A group of law students has drafted an open letter to the Benchers of the Law Society of Upper Canada calling for the repeal of the fee levied on licensee applicants in order to fund the LPP. According to a communication from Christopher Rudnicki, a third year student at Windsor Law:
As discussed in a previous post on Slaw, the Law Society of Upper Canada sent licensee candidates an invoice last week for $3,164 on top of the $1,695 already required to write the bar. The additional fee was levied to fund the LSUC’s new Law Practice Program, an alternative pathway to articling.
Ontario law students have written an open letter and petition to the Benchers of the Law Society, calling on them to reverse their decision and implement a more equitable means of funding the LPP. What follows is the text of the letter. If you are a law student, please consider signing it and sharing it with your student networks. If you are a legal professional, please consider writing in support of the petition to the Law Society at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The substance of the open letter, available online at tiny.cc/lppfeepetition, reads as follows:
We, the undersigned law students, are writing in protest of the new $3,164.00 fee to be imposed on every candidate for licensing in Ontario. The fee is unfair, unjust and contrary to the principles of access to justice which the Law Society has a duty to uphold. We demand that the Law Society revisit the funding of the Law Practice Program (LPP) to identify alternative, progressive funding models that distribute the cost of barriers to licensing proportionally amongst the profession.
Law students are graduating with record levels of debt. In 2004, a report of the Ontario Law Deans found that 40% of law students were graduating with debt of over $40,000. A quarter of those had debt over $70,000. In the ten years since that study was published, law tuition has increased by 150-200% across the province: it is safe to assume that student debt has kept pace. The Law Society has a duty to consider indebtedness of its licensee candidates in relation to the relative wealth of the legal profession when deciding who can best bear the burden of funding the LPP.
There are about 1,700 applicants for licensing each cycle, most of whom have not earned serious income for at least three years. By contrast, there are over 40,000 licensed lawyers in the province of Ontario making an average annual salary of $100,000. You have asked the first group to pay $3,000 each to fund the new licensing program; you have asked the second group, some of the wealthiest professionals in the country, to pay $15 each. This is not a fair distribution of the cost of the LPP.
One of the first principles taught in law school is the difference between formal and substantive equality. Nominally, you charge every licensee candidate the same amount. But this substantial fee is not evenly distributed. Candidates who will be completing articles with corporate-commercial firms will not only be more highly compensated than their colleagues, they may even have the licensing fees, bar prep fees and bar materials subsidized or paid in full. Candidates working in smaller firms and in smaller cities – places where the access to justice crisis is most keenly felt – will not have the benefit of such subsidies. What’s more, the flat fee will have a significantly disproportionate impact on women, people of colour, people with disabilities and others who are the subject of wage discrimination in the legal profession. By levying a regressive flat fee on licensee candidates, the Law Society is effectively giving the rich and privileged a discount on becoming lawyers.
The Law Society has a statutory obligation to “act so as to facilitate access to justice for the people of Ontario.” It is not reasonable to expect recent graduates to focus on providing affordable legal services when we are graduating with mortgage-sized debt. We cannot provide high-quality legal services at an affordable rate when we owe the government and the bank upwards of $100,000 on graduation. The Law Society has added to this burden by erecting a $5,000 barrier to licensing in the province of Ontario.
The Law Society must reverse its decision to fund the LPP on the backs of those least able to bear the burden. The people of Ontario have allowed lawyers to self-regulate – and in so doing, to have a monopoly on legal services – in return for our agreement to act in the public interest. When we levy unfair, unjust fees that undermine our capacity to facilitate access to justice, we betray the trust of Ontario’s citizenry.
The Law Society must implement a more progressive funding scheme proportional to the relative financial capacity of its membership, both current and prospective. We call on the Law Society to act justly and fairly and reverse its decision to levy $3,164 on indebted law students effective immediately.
Law students in the province of Ontario