Sometimes recent law graduates see passion and practicality collide as they graduate with noble public-interest aspirations and are hit with the reality of having to pay off often six-figure debt loads.
Avnish Nanda, who graduated this year, came to Osgoode Hall Law School thinking he would use his JD to make his ambition of doing public interest law come true. Instead, he had to face the fact the $100,000-debt he accumulated over his three years at law school was a significant barrier to pursuing his dream.
While Nanda’s story may be a more personal one, Martin Hui, a fellow JD/MBA graduate of the same year, who also came out of law school with a heavy debt load, didn’t necessarily have public interest ambitions himself. For him, one of the best things about Osgoode is the diversity of the people and the varying aspirations they have.
He says his friends’ aspirations “run the gamut” as far as areas of law and when you look at research, with rising tuition, increase of costs, wages, and opportunities, especially in Toronto, it was beginning to become clear it would be difficult for those friends wanting to work in rural communities, legal aid clinics, or with at-risk groups to be able to pay off their debt with the salaries offered in those positions.
Those constraints were “hard to stomach,” for Hui.
During their final year at Osgoode, the two teamed up to establish a student-led debt relief program for recent graduates who were feeling limited by that financial burden when making their career choices.
The Osgoode@125 debt relief initiative was born. The initiative has a strong access to justice component, as its mandate is to provide much-needed support for those Osgoode graduates whose career choices involve providing legal services to Canada’s under-serviced communities and demographic groups.
“The initiative came up as part of a bigger kind of picture,” Hui says. “This is something to create an endowment to continually provide financial support and is something we can put our energy behind and do here, now.”
The ideal would be for cost to be contained at law school but barring that, he says this is something that can have a real impact and help students immediately.
Eligibility and application discussions have been held in a broad sense so far — essentially there will be two-fold criteria. Those who apply will have to meet a minimum threshold of debt and also demonstrate they want to take on work that’s in the public interest in a broad sense.
Nanda and Hui were soon joined by seven other current Osgoode students: Douglas Judson, Nadia Klein, James Mencel, Brendan Monahan, Jaime Mor, Toby Samson, and Allison Williams. The Debt Assistance Relief Team (DART), as they call themselves, launched the initiative in September with the goal of raising $125,000.
The fund is currently in the financing stage, approaching law firms, alumni, and individuals to help get it off the ground. The DART team is hoping to set the groundwork for something that “sends a clear message that this is something that needs to be ongoing,” says Monahan, a third-year JD/MBA candidate.
Monahan put together a video explaining the initiative. He says the issue is a systemic problem that affects all students, and his motivation to get onboard stems from that.
“This is an access to justice problem too; it’s something that reaches beyond the students and leaks into the community as well, and affects people who need representation,” he says.
So far the response has been good, says Monahan. He says the legal community recognizes this is a problem and the support garnered for the idea of helping law students pursue their career goals has been very strong.
Dean Lorne Sossin pledged to double-match the money the students raise — the first match coming from the law school and the second from alumni.
Those wishing to donate can do so on the initiative’s web site.