LSUC, Why Won’t You Give Law Students a Break?
I received the invoices for my Law Society of Upper Canada (LSUC) licensing fees today. While I knew they were coming, it’s still a bit of a shock.
By April 8th, the LSUC expects me to pay about five thousand dollars. If I can’t come up with the money up front, I can pay even more to enroll in a payment plan.
In 2013, the fees to become a lawyer in Ontario were $2400 plus tax ($2712 total). Now, the fees are $4710 plus tax (about $5322 total).
If you haven’t been following LSUC politics, you may wonder at the reasons for this sharp increase. The primary reason the fees have almost doubled over the past few years is the Law Practice Program (LPP).
Specifically, beginning a number of years ago, the LSUC realized that—because of increased enrolment at Canadian law schools and more foreign-trained students entering the market—there were substantially more applicants than articling student spots. Some 10 to 15 percent of students were unable to find articles. In response to the articling crisis, the LSUC decided to create the LPP as an alternative to articling.
I can certainly see the merits of the LPP program (despite the skepticism and stigma that seem to have attached to it). It provides a path to licensing for those unable to find articles and may promote access to justice in Ontario.
However, the LSUC has decided to (at least partially) fund it through an increase in the fee charged to law students to license. That means that students—who already have tremendous debt loads: an average of $70,000 according to the Law Students’ Society of Ontario—are saddled with this added cost. We have little choice but to pay it, in order to realize our investment in tuition and time to become lawyers. Thus many of us will inevitably take out thousands more in loans and pay up.
I am lucky. I have secured an articling position and can thus expect a steady income over the coming year (I hope to continue my luck and be hired back, thereafter). Many are not so fortunate. A significant fraction of the students in the LPP will not be paid for their four-month placement. After graduating, they face an uncertain job market.
The last thing we students need at the start of our careers is more debt.
While we, law students, have little choice, the Law Society did have a choice. It could have increased its membership fees. Shifting the burden of this cost from law students, already crushed by debt, to practicing lawyers, most of whom have ample financial resources. Since there are substantially more established lawyers than new entrants, the burden of defraying this cost would be lower for each member than what we face as students.
Ultimately, then, I must wonder why the Society decided to put this burden on its new members—those who are least able to pay for it.
Michael Scott (3L) is a contributor to Juris Diction.