Monday, January 30, 2006

Admissions: Law School Fees

When I started law school, I was prepared to pay about $5,000 per year for tuition and fees. I felt very lucky, as this number would be “grandfathered” for the next three years. In other words, I would not see an increase in the tuition that I paid from year to year, except for the usual university wide increases. However, the next incoming class would be charged a “differential fee” of about $2000, and the following class even more, so that tuition for them, including differential fees was $4000 more than I paid during the same year. It does not really seem fair, but the argument is made that this differential fee goes towards improving the faculty, and thus the opportunities and advantages for the law students. One or two law professors were hired during my second year, but other than that, I never did figure out what the differential fees were being used for. I was just happy that I did not have to pay so much!

The truth of the matter is that the cost of attending law school has skyrocketed in the past few years. Incoming students for 2004/2005 looked at anywhere between $3,000 to $16,000 for tuition and fees, with an average across the board of approximately $9,454. Add to that amount the cost of living, gym fees, etc. and you are looking at a very hefty total for a year of law school.

It is not unheard of for a law student to amass a debt of $60,000-80,000 or more. Although salaries for lawyers do go up over time, especially compared to some undergraduate or graduate programs, prospective law students should be aware of the high cost and the potential debt-load that they may have to carry. It is a significant investment, and not one that should be taken lightly.

Fortunately, law schools are trying to increase the number of bursaries available to their students. One explanation for the differential fee was that those who are able to pay carry more of their own costs, allowing the school to assist those who are less able to pay. The fact that provinces are increasing the amounts of loans available to law students, as well as the increased amount of remission available to graduating students feeds the differential frenzy.

Canadian Lawyer Magazine recently published an editorial about the huge rise in law school tuitions, and about how it effects the middle class the very most. I found this very intriguing. As the editor put it, she couldn't afford to survive on her own accord because she would have been too poor, and she wouldn't have qualified for student assistance because she was too rich. So, we are beginning to see a situation where the middle class are being pushed out. As with the ongoing conundrum for the poor and middle class to access justice, we are seeing the same group being thwarted from accessing law school.

U of T plans to increase its tuition to $22,000 in 2006/2007. Where will it end? Also, when will the firms begin to reflect the increases in tuition, and in cost of living? What really has me wondering is why the firms aren't talking to the law schools about this problem. An increase in tuition costs means that their incoming articling students and associates are experiencing much more stress because of huge debt loads. Surely a green associate would work much more effectively if they didn't have this extra burden. They already have to worry about the unreasonable billable hours...

I don't post this commentary to discourage you from applying to law schools. However, it is a reality that many applicants are facing. All I can really say about this subject is...start saving now.

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