Students Form “Law Students Society of Ontario”

All of the student societies at Ontario’s seven law schools have agreed to participate in a newly formed Law Students Society of Ontario. At the moment the LSSO website contains only the following press release:

MEDIA RELEASE

For immediate release: Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Ontario’s Law Students Found New Association to Advance Student Issues

Ontario’s law school student governments have formed a new organization to speak out on issues affecting the province’s 4,000 law students.

The goal of the Law Students’ Society of Ontario (LSSO) is to advance student concerns to governmental, regulatory, and educational stakeholders on issues such as access to legal education, professional accreditation requirements, and other matters affecting law students across the province.

“Access to justice, the articling crisis, technological developments, and diversity issues are all coming to a head in the legal profession. Law students need a seat at the table to provide insight and innovation at this critical time,” stated Naheed Yaqubian, President of Queen’s Law Students’ Society. Yaqubian brought student leaders together on March 15 to ratify the organization in Kingston.

The priorities identified at the LSSO’s inaugural meeting include:

  • Raising awareness about the consequences of skyrocketing tuition costs – now at over $30,000 per year at the University of Toronto and growing rapidly at other schools;
  • Monitoring the success of the Law Society of Upper Canada’s Law Practice Program (LPP), which threatens to create a two-tier market for new lawyers;
  • Lobbying for changes to the Law Society’s recent 74% hike of licensing fees for new law school graduates; and
  • Advocating for inclusive, representative law schools – no student should be excluded from or oppressed within a Canadian law school because of an immutable part of their identity.

“Our goal is to push for a substantive and meaningful role for law students to contribute to legal education policies and professional regulation issues that directly impact them,” stated Douglas Judson, President of the LSSO and Osgoode JD/MBA student. Judson indicated that the current licensing fee dilemma reflects the need for a unified law student voice.

The LSSO member organizations wrote to the Law Society in February expressing concern about the poor communication of the $2,000 fee increase and the unnecessary surcharge for those unable to pay the entire bill upfront. They requested that the Law Society find ways to reduce the burden on new lawyers. The Law Society has since modified the payment deadline, but no plans have been implemented to address the unforeseen burden on debt-saddled students or to provide assistance to those least able to pay. The fees remain due before most students will have received a paycheque.

“The cumulative impact of these issues is alarming for the future face of the profession and the availability of legal services where they’re needed,” said Judson. “Students are rightfully anxious about who can afford law school, what they can afford to do when they graduate, and whether those outcomes are in the public interest.”

Membership in the LSSO has been ratified by student groups at all seven Ontario law schools (the University of Windsor, Western University, the University of Toronto, Osgoode Hall Law School (York University), Queen’s University, the University of Ottawa, and Lakehead University). Joining Judson on the LSSO executive are Vice Presidents Allison Medjuck (Queen’s) and Chantel Morrison (Windsor).

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Contact:
Douglas Judson
President, Law Students’ Society of Ontario
Email: president@lsso.ca

[hat tip: Adam Dodek]

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Comments

  1. Do you hear the people sing?

  2. This news release leaves out the most important point about law students: law schools still don’t teach business to law students. I hear this from law firm clients all the time.

    In Canada, law firms were allowed to advertise in 1990. “Marketing” is still an impolite term in some circles.

    For the most part, students still expect to join one of the big Bay Street firm and charge $900/hr. Students would be wise to change their thinking.

    Many more students will launch their own firms with newer business models.

    Students should be asking their law schools for courses on marketing, networking, public relations, social media, account management, hums resources, and public speaking skills.

  3. The release expresses legitimate and important law student concerns which require seeking answers from the right people, informed messaging and strategic long-range planning. The organizational limitation of a “One Big [student] Union” is that its membership is necessarily transitory and reliant on (a) faculty to teach and evaluate them and (b) the professional market to secure their careers. L1’s will be reticent participants, and L3’s will already be staring out the window. It then falls on the shoulders of L2’s to do the heavy lifting. This organizational model is easily divided and conquered along self-interested lines, inadequately resourced, and ineffective during exam periods, reading weeks, orientation weeks, and OCI weeks.

    A student council will provide visibility for leaders and effect tangible results only in situations where there is continuity beyond graduation. This is notably the experience of the American Bar Association, where the strength of the student voice comes from the recognition that the junior ABA members of today are the leading lawyers, judges, and politicians of the future. In Ontario, participation as student ambassadors of the Ontario Bar Association (OBA) provides a direct pipeline into Canada’s largest Bar advocacy group, access to professional PR managers and registered lobbyists, and seats on OBA and CBA Councils and Boards of Directors.

  4. Mr. Akazaki,
    After reading your comment two questions or concerns comes to mind. First, “…[R]eliant on (a) faculty to teach and evaluate them and (b) the professional market to secure their careers” is this meant to be collegial advice or fear and intimidation? That is, don’t rock the boat; put up and shut up — you know that sort of thing. I certainly hope that the latter is not the case after all what would that say of the legal profession?

    Second, “Ontario Bar Association (OBA) provides a direct pipeline into Canada’s largest Bar advocacy group, access to professional PR managers and registered lobbyists, and seats on OBA and CBA Councils and Boards of Directors.” Now, given that you’ve written that “[t]he release expresses legitimate and important law student concerns which require seeking answers from the right people” then why have the students been driven to this extreme? Has the OBA been unware of these issues until this point?

  5. The cost of OBA membership is prohibitive for many lawyers, especially lawyers in public interest fields (e.g. legal aid clinics). Those lawyers least able to pay the fees are those who feel the burden of student debt most keenly.

  6. The first paragraph outlined the limitations of a student organization (which, as a model, has its own challenges) combined with the extra pressures on law students.

    As for your question regarding the second paragraph, the bar association has debated and worked on each of the priorities listed in the press release very much with the help of its student division. Perhaps because law school student councils have not effected much change that there is a perception that a central coordinating body will help them. On the specific points of priority raised in the press release, the OBA student executives have been instrumental in the following work:

    – The OBA has been on the tuition file for over a decade. In fact, the 2002 CBA resolution on law school tuition fees, was prepared by the OBA member on the CBA committee. I know for a fact that law schools, including U of T, have responded to these calls even though it may not seem to be enough. The fact is that Canadian law faculties do offer subsidized legal education comparable to what you get in the U.S for $50,000 – $75,000 per annum. The students may also fail to appreciate that Canadian law faculties are heavily subsidized by members of the bar who teach for no renumeration.
    – OBA is Ryerson University’s partner in the LPP to prevent a two-tier market from developing. No stakeholder is more invested in promoting LPP matriculants as equally or better trained than articling students.
    – Despite the sticker shock of the increase in licensing fee, the fee reflects lobbying by OBA in advocating cost of implementing the LPP that shares the cost among those who use the LPP, those who secure articling jobs, and the practising bar. In real dollars, it is a return to the pre-2005 level when there was a bar admission course. There was a considerable reduction when this was phased out at that time. (I recall it was about a 40% drop.) Now that the LPP will require infrastructure of a similar scale, the costs will be shared by candidates and by the bar.
    – OBA passed a resolution urging LSUC to require elimination of discriminatory practices in law schools. The CBA recently passed a similar resolution at the 2014 Mid-Winter meeting.

  7. On the subject of OBA fees, I personally fought at the CBA Fee Review Committee for the law student fee to remain $0.00 (free of charge) in the face of pressure to charge something. So there is no excuse for law students not to join the student division in order to help advocate on these issues.

    During my work on the same committee, I also helped develop an entire chart full of special circumstances fee reductions. It is not perfect, but what is? Of course, lawyers with student debts find it hard to afford additional fees. If, at some point, they do not contribute and volunteer to advocate for the bar, they will nevertheless benefit from the advocacy organized by those who do pay and volunteer. The value received will then be very inexpensive indeed.

  8. Thank you for your response. IMHO, it appears the students feel disillusioned and alienated from the “established” associations. Give their organization a chance they may come up with a solution on their own — who knows they may change the “established” organizations and associations from the outside to better meet their needs.

  9. FYI – current statistics with the Law Society of Alberta show large numbers of young lawyers (40-50%) leaving private practice inside of ten years at the Bar.

    Those of us who have been around a while (I’m an ’86 call), risk our welfare and the welfare of our profession if we don’t engage young lawyers more and say, “Why do you think it sucks so much to be a lawyer, and how could it suck less?” – while never losing our need to assure the highest levels of competence and ethics.

    Cost of education, cost of engagement in peer groups are some of the factors, no doubt.

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