A2J is a grassroots initiative involving law students, practitioners and community members whose aim is to advocate for practical solutions designed to decrease law school tuition in Ontario as a vehicle for increasing access to justice. Steadily rising levels of tuition have become a tremendous financial barrier for students entering law school and for young lawyers aspiring to practice in social justice and to serve lower , middle income and marginal communities. Accordingly, the focus of this initiative is to develop a strategic plan of action to reduce law school tuition in Ontario, which must engage Ontario Law Schools, the Law Society of Upper Canada and the Province of Ontario.
A2J seeks to mobilize support from across all constituencies of the legal community and general public for the creation of more sustainable and socially conscious legal education, training and practice in Ontario.
How we started:
In the summer of 2014, a group of passionate Ontario law students and lawyers came together to mobilize against rising law school tuition and its role in making legal practice virtually unaffordable for new lawyers interested in serving low income clients.The average graduating law student in Ontario bears a debt burden that for many, reaches above $100,000 and consists of both private bank loans and Canada Student Loans. By the year 2030, it law tuition in Ontario may increase as high as $60,000 . However, even today current l levels of law school tuition leave graduating students with debt levels of $100,000 and, accordingly, a pressing need to service their debt by securing good paying jobs. Jobs for lawyers, let along articling positions are either scarce or non-existent. Given this reality, the group recognized the urgent need to take action and develop grassroots strategies to advocate for more accessible and affordable legal education. A2J was established as a response to to this urgent situation.
Why we cannot wait:
The Law Society of Upper Canada (LSUC) and law schools in Ontario have long recognized the crisis of articling and shortage of remunerated placements for articling candidates. However, when it comes to addressing increased tuition there is no common position from law schools, the LSUC, or the Province . To the contrary, the recent invitation of former University of Toronto Law School Dean, Ron Daniels, to speak to convocation signifies that his legacy of advocating increased tuition in Canadian law schools continues to hold a privileged space in the legal community. For law schools, which are dependent upon provincial funding, dwindling revenues are being ironically addressed by increasing the size of first year law admissions. In this regard, law schools are preparing for and accommodating rising tuitions rather than pushing back against it. The experience of law students clearly demonstrates that this model is unsustainable.
What this means for people seeking to access to the justice system is that the system becomes increasingly limited to those who can afford the staggering costs of legal representation. High tuition and exorbitant debt loads mean that students are often compelled to seek out and accept high-paying opportunities offered almost exclusively by larger firms in order to preempt financial distress, instead of positions where they could represent lower income clients.
This also means that many students who, themselves come from impoverished families are often deterred from even applying to law school (with bank loans being a non-option as they are often dependant on the guarantor’s income and assets). Increased tuitions therefore, are shutting the door to many excellent future practitioners who, precisely because of their diverse backgrounds and lived experience of poverty, racism, etc can bring invaluable insight into their practice and advocacy and do phenomenal work to increase access to justice for vulnerable and marginalized communities.
The response of shifting responsibility between the Province, law schools and the Law Society allows for no ownership of the current problem and is antithetical to the principles which underpin the philosophy of access to justice.We believe that By taking ownership of the problem for everyone involved with or affected by the legal profession we believe, will lead to more inclusive, proactive and immediate responses to access to justice problems as they relate to law students.