Does It Matter if Only the Well-Off Can Afford to Go to Law School?

One participant on the cbafutures.org website noted that with their own law school tuition at $13,000 a year, the pool of applicants with the means to attend shrinks tremendously. Indeed, some new students will pay almost $30,000 in tuition in order to attend their first year of law school.

But so what? A lawyer is a lawyer is a lawyer, right? Everyone who goes to law school has the same education, and could conceivably serve the same constituency.

The question is really about the value of diversity. We’re used to thinking of diversity in terms of gender equality, and the inclusion of traditionally marginalized groups in mainstream society. Less time is spent considering the impact of an imbalance in socio-economic opportunity – particularly in education in Canada, where it is generally accepted that with grants, loans and scholarships available, everyone with the requisite grade-point average has the same odds of being accepted into whatever program he or she chooses (a generalization that, it must be said, doesn’t take into account the ways in which a privileged upbringing can enhance a university application).

If tuition fees are deterring otherwise equal applicants from even trying to enter law school, however, that important element of socio-economic diversity is lost, and with it the empathy and understanding people from a similar background can offer to clients.

Those who argue for more women on the boards and in corporate C-suites point out that diversity at the table changes the tone of the discourse, inhibits groupthink, and ultimately creates a more successful company.

“In the law, rights are islands of empowerment. . . . Rights contain images of power, and manipulating those images, either visually or linguistically, is central in the making and maintenance of rights,” says American legal scholar Patricia J. Williams. “In principle, therefore, the more dizzyingly diverse the images that are propagated, the more empowered we will be as a society.”

The original commenter above suggested law school fees be reduced and capped “so that working- and middle-class people can afford to attend.”

Another interested observer notes that it is in the public interest for the pool of prospective lawyers to be not just broad, but deep, and suggests law schools offer full co-op programs with varied work placements.

“If all of society is to have effective access to law, fees for general practitioner qualification have to be reduced substantially. Fees for postgraduate diplomas or practice-related LLMs in specialized topics could then be structured to reflect a more probable return on investment.”

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Comments

  1. What’s this? The poor are supposed to be able to become lawyers?

    Get real.

    The poor (and the middle class for that matter) can’t even hire lawyers. Why on earth should they be able to become lawyers?

    How will the wealthy and the corporations be able to maintain control of society if the poor and middle class are able to get into the system?

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