Ethics is a notoriously difficult exam. Year after year, Bar Course students struggle with it: how to learn Ethics, how to revise Ethics and ultimately how to answer questions in the exam to get the best amount of marks. This blog post will help you to strategise your plan of attack for Ethics and survive the exam.
Sources of BSB rules and guidance for the Ethics exam
Your holy grail for the Ethics exam are the Core Duties, the Rules and the Guidance. These are all contained in the BSB Handbook. The Handbook is divided into six parts:
Part 1: Introduction
- A. General
- B. Application
- C. Commencement and Transitional Provisions
- D. Interpretation
Part 2: Code of Conduct
Part 3: Scope of Practice, Authorisation and Licensing Rules
Part 4: Qualification Rules
Part 5: Enforcement Regulations
Part 6: Definitions
The most important part of the handbook is Part 2 that contains the Code of Conduct which has most of the rules that you will be examined on. The BSB Ethics syllabus sets out all of the examinable parts of the handbook.
Core Duties, Rules, Guidance and Outcomes
It is important to know the difference between rules, guidance and outcomes. Your revision must ensure that you are learning them for the exam:
Core duties: There are 10 Core Duties that are set out by the Bar Standards Board (BSB). Each question in the Ethics exam will require you to apply the relevant core duties in your answer.
Rules: The actual rules which give effect to the Core Duties.
Guidance: The guidance to the rules which set out how the rules are to be applied in practice.
Outcomes: The intended outcomes of the Core Duty, rules and guidance.
To give you an illustration of how they all fit together (not every rule has outcomes listed):
CD2 – You must act in the best interests of your client:
Rule C17 (rC17) – Your duty to act in the best interests of each client (CD2) includes a duty to consider whether the client’s best interests are served by different legal representation, and if so, to advise the client to that effect.
Guidance to Rule C17:
gC49 – Your duty to comply with Rule rC17 may require you to advise your client that in their best interests they should be represented by:
- a different advocate or legal representative, whether more senior or more junior than you, or with different experience from yours;
- more than one advocate or legal representative;
- fewer advocates or legal representatives than have been instructed; or
- in the case where you are acting through a professional client, different solicitors.
(There are further points of guidance set out)
In the exam, each question will raise a scenario where you are required to set out the relevant Core Duty, then the rule and appropriate guidance. You must explicitly state the Core Duty in your answer. Knowing the rules and guidance is essential to your ability to succeed in the exam.
Learn the Core Duties (with mnemonics)
The first thing to do is to ensure that you know the Core Duties like the back of your hand. Your success in the exam is dependent upon how well you know them.
The ten Core Duties are:
Core Duty 1: You must observe your duty to the court in the administration of justice.
Core Duty 2: You must act in the best interests of each client.
Core Duty 3: You must act with honesty and integrity.
Core Duty 4: You must maintain your independence.
Core Duty 5: You must not behave in a way which is likely to diminish the trust and confidence which the public places in you or in the profession.
Core Duty 6: You must keep the affairs of each client confidential.
Core Duty 7: You must provide a competent standard of work and service to each client.
Core Duty 8: You must not discriminate unlawfully against any person.
Core Duty 9: You must be open and co-operative with your regulators.
Core Duty 10: You must take reasonable steps to manage your practice, or carry out your role within your practice, competently and in such a way as to achieve compliance with your legal and regulatory obligations.
There are many different ways to learn the different Core Duties for the exam but my personal favourite are rhymes or mnemonics which are defined as: a system such as a pattern of letters, ideas, or associations which assists in remembering something. I associated the different Core Duties with a song, person or thing. For example, to remember Core Duty 3 I would say “three don’t lie to me, practice with honesty and integrity” because it rhymes. For Core Duty 4 I would remember that there were four original members of Destiny’s Child and they released the song independent women.
Take time to find something that works for you and spend as long as possible learning and remembering. I used flashcards to test my memory from the first Term of the BPTC. I would practice remembering the duties every other day and closer to the exam I revised them daily.
How to effectively revise
It should be clear by now that your revision strategy should start with the Core Duties and then work through the associated rules and guidance. But with time not being on anybody’s side during the BPTC and Ethics probably being one of your more neglected subjects, it is important to know how to get on top of the material quickly. The good news is that there are effective ways to learn everything you need to know. The bad news is that you should seriously give this time and it is better to learn little and often instead of cramming it all in.
The first thing you should do is look at as many sample questions you can get your hands on. Your Law School should have an Ethics mock paper that you can see or even a question bank. The more you familiarise with Ethics questions then the easier it is to know how to write as much as you can remember about the Core Duties and rules for each question. The more you see how practically the BSB wants the rules to be applied and explained then the easier it is to look at a question and know how to fill an answer with BSB-friendly answers. After a while doing this the Core Duties will jump out at you. Use answer sheets to continually test yourself. You must be able to recognise which Core Duties are engaged by the scenario in the question.
Once you are able to do this, you need to know the specific rules that apply to the Core Duties. Some rules are very specific and will provide the only possible answer you can give. To avoid drawing a blank in the exam, understand the most important rules that are tied to each Core Duty. This will become clear from reading and taking notes from the BSB Handbook. I created flashcards for the different Core Duties which set out the different rules and guidance. My flashcards would ask questions like: “what should I do if my client tells me that they are guilty of the offence?”/“can I lie to the court if my client asks me to?”. By making them questions I will be asking myself when writing my answers it helped me practically apply my knowledge in the exam.
What to do in the exam
As soon as you sit down in the exam write out the 10 Core Duties in the way you remembered them. Then you don’t have to remember any more and you can focus on applying them. After that, read the questions carefully and annotate which duties, rules and guidance you think apply to the scenario. Keep writing until you have exhausted all possible relevant knowledge. Ethics is a tricky exam and you will definitely feel like you are winging it at times but ensure that each and every rule is solidly rooted in application of the Core Duties.
Keep practicing and good luck!
Ethics can be done just keep at it.
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Until next time,