Ontario law school fee almost doubles due to new training

Many Ontario law students say they've been caught off-guard by a large increase in fees they must pay as part of the process of becoming a lawyer, which has been caused by a new type of training that will be introduced in September.

Fees required to become lawyer jump more than $2,000 after taxes, a 79 per cent increase

Sherif Rizk is the president of the University of Ottawa's Common Law Students' Association. He says students were expecting a hike in articling and licensing fees, but not one that's been calculated at 79 per cent. (Andrew Foote/CBC)

Many Ontario law students say they've been caught off-guard by a large increase in fees they must pay as part of the process of becoming a lawyer.

Common law students in Ontario must pay a series of fees to the Law Society of Upper Canada in order to get mandatory post-graduation training and write the bar exam.

Based off last year's fee schedule, students who spoke to CBC News said they expected to pay slightly more than the approximately $2,600 graduating students paid in 2013.

Instead, their bill came in at nearly $5,000, an increase one blogger calculated as 79 per cent.

Eva Lane says the price tag is the talk of her law school program. (Andrew Foote/CBC)

"It's something that's on everybody's lips right now," said Eva Lane, who is in her third year as a common law student at the University of Ottawa.

"We're all pretty angry, a little bit surprised … we owe a lot of money right now, it's our last semester and all of a sudden we get this big invoice." 

'Bitter taste' caused by new program

"The shock is more of like a sticker shock, you know the price is going to go up but you're surprised at how much it's going to go up by," said Sherif Rizk, president of the University of Ottawa's Common Law Student Society.

"It kind of leaves a bitter taste in your mouth on your way out of law school."

The Law Society of Upper Canada (LSUC), which regulates lawyers in Ontario, said the increase is partially due to a new alternative to the mandatory post-graduation training. Until now, the only way to get trained was to spend 10 months articling with a law firm.

There is now a pilot project starting in September called the "legal practice program" or LPP. It would set students up with four months of training, then four months of a placement at firms and organizations that are less common than those who article, including smaller and rural firms.

In a statement, the LSUC said they're increasing the fees in order to pay for the LPP and changes to the articling process.

"The need for change, and the need for an alternative pathway to licensing, has been the subject of discussion and consultation since 2011. Articling as the single, stand-alone pathway to licensing was no longer viable," the statement read.

"The Law Society's Articling Task Force recommended the creation of an additional pathway, as well as changes to articling, and has from the beginning noted that a fee increase would be necessary to cover the costs of enhancements to the articling program, as well as the introduction of the Law Practice Program."

A spokesperson for the LSUC said the idea is to have identical costs for articling and the LPP to make them "equally successful." However, the LSUC said they can't guarantee LPP students will be paid at their firms, like articling students are.

The LPP pilot project will run at Ryerson University for English students and the University of Ottawa for French students for the next three years.

Current lawyers could help, students say

University of Ottawa students said there are bigger issues at play. They said there are more law students than there are articling positions to fill, which they believe is part of the reason the LPP program was introduced.

"(Fees) aren't the only way to control the entrance to the profession, there are a lot of different ways you can make different requirements ... I think if the only burden in order to enter the profession is financial, you may not be getting the full picture of who you want in the profession." said Rizk.

"There are a lot of people who can do a lot of great things in the legal profession, they're very passionate advocates for a lot of different causes, but if you put a financial burden on them that they simply can't meet, you're denying them entry."

Antonio Giamberardino is a third-year common law student and says he has little choice but to pay if he wants his tuition to be worth it. (Andrew Foote/CBC)

Others said they wish current law firms would take on some of the financial burden caused by these changes, as their fees went up by less than one per cent and they're not bringing on as many articling students — which is part of why the LPP program was put in place.

"I think it's incumbent on the legal community to try and shoulder some of the cost — not all of the cost, but (don't) leave us all with a $2,000 surprise bill," said Antonio Giamberardino, a third-year common law student at the University of Ottawa.

Giamberardino also said there was a bit of tension in the school between students who were going to article and students choosing to go the LPP route due to the increase.

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