Rising Tuition Rates for Law Students in Ontario

The trend is alarming and obvious.

Ontario’s law school tuition has increased from an average of $15 819 in 2010 to $20,303[1] in 2014. Consequently, more students are incurring unsustainable debt as tuition steadily increases across the province. At the same time, articling opportunities and employment for new lawyers is diminishing. Fewer students are securing articling positions. First year associate wages are dropping, and there are few options available for students who want to practice in small firms or non-urban settings. The average annual salary for a first year associate in Canada has fallen to $66, 000, a 9% drop from last year, which had already seen a five per cent year on year decline.

Increased Law School Class Sizes

Despite these challenges, the numbers of applicants to Ontario law schools is increasing. Interested applicants are applying in droves to law schools: 3 863 applicants applied to law schools in 2004 while 4 758 applicants applied in 2013, an increase of nearly 900 people. Candidates are seemingly unaware of the growing obstacles to entering the legal profession.

Law schools in Ontario have simultaneously opened their doors to a growing number of law students, leading to increased competition for limited jobs. In 2004, 1,231 first-year students were registered at Ontario law schools. In 2013, 1,502 first-year students were registered—an increase of 270 students.

Impact on the Articling Crisis

Articling positions are not being created on pace with the additional students being admitted into law schools. 15% of articling candidates were unplaced in 2013 compared to 5.8% in 2008.[2]

Students interested in practicing in poverty law and social justice related areas do not have many articling positions available to them. 61% of all articling placements are in private practice firms with 11 or more lawyers, while Legal Aid positions account for only 1% of the jobs available.

Articling positions are rare in rural communities, as well, compounding the inaccessibility of legal services to many residents. 79% of placements are found near Toronto and Ottawa, with 65% being in the Toronto area.

[1] 2014 average law school tuition fees based on publicly available information from University of Western Ontario, Lakehead, University of Ottawa, Queens University, University of Toronto, Windsor University and York University law schools.
[2] See: “Articling Task Force, Final Report – October 25, 2012” Law Society of Upper Canada (2012) at page 14