The Lawyer Bubble in Canada
I read with interest the article on the front page of the Toronto Star (March 11, 2019) quoting and featuring soon to be lawyer Elsa Ascencio on the issue of access to justice in the profession. The article discusses rising tuition fees and high administrative bar call fees and/or lawyer licensing fees facing prospective or newly minted lawyers.
I have always enjoyed looking to the United States as a general forecast of things to come in Canada. Back around the time that I graduated law school, in 2007, the myth that becoming a lawyer was the proverbial “guarantee” to a decent economic life had begun to fade. This was especially the case in the United States where high tuitions had been a problem for some time even at that point. According to the abovementioned Toronto Star article of March 11, 2019, it now costs over $36,000 to go to law school at the University of Toronto and approximately $28,000 to attend law school at Osgoode Hall. When I was attending McGill Law School between 2004-2007, my tuition was approximately $6,500 per year (for an out of province resident) if memory serves me correctly. The left leaning nature of Quebec politics was a great help for students like me at the time, and I remain forever in debt and gratitude to its government policies of the early to mid-2000’s.
In any event, back in 2009 there was a financial crisis that led to many American law firms terminating entire sets of incoming students. There was a flurry of activity in the blogosphere where younger students began to expose the serious problem facing the United States: too many law schools and exorbitant tuitions. States such as New York made it mandatory for incoming lawyers to attain a certain number of pro bono hours to enter the profession, which was met with significant criticism that was quite similar to the article in today’s Toronto Star (the said 50-hour pro bono requirement is discussed here: wwww.nybarexam.org/MPB.html). In other words, most students had too much debt to have to worry about pro bono hours, although most wanted to “give back”; they simply had no money or resources to “give back” with.
A great book for all Law Society bencher candidates, lawyers, and students alike to read is one written by lawyer Steven J. Harper called The Lawyer Bubble: A Profession in Crisis published in 2013. While the author was a senior lawyer and former big law partner admitted to the Bar in the late 1970s, who practiced in New York City, he spent an extraordinary amount of time documenting a tsunami of problems that are no doubt heading right for Canada (after so many years in the United States). These problems included: too many law schools, increasing tuitions in law schools, and too many prospective lawyers with no other way to pay back debt but big law.
Before we end up in the exact same crisis as has existed for about fifteen years now in the United States (and we already have had that to a large extent with the lack of articling positions requiring the excellent aid of the LPP), it is best that we head possible future problems off at the pass. This includes reading Mr. Harper’s book, but also having a frank dialogue about just how much law school should cost and how much of a break we should give law students with incoming bar call fees--perhaps more senior counsel who were aided by more modest law school tuitions back in the day can absorb more of the cost. Finally, and most importantly….no more law schools…repeat, no more law schools.