Those with low incomes face many barriers when trying to get into the legal profession. For some, even the cost of a prep course for the law school admission test isn’t feasible.
That’s why last year the University of Toronto Faculty of Law introduced a free LSAT prep course for low-income individuals as a pilot project. After a successful first run, the law school will continue to offer the program and other law schools are also jumping on board. Osgoode Hall Law School is currently administering its first free LSAT prep course until October.
Alexis Archbold, assistant dean of students at U of T’s law school, says they discovered the need for a free LSAT prep course through the LAWS program, an extracurricular educational program that exposes high school students to the legal profession. It is administered by U of T, Osgoode, and the Toronto District School Board.
Archbold says many students who participated in the LAWS program weren’t applying to law school because they couldn’t afford a course to help them get ready for the LSAT.
“It really told us that of all the obstacles to going to law school — and we know there are many of them — the cost of an LSAT prep program was one that was really getting in the way of students thinking that they could go to law school, just the simple fact that they couldn’t afford a course,” she says.
“We thought this was unacceptable and that we would offer a free course to students who couldn’t afford it — it just seemed like the obvious thing to do to remove that obstacle.”
Most LSAT prep courses range from $500 to $1,000. For example, Oxford Seminars offers a 30-hour course for $559. The Princeton Review offers a similar course for $999.
Amir Torabi didn’t think law school would be a possibility for him because he couldn’t afford an LSAT prep course.
“I wasn’t planning on taking a course just because they’re so expensive, and then my dad cut out the clipping from the Toronto Star about [U of T’s] free prep course for anyone who has financial need,” he tells 4Students.
Torabi has since written the LSAT and is now enrolled at the University of Windsor to begin law school in September.
“I think that if I didn’t take that course I wouldn’t be where I am,” he says.
Besides the actual prep work for the LSAT, Torabi says the added features of the course really benefited him. They included workshops that involved working with an admissions officer to prepare a personal statement, meeting with legal professionals to learn what you can do with a law degree, speaking with current law students to find out what law school is like, and learning how to fund your legal education.
“It’s not like by taking the course we were guaranteed [getting] into law school, but we were given the tools to make sure our application was the best it could be,” says Torabi.
Archbold says the law school is able to give students an insider’s perspective on the admissions process.
“A law school can offer a really specific and detailed perspective on things like admissions and financing your legal education that an outsider probably couldn’t,” she says.
There’s “a lot of extra information that’s designed to help support students make a really informed choice about going to law school,” she adds.
The 10-week course runs from June to October for three hours one night per week. A law student who performed very well on his or her LSAT teaches the course.
To be eligible, students must be in their third or fourth year or have graduated from an undergraduate program with a minimum GPA of 78 per cent. Applicants must also be a recipient of the Canada Student Grant for Persons from Low Income Families or be able to demonstrate a low family income.
Archbold says of the 25 students who enrolled in the course last year, five of them have been accepted into law school, including two students at U of T.
Janine Manning is one of those students. As a single, aboriginal mother, she didn’t think law school was within her grasp.
“I thought if I’m going to seriously write the LSAT then I need help, but I couldn’t afford the courses,” she says.
Manning says she really appreciated getting to know the other students in the class.
“There was a lot of camaraderie because we’re all of a particular demographic; we’re marginalized people, we’re from lower incomes, so we could all relate to each other on those levels,” she says. “There were a lot of barriers broken down just knowing that you’re in the same boat as everybody else.”
Archbold says law schools should proactively work to reduce the systemic obstacles that exist for getting accepted into law school.
“There are still important reasons why certain communities are not applying to law school in the numbers that they probably should be,” she says. “We need to be part of the change in society that’s going to mean that people from all segments of Canadian society should feel like law school is an option for them.”