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LSO reduces Call to Bar fee as recent calls rally profession to support students

Friday, May 29, 2020 @ 9:20 AM | By Amanda Jerome

The Law Society of Ontario (LSO) has reduced its Call to the Bar fee due to “presently challenging times” after recent calls and law students took to Twitter to express their ire at the regulator charging full price despite ceremonies being cancelled and articles being shortened.

The LSO directed The Lawyer’s Daily to a statement on its website regarding the reduction of fees.

The statement, updated on May 25, noted that the law society “is aware of the unique challenges facing candidates as a result of COVID-19.”

“In recognition of this, we are reducing the Call to the Bar fee to $165 for all candidates called to the bar after May 1, 2020. The Call to the Bar fee is administered to cover the associated costs of licensing lawyers to practice law in Ontario. The Call to the Bar fee, which is the application fee for lawyer licensing, has consistently been $250. This fee has been applied by the law society regardless of whether a candidate is licensed administratively or with a ceremonial call. However, we recognize these are presently challenging times and we have made the decision to reduce this fee in light of the circumstances,” the statement explained.

Elsa Ascencio, Ryder Wright Blair and Holmes LLP

Recent calls, Elsa Ascencio, counsel with Ryder Wright Blair and Holmes LLP, and Ava Williams, an associate at Thomson Rogers, also took to Twitter to connect students with lawyers offering to cover the cost of the fee.

Williams, who was called to the bar in 2019, said Ascencio’s tweets inspired her to pay for a student’s fees.

“I was fortunate enough that my firm paid for me and I’ve been quite fortunate throughout this pandemic that I haven’t suffered financially as much as some people have,” she said about her decision.

Williams noted that everyone who has been waiting to be called to the bar has “worked so hard to get there and [the fee is] one more hurdle in a time that there’s so much economic uncertainty and stress.”

“There are students who had their articles cut short or they’ve lost their articles, which means a fair amount of money that they’ve budgeted for, or they’ve expected to receive, is gone,” she added.

William said she and Ascencio partnered together and sent out a “couple of tweets outlining that it’s a tough financial time right now,” that the Call to the Bar fee isn’t cheap, and “there are students who need help with it.”

The online engagement brought people to reach out to the two offering to pay the fees for students.

Ava Williams, Thomson Rogers

“It’s interesting, on our list right now we have more donors than students. I think it’s because almost every single message I’ve received from a student looking for help has been ‘if there’s someone more deserving than me, give it to them,’ ” she explained, noting that there are almost 30 donors on their list, with one lawyer offering to cover five students.

“For a lot of people, it’s very helpful,” she said, noting that her firm paid for her Call to the Bar fee.

“I’m privileged enough that I don’t remember being stressed about that. There was a lot more certainty a year ago. Most of my friends got hired back at their jobs or found a new job almost right away after they weren’t hired back, where now it’ll be a matter of months,” she added, stressing that COVID-19 has placed an extra hurdle for law students and recent calls looking for work.

“I want these new calls to feel welcome to the bar and I think this is one way that lawyers can make them feel welcome and make them feel like they belong in the profession,” she said, adding that she and Ascencio wanted to help students feel included and “enter the profession on a positive note.”

Although the LSO reduced the fee, lawyers are still offering to help students with the cost.

Charlene Theodore, the first vice-president of the Ontario Bar Association (OBA), tweeted out a thank-you to OBA lawyers and other legal professionals who “spoke out for students.”

“While I think this year’s fee should be waived, I appreciate the speed in which @LawSocietyLSO addressed this issue. My offer to the #Classof2020 stands. If you can’t afford the fee, send me a DM [direct message],” she wrote.

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