Students band together for stronger voice

The culmination of a number of issues currently affecting Ontario law students has led to a coalition of law school student governments from across the province.

Student leaders met March 15 at Queen’s University to ratify the new organization, the Law Students’ Society of Ontario.

“There are a number of issues coming to a head right now that touch on student issues within the profession and within legal education that require us to concert our efforts with a little bit more organization and develop a more unified position,” says Douglas Judson, LSSO president and third-year Osgoode Hall Law School JD/MBA student. “Speaking in our different silos, we aren’t being heard with the same consistency and with the same impact that we could be if we work together on some of these common-interest issues.”

The LSSO identified the following priorities at its recent inaugural meeting:

•    Raise awareness about the consequences of rising tuition costs;
•    Lobby for changes to the Law Society of Upper Canada’s recent licensing fee increase for new law school graduates;
•    Monitor the LSUC’s new Law Practice Program; and
•    Advocate for inclusive, representative law schools.

The LSSO plans to address these issues on an ongoing basis, but focus on certain issues as they become more relevant.

“Our priorities are sort of dictated by the burdens that are falling to law students in the annual cycle,” says Judson. “Right now we’re seeing the class of 2014 grappling with their licensing fees going forward having had very little notice because of that sharp spike.”

The LSSO has already written a letter of concern regarding the licensing fee increase to the law society and have been invited by the LSUC to discuss the issue further. Judson and the LSSO hope to find a way to reduce the fee that nearly doubled to just under $5,000 this year.

“This really does factor into the cost of getting yourself qualified to practise,” he says. “It’s an education cost, so maybe they’ll open the door to collaborating with students and with the legal education community to find ways to target funding to those that are least able to pay.”

They will also focus on tuition fees as the schools set their rates in the coming months.

“Our No. 1 goal is to get a seat at the table to be able to participate seriously in the conversation,” he says. “We just think there are a lot more creative solutions out there than we’ve been given so far from law school administrators, from the profession, and we think that students could have a positive say in exploring some of those further.”

The LSSO will receive its funding from the law student governments at all seven Ontario law schools. Each student government contributes an amount depending on the size of its student body.

“It’s a shoestring budget, but fortunately it doesn’t take a whole lot to necessarily be heard these days,” he says. “We’ll pool our resources the best we can to get a presence established online and try to get some dialogue rolling through social media and other means.”

The LSSO plans to launch a web site in the near future.

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