Bar Admission Program Development Project

Frequently Asked Questions

Bar Admission Program Development Project

Below are answers to frequent questions about the Law Society of New Brunswick’s bar admission program development project. The information reflects current expectations about a complex and dynamic project. This information is subject to change.

Why is the Law Society of New Brunswick changing its bar admission program?

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The Law Society of New Brunswick serves the public interest. It is in the public interest to ensure that the people of New Brunswick have access to high-quality legal services, both now and in the future. Following an internal review of its bar admission program, in the context of a changing world, the Law Society of New Brunswick decided it could improve its program to better achieve this aim.

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What is the purpose of the bar admission program?

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The primary goal of the bar admission program is to ensure that lawyers admitted to the bar in New Brunswick have the competencies they need to practice law safely and effectively. Other goals include preparing new lawyers for continued competence and sustainable practice, as well as fostering a robust legal community that reinforces a culture of competence.

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What are the goals of the bar admission development project?

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At the end of the bar admission development project, the bar admission program should:

  • Reflect the range of competencies lawyers need to practice law today;
  • Ensure that (only) those competent to practice law are admitted;
  • Defensibly evaluate those competencies needed in the short term to protect the public interest;
  • Help students-at-law develop competencies and access resources for success in practice;
  • Continue to foster a sense of legal community, collegiality, and mentorship; and
  • Garner adequate stakeholder support to ensure program sustainability.

The new program is expected to protect the public interest by ensuring lawyers admitted in New Brunswick can practice safely, effectively, and sustainably. This also benefits new lawyers and the New Brunswick legal community.

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How is the Law Society consulting its stakeholders about changes?

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The Law Society of New Brunswick recognizes that stakeholder engagement and consultation is crucial to the success of this project. Before making changes, the Law Society hired an independent consultant to conduct a comprehensive program evaluation. Notably, 300 members of the New Brunswick legal community generously shared their perspectives through a combination of online questionnaires, semi-structured interviews, and focus groups. Further stakeholder consultation, through a range of channels, is ongoing. Feedback and perspectives on this project are welcome at any time. Please contact the Chair of the Bar Review Task Force, Mélanie Tompkins, at melanie.tompkins@saintjohn.ca.

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What did the Law Society’s independent program evaluation involve?

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The Law Society of New Brunswick values stakeholder engagement and input. The goal of the program evaluation (conducted between February and July 2018) was to identify:

  1.    aspects of the current program that were performing optimally (and should be kept);
  2.    aspects of the program that could be enhanced; and
  3.    areas of potential future investigation.

Data sources included Law Society publications and reports, documentation available through the Federation of Law Societies of Canada, and other publicly-available information. The consultant also collected from comprehensive online questionnaires, semi-structured interviews, and focus groups. Nearly one hundred specific findings related to the program evaluation goals were documented and summarized.

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What were key results of the independent program evaluation?

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Key conclusions from the program evaluation include:

  • The current program does not address all the competencies new lawyers need to competently enter practice, nor does it adequately address the competencies lawyers need to practice effectively and sustainably in the     longer-term;
  • Aspects of the current program (particularly articling and the interactive exercises in the bar admission course) are beneficial;
  • There are strong, positive indicators of a robust New Brunswick legal community;
  • The program provides an opportunity for New Brunswick lawyers and students-at-law to build and strengthen important social and professional networks; and
  • New Brunswick lawyers and students-at-law overwhelmingly support an initiative to improve the bar admission program (97% of those surveyed support the initiative).
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What recommendations is the Law Society considering?

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The program evaluation conclusions led to the following recommendations:

  • Develop a competency profile with both entry-to-practice competencies (defensibly evaluated for credentialing purposes) and future-oriented competencies (included for learning    purposes);
  • Increase the focus on assessment (e.g. appraisal and feedback for learning) in the program for both entry-to-practice and future-oriented competencies;
  • Maintain a multi-faceted program, including multiple evaluative components (i.e. tests in a range of formats) and multiple learning opportunities (including articling, skills training, a sustainable practice course of study, and self-study components);
  • Ensure program learning components reflect educational best practices;
  • Increase training and support for bar instructors and principals;
  • Promote access to tools and resources that support continued competence and sustainable practice;
  • Reinforce the positive aspects of the New Brunswick legal community (including the high trustworthiness, honesty, respectfulness, and helpfulness among the bar); and
  • Leverage opportunities for students and members of the legal community to build or strengthen their social and professional networks.

By implementing these recommendations, the Law Society is likely to make meaningful improvements to its program, while preserving elements of the current program that are working best.

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What are the main principles used to guide the bar admission project?

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To guide decision-making in this project, the project team uses the following principles:

  • Broad-based competency. Competent lawyers need more than legal knowledge and lawyering skills; competence demands a range of professional foundations.
  • Defensibility. A licensure program, and related high-stakes assessments, need to be defensible, which includes a need to meet generally accepted standards.
  • Quality experience. Students-at-law, volunteers, and other participants should find value and meaning in the bar admission program experience.
  • Bilingualism. French and English participants in the bar admission program should experience consistent quality and value.
  • Sustainability. Time, money, and other resources should be invested responsibly for maximum return.

These project principles are front-of-mind at each step of the project.

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What is involved in the bar admission development project?

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Developing a bar admission program is complex and takes time. This project consists of multiple subprojects, including:

  • Program evaluation
  • Competency profile development
  • Test specification development
  • Development of testing instruments
  • Development of a curriculum
  • Review of articling
  • Curation or development of supporting resources
  • Review and development of documentation
  • Translation

The planned end-date for the project is December 2020.

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What competencies will be the focus of the bar admission program?

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New Brunswick’s draft competency profile currently includes 274 competencies that reflect the distinct roles that lawyers (as multidimensional professionals) play. The profile addresses the competencies listed in the Federation of Law Societies of Canada National Entry-to-Practice Competency Profile. In addition, the leading-edge New Brunswick profile has been augmented significantly to address current and emerging competencies. The profile captures the knowledge, skills, and abilities that lawyers need to practice safely, effectively, and sustainably, with reference to important underlying characteristics.

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How will students-at-law develop the competencies they need?

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Candidates for admission have already developed many competencies through law school, other formal education, work or volunteer experience, self-directed learning, or other life experience. For under-developed competencies, there will be learning and development opportunities over the course of the program.

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What kinds of learning and development activities is the program likely to include?

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During the bar admission year, students-at-law will learn and develop in several ways:

  • Self-study. Lawyers must become proficient, self-directed learners. Given this, they must learn, in part, on their own or in self-directed study groups. Preparation for various exercises, exams, and evaluations during the program will help guide each candidate in their self-study activities.
  • Intensive Skills Training. The Law Society will offer instruction and practice opportunities in some high-criticality skills through mandatory, intensive, skills training. Participants will receive feedback to help them hone their skills and better understand their development opportunities.
  • Sustainable Practice Course. Participants take a pass/fail course in which they take part in various in-person and online learning activities. They also submit various assignments, including professional development plans and a reflective journal covering their experiences over the year.
  • Articling. As a key part of the bar admission experience, articling offers a relevant and authentic setting for candidates to integrate theoretical learning and practice. The Law Society will use this critical work experience to complement the other educational and evaluative components of the admissions program.
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How does the law Sociey expect to assess competence?

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Some competencies (and characteristics) are those that lawyers should have for a successful and sustainable practice ("supplemental competencies"). Other competencies are those lawyers must have for safe and effective practice ("core competencies"). To protect the public interest, the Law Society expects to evaluate the 150 core competencies included in its competency profile.

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What tests does the Law Society expect to use?

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The Law Society is developing three tests, each designed to evaluate a specific group of competencies:

  • Legal Knowledge Examination. This multiple-choice test will help ensure candidates have the general understanding of core legal concepts they need for safe and effective practice.
  • Professional Skills Examination. This multi-part skills-based test (including a written test, a task-based technology simulation, and live performance testing) will help ensure candidates have the basic skills they need for safe and effective practice.
  • Legal Practice Evaluation. This multi-day, simulation-based evaluation (conducted over a two-week period) will include a mix of practical, task-based activities—from client meetings to drafting documents. It will help ensure candidates can integrate knowledge and skills to perform the basic tasks needed for safe and effective practice.

The Law Society also expects to assess some competencies by reference to an approved law degree (or equivalent).

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How does the Law Society expect to ensure the defensibility of its program?

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The Law Society recognizes that this is a high-stakes credentialing program. One of the guiding principles of this project is that the new bar admission program will be defensible and that it will evaluate competence in a way that is valid, reliable, and fair. Among other things, the Law Society is developing key elements of the program under the guidance of a highly-qualified psychometrician (a PhD specializing in this area).

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How does the Law Society expect to ensure a high-quality experience?

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The experience that students-at-law, volunteers, and others have in the bar admission program matters. One of the guiding principles of this project is that all participants should find value and meaning in the bar admission program experience. The Law Society’s comprehensive program evaluation helped to define what a “high-quality experience” means for the profession in New Brunswick. In developing the new bar admission program, the project team is also considering best practices in adult education and incorporating high-impact educational practices.

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How does this project respect the importance of bilingualism?

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The bar admission program is a bilingual program. One of the guiding principles of this project is that program participants should experience consistent quality and value, whether they choose to take part in French, English, or a combination of the two languages. The project team aims to develop the bar admission program “first in both languages” (not developed exclusively in one language and then translated to the other).

Some steps taken include:

  • Bilingual project leadership. The Bar Review Task Force leading this project includes a mix of francophones and anglophones. The francophone Task Force Chair is fluent in both languages and (in addition to law degrees) has an undergraduate degree in French language and literature. The lead consultant (an anglophone educated in a French-immersion environment) has a degree in international business and a graduate degree in communications (in addition to a degree in law). All project leaders are sensitive to the importance of ensuring linguistic, cultural, and functional equivalence in a bilingual program.
  • Bilingual project teams. The more than 50 project volunteers represent a strong mix of those who identify as francophone, anglophone, or both. In assembling teams for specific tasks, care is taken to ensure language balance (i.e. with no more than 60% of a task-based team being only anglophone or only francophone).
  • Bilingual communication. Feedback from the profession is solicited in both languages; all profession-wide surveys, interviews, and focus groups have been conducted in both French and English. Contributors may develop documentation (e.g. test items, other materials) first in either English or French, depending on the contributor’s comfort. LSNB uses professional translation services to ensure equivalence in both languages.
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How is the Law Society managing the costs of this project?

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Developing a bar admission program is complex and resource-intensive. One of the guiding principles of this project is that time, money, and other resources should be invested responsibly for maximum return. While similar projects elsewhere have budgets in the multi-million-dollar range, the Law Society of New Brunswick is committed to ensuring defensibility and quality, while keeping costs comparatively low. This is possible because of several factors:

  • Committed project team. A small, committed, volunteer Task Force is leading this project. The individuals serving on this Task Force are highly engaged and represent diverse perspectives. The smaller size of this group, combined with a high degree of commitment, ensures that work moves ahead efficiently and effectively.
  • Stakeholder engagement. While the Task Force is small, the engagement from the New Brunswick legal community in this project is significant. Hundreds of New Brunswick lawyers have already taken part through online questionnaires, interviews, focus groups, and other means. With 97% of the New Brunswick legal profession indicating support for this initiative, this project can move forward more efficiently than one might see otherwise.
  • Volunteer support. The project team has recruited more than 50 exceptional volunteers from the New Brunswick legal community. This outstanding group of talented and dedicated lawyers, representing diverse areas and perspectives, is critical to the success of this initiative.
  • Qualified experts. The Law Society has retained a small group of high-qualified experts to guide this project. They bring expertise in bar admission program development and delivery, legal education, professional competencies, project management, communications, executive leadership, business management, and defensible assessment. Their expert guidance helps ensure time, money, and resources are invested for maximum effect.
  • Law Foundation funding. The Law Society is grateful for the generous support of the New Brunswick Law Foundation. Without law foundation funding, this leading-edge bar admission program would not be possible.
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Who is involved on the bar admission project team?

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Developing a defensible bar admission program takes the time, talent, and energy of many individuals. The Bar Review Task Force includes:

  • Mélanie Tompkins (Chair)
  • Cathy Fawcett
  • Philippe Frenette
  • Guylaine Godin
  • Stéphanie Luce
  • Justin Robichaud
  • Rachelle Standing

Supporting the Task Force is Danielle Kershaw (Law Society of New Brunswick’s Director of Admissions).

Lead consultant on this project is http://knowprincipia.com/, an independent consultant specializing in competency assessment for professionals in the legal field. Principia’s team includes Jennifer Flynn, who previously served as a Director of the Canadian Centre for Professional Legal Education (CPLED) with oversight of the bar admission program in Alberta. It also includes Daniel García, an association executive and project manager with experience in bar admission delivery.

Principia is proud to be working with Yardstick Assessment Strategies. Yardstick’s team includes Dr. Michaela Geddes, who has more than a decade of psychometric experience and a PhD in Measurement, Evaluation, and Research Methodology.

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Who do I contact for more information about this project?

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For more information, please contact the Chair of the Bar Review Task Force, Mélanie Tompkins, at melanie.tompkins@saintjohn.ca.

The Law Society of New Brunswick values stakeholder engagement and input at every step of this project. To provide feedback on this project, and to help the Task Force better understand how changes to the program may affect you, please complete this survey:  https://www.research.net/r/LSNB-BAP

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