts from the institution of your studies (copies are not accepted);
  • Set of documents to be sent to the NCA by the institution where you completed your legal education, including:
    • an official copy of your academic transcripts;
    • (if applicable) a certificate or letter of membership in good standing from the local regulatory authority; and
    • (if applicable) an official copy of your transcripts from the local regulatory authority for any courses or examinations required by such authority.
  • (If the official language of instruction of the law degree or the official language in the jurisdiction was other than English or French) Language proficiency of a minimum 7.0 on each module of IELTS test (for English) or TESTCan (for French). This requirement may be waived if sufficient evidence is presented.

After all of the required documents are received, the NCA will start the application process, and an assessment report will be mailed to the applicant within 4-8 weeks. For more detailed information, please go to the FLSC website.

After the Assessment

Each application is looked at on an individual basis, evaluating candidates’ experience and qualifications, the length of the program and subjects of studies, academic performance, the type of legal system where education was acquired, and other similar criteria.

After the assessment is complete, candidates will receive their assessment report that outlines the list of requirements they would need to meet in order to receive a Certificate of Qualification. The requirements can be divided into 3 types:

  1. Passing the NCA exams;
  2. Taking courses in specific areas of law at a Canadian law school; or
  3. Completing a Canadian common law degree program.

The assigned requirements focus on the key competencies of the Canadian common law, including 5 mandatory subject areas:

  • Foundations of Canadian Law;
  • Canadian Administrative Law;
  • Canadian Constitutional Law;
  • Canadian Criminal Law; and
  • Canadian Professional Responsibility.

The candidates may have to demonstrate knowledge and skills on other key subject areas, including:

  • Business Organizations (formerly Corporate Law);
  • Contract Law;
  • Torts; and
  • Property Law.

The NCA Exams

Applicants that received their NCA assessment can register for the NCA examinations. Each examination follows an open-book, paper-and-pen, pass-or-fail format, and lasts approximately 3 hours. Candidates must pre-register for each exam session, and they can do that as early as 4-6 weeks prior to the start of the exam. The start dates can be found on the 2017 Examination Schedule. The NCA exam results are released 10-12 weeks following the exam date.

Applicants are responsible for their own preparation for the NCA exams, including finding their study and preparation materials, and/or registering for the NCA Exams Pep courses, if they choose to.

The cost of each NCA exam is CAN$340, plus applicable taxes. Applicants may retake the exam up to two times; each time they are required to pay the NCA exam fee.

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What’s Next?

Once an international lawyer meets all of the NCA requirements, they may request a Certificate of Qualification. This certificate can later be used to enter their Bar admission process.

Without a doubt, re-certification process can be lengthy and can require candidates to pursue more education. At the same time, the results will be worth it. After all, a median annual salary of a lawyer in BC is $106,638, according to WorkBC website.

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