Faculty Hiring: Is “Just Above” Minimum Wage Enough?

Daryna Kutsyna (1L)

Every year, the Faculty Recruit presents over a hundred positions to students that range from assisting professors with casebook research to working at legal clinics. With a dearth of 1L opportunities on Bay Street, this is an unparalleled method for students to gain useful legal skills while spending a summer in Toronto.

Faculty recruitment positions allow students to develop a wide range of legal skills and the ability to apply the tools learned in class to real world issues. However, the Faculty’s desire to provide as many opportunities as possible has an unfortunate consequence. The compensation budget for Faculty hires is fixed, explains Assistant Dean Sara Faherty, which means that, every year, employers face a difficult choice between paying students a wage that is barely above the Ontario minimum or cutting the number of available spots.

Assistant Dean Faherty explained that all of the major employers in the Faculty hire (including the Dean’s Office and legal clinics such as Downtown Legal Services) collaborate to set student wages but do not have a standardized wage, meaning different positions may offer slightly different compensation. The common goal of all the Faculty employers, however, is to create as many summer positions as possible while keeping the wages slightly above the current minimum wage in Ontario.

While that is a commendable goal, it puts some students who are already carrying significant debt loads and struggling with high rent in a tough spot. Mandavni Dhami, a 2018 summer caseworker at Downtown Legal Services, explains that the hourly wage (which she estimates to be $1619 an hour, depending on the hours worked) is difficult to live on in Toronto and reflects the often “devalued, feminized character of social-justice oriented work.” She mentions that, according to the Ontario Living Wage Network, a living wage in Toronto currently sits at $18.52 an houra number that may be inadequate for law students given the high tuition and debt loads they face.

Many of these issues are recognized by the Faculty. However, giving as many students the opportunity to exercise their skills in a legal environment often takes precedence over raising the compensation. “We highly value the work that the students do in these positions,” explains Dean Faherty, but it is difficult to make the wages reflect that while maintaining the maximum number of positions. Despite monetary constraints, the Faculty tries to stay above Ontario minimum wage; for example, the compensation for the Casebook Researcher position was raised from $15/hour to $16/hour to reflect the minimum wage hike. Students can also count on other benefits, such as receiving several weeks of paid vacation and having the chance to make connections with professionals in the field and clients (depending on the type of position).

Ms. Dhami mentioned several strategies that employers could consider in their discussions of summer wages. “This goes beyond asking employers to be more accountable and reflective when deciding the amount of compensation,” she contends. It presents the issue of the law school failing to adequately address accessibility of a legal education for those looking to do service-based, social-justice oriented work.

Other students in the Faculty emphasize that the compensation still hovers above the minimum wage rate that students often receive in summer positions. Aylin Manduric, who will be working at Advocates for Injured Workers this summer as a student caseworker, notes that the wage “may be less than what some people are making at the Seven Sisters, but it is more than I have ever made in a summer position before” and over the yearly budget that she set for herself. She further notes that she is thrilled about the opportunity to continue working for her clients and having the opportunity to extend the volunteer work she was doing during 1L.

Assistant Dean Faherty also noted that research positions with individual professors may have significant differences in compensation due to the varied sources of funding that the professors have access to. Since they are not tied to a common faculty budget, they may pay students a significant premium.

Enabling as many students as possible to use their legal skills in a professional setting is crucial, especially in a hiring environment that presents a dearth of legal opportunities during the 1L summer. However, there are broader issues that need to be addressed when setting the compensation that will hopefully factor into budgetary discussions in years to come.