Back to law school 2022: Law students’ financial burden | Monica Santos and Cayley Kavanagh

By Monica Santos and Cayley Kavanagh

Law360 Canada (September 2, 2022, 10:44 AM EDT) --
Monica Santos
Monica Santos
Cayley Kavanagh
Cayley Kavanagh
As we approach the 2022-2023 school year, the Law Students’ Society of Ontario (LSSO) is building a strategy to address the known and anticipated challenges that law students will face.

Last year, the LSSO made significant headway on several advocacy projects including advocacy concerning barrister examinations, a mandatory minimum wage for articling students, the launch of an Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Forum, and piloting a mental health and wellness program with mental health provider Headspace. The LSSO plans to carry this momentum into the upcoming school year.

At this point in time, most law students have paid their tuition for the school year. Needless to say, law school requires significant investment, both personally and financially. Most students must take on debt to finance their legal education and most graduate from law school with daunting financial obligations. To obtain a more accurate account of students’ financial obligations, the LSSO has conducted a National Tuition Study. The study has been updated annually for the past three years to keep a pulse on the evolving cost of legal education and its impact on students’ financial outlook.

Research collected from the study shows that the cost of legal education in Canada is a pervasive consideration that originates before law school and persists beyond graduation. Specifically, in 2022, about 63 per cent of respondents reported that tuition impacted their choice of law school. While in school, 72 per cent of respondents indicated that law school expenses have negatively impacted their mental health.

Interestingly, the impact of tuition has shown to reverberate further as 69 per cent of respondents indicated that the cost of their legal education has impacted their career objectives or rationale for pursuing law. On this issue, one student explained, “Ontario law students are routinely pushed from their own interests in[to] big corporate law by the allure of a salary that is capable of paying down the enormous debt we accrue to become lawyers.” Another student called on the government and universities to ease rising tuition costs by altering their investment and budgeting strategies. They commented that, “students will ultimately have more financial freedom to truly pursue careers that interest them, leading to better representation and real improvements in our country’s justice system.”

On average, after paying last year’s (2021-2022) tuition, survey respondents reported owing almost $50,000 in total debt. Moreover, almost 60 per cent of respondents indicated they did not know what their post-graduation monthly debt payments would be, and they are concerned about their ability to make future debt payments.

This data shows that law school tuition is a pressing issue for many Canadian law students that deeply implicates their personal financial decisions and career paths. Students’ concerns reflected in the study findings demonstrate a need for the LSSO to remain committed to its role in gaining a deeper understanding of students’ financial positions. With this understanding, the LSSO aims to respond accordingly through advocacy and educational initiatives. The study’s insights will guide advocacy efforts in shaping policy developments and further studying the issue of financial aid and the overarching accessibility of the profession. The National Tuition Study is nearing the publishing phase — stay tuned for the final product.

Advancing students’ financial literacy and well-being through educational initiatives and partnerships is also a key priority. For instance, the LSSO is looking forward to working with the Law Society of Ontario in their efforts to implement a minimum wage for articling students in May 2023. Moreover, the LSSO is eager to continue hosting financial education sessions in collaboration with insurance and investment provider Lawyers Financial to help students manage debt, credit, cash flow and time.

Students and lawyers looking to connect with the LSSO’s activities and initiatives are encouraged to join the mailing list and follow the organization on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. To learn more about the LSSO’s advocacy projects within the last year, please see our Year in Review.

Monica Santos is a 3L student at York University, Osgoode Hall Law School. She acts as the president of the Law Students’ Society of Ontario. Cayley Kavanagh is a second-year student at Windsor Law and is the vice-president, external, of the Law Students’ Society of Ontario. This summer, Cayley worked for The National Hockey League Players’ Association (NHLPA) as a summer law student drafting briefs in support of NHL players’ salary arbitrations.

The opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the author's firm, its clients,
The Lawyer's Daily, LexisNexis Canada, or any of its or their respective affiliates. This article is for general information purposes and is not intended to be and should not be taken as legal advice.

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