LSSO Report Emphasizes High Cost of Legal Education
Earlier this year, the Law Students’ Society of Ontario (LSSO) released the results of a survey of Ontario law students. The report, titled “Just or Bust,” draws attention to the financial concerns of law students in the province.
The survey found significant concerns about the accessibility of legal education in Ontario. While about 30 per cent of law students expect to graduate debt-free, those with debt owe an average of about $71,000 by their third year.
According to the survey, students whose parents did not attend university tended to carry even more debt. These first-generation students owed about $25,000 more than their peers by third year.
LSSO President and Osgoode Hall student Douglas Judson emphasized the importance of access to justice.
“Making legal education accessible is akin to making justice accessible for different communities and groups—not just for those that want to practice, but for those who have a need for legal services.” Judson told Juris Diction, “Making the profession accessible is how we make it more relevant, responsive, and representative of the public we serve.”
Judson suggested making legal education more accessible by looking at a diversity of possible solutions. He expressed support for some programs, such as Osgoode’s income-contingent loan pilot program, but he argued that many actors have failed to take action on the problem.
“Unfortunately, there’s also a lot of buck-passing going on between the major players. No one wants to take ownership for the problem. Governments keep aid levels at unrealistic lows and the Law Society imposes new costs on graduates without any acknowledgement of the debt they’re carrying,” Judson said.
“Students at some of the law schools express that their administration vacillates between opaque and oblivious on these issues.”
Judson said that the government should take action to ensure that legal education is accessible. “The reality is that this is an important component of access to justice and legal services and governments ought to be committed to improving that accessibility,” Judson said.
At Queen’s University, Faculty of Law Dean Bill Flanagan noted the emphasis the law school places on financial aid.
“I think it’s fair, given our commitment to financial aid for students with financial need, which effectively means some of our students attend here tuition-free,” Flanagan said.
While Flanagan would welcome additional government investment in legal education, he cautioned that this is unlikely.
“The province is broke, running annual deficits in excess of $10 billion dollars,” Flanagan noted, “so we have no realistic prospect of any significant enhancement to provincial support for post-secondary education.”
The LSSO surveyed law students at Windsor, Western, Ottawa, Toronto, and Osgoode in February 2014 for this report. Queen’s law students were not surveyed.
Michael Scott (second-year MPA/JD) is a News Editor for Juris Diction.
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