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True cost of law school

Tuesday, July 28, 2020 @ 1:21 PM | By Henna Parmar

Henna Parmar %>
Henna Parmar
Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve dreamed of becoming a lawyer. To Kill a Mockingbird, Law and Order and Suits, were all aspirations I could only fathom. Almost every academic and extracurricular decision that I’ve made since high school was to achieve one goal — law school.  

Something that was secondary to this dream however, was the price. How much did this dream really cost?

Putting the tuition itself aside for a moment, before my law school acceptance, I spent thousands sitting to write the LSAT ($200 each time you write it), taking LSAT prep classes (upwards of $1,000), submitting law school applications (applying to five law schools in Ontario will cost you $620), and so on. But that was OK because the prize was law school, and my eyes were all over it.

The day I got my law school acceptance, I was ecstatic but I knew I could never afford to go to law school on my own. Ontario law school tuition ranges from $19,000 to $35,000 per year, plus ancillary fees. Like many law students I leaned on the assistance of a student line of credit and OSAP. The thought of having to pay all of that back one day, plus interest, was on the back burner. Fortunately, I got to live in Ontario, but paying rent, buying textbooks, printing outlines and having a social life were all extra expenses that kept piling up.

Believing that I would be able to easily pay back my loans once I became a lawyer was naïve (unless you work on Bay Street).

It wasn’t until I had to start applying for articling positions that I realized how difficult it was to secure one. The jobs were scarce and the applicants were abundant. There are six law schools in Ontario, each with upwards of 100 students, all competing for the same positions. Unfortunately, not all of the positions were paying their students a “lawyerly” wage. Some firms were paying students minimum wage (or less).

I ultimately secured an articling position at a downtown Toronto criminal defence firm. I believe that I am exceptionally lucky since criminal law is where my heart resides. However, I cannot say the same for many of my fellow classmates who are articling in areas that they do not have a passion for. Many law students accept articling positions in any area of law simply to satisfy their articling requirement.

Articling had been a quite the experience. I had the opportunity to assist with trials ranging from first degree murder to kidnapping and confinement and had the opportunity to appear before the Ontario Court of Appeal. I also worked long hours, weekends and worked on very dense and challenging material. Many of my fellow articling students would agree that they share similar experiences with their workload. The job is highly stressful and the occasional breakdown is a given. Many students often feel burned out, question their career choices and do not feel a great deal of job satisfaction. Not only does a career in law require a lot financially, it requires a lot mentally, physically and emotionally.

The bottom line is, if you want to go to law school, make sure that you really want to. Take the time to do your research and keep yourself well informed before making a decision. Providing access to justice is an integral part of why I want to be a criminal lawyer. In my opinion, a part of access to justice is ensuring that individuals who are not financially well off have access to a legal education without having backbreaking debt. 

What’s the solution? Lower tuition rates. What’s the alternative? In my opinion, law schools need to reduce the number of seats available. If only a handful of applicants are getting admitted, the job competition will decrease, and law firms will be able to pay lawyers a more deserving salary — which will decrease the strain of having to pay back such enormous loans. Moreover, lawyers will feel greater job satisfaction by reaping a greater reward for their hard work and long hours.

Repaying OSAP and a line of credit with high interest rates has been difficult. But with that being said, I can truly say that the hard work and the financial hardships have been worth it for me. I have had a very rewarding articling experience. I’ve learned a plethora of new things and I have met some of the most intellectual and kind people along the way. Genuinely making a difference in peoples’ lives has been a dream come true. I cannot wait to see what the future holds!

Henna Parmar is a criminal lawyer in the Greater Toronto Area. You can reach her or follow @itshennaparmar.

Photo credit / Feodora Chiosea ISTOCKPHOTO.COM

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