Ryerson Law: Well-Intentioned but Misses the Mark

Robert Nanni (1L)

The other day I was talking to a family member who, by no fault of their own, doesn’t really understand this whole law school thing. The idea of being a Bay Street lawyer isn’t something with which they’re at all familiar but, like most adults, they’ve met with lawyers from smaller firms before. Their idea of what it means to be a lawyer goes something like this: you work for someone else to gain experience and then go off to a less populous area to start your own practice. It was this conversation that really led me to think, “Why is Ryerson University opening up a law school?”

Now you might wonder how I made the connection between that conversation and this thought, but it’s clear to me: there are evidently many underserved populations in Ontario, and throwing another Toronto law school in the mix will not be helpful.

North of Toronto, the only law school you’ll find is Lakehead; to the west, you won’t see a law school until you hit Western; and to the east, Queen’s. There are several “university cities” along these pathsHamilton, Kitchener-Waterloo, Oshawathat are currently underserved and might benefit most from having a law school in their communities. While Ryerson’s (laudable) aim is to produce “practice-ready graduates,” the Toronto legal market is not the one that needs these graduates the most. While this city is oversaturated with legal graduates, there are underserved populations that struggle to attract students to article at their firms away from the big city.

While the first cohort of Ryerson Law graduates wouldn’t enter the legal market until 2023, this discussion is an important one to have now. The ramifications of opening another law school in a city that already has two of them will have an even greater impact on the current issues surrounding articling. While U of T likes to boast of its impressive articling placement statistics, we are an anomaly in the law school scene. Many Toronto-based firms are unable to pay their articling students or compensate them at above minimum wage. I find it is absurd that anyone would want to add yet another cohort of law students to the mix of those who, having spent tens of thousands of dollars on this education, and on the schooling prior to law school, will make less money than someone with a high school degree working in the fast food industry.

Now, of course, it isn’t all about the money, but when tuition is anywhere from $20,000 (at Ryerson) to nearly $40,000 per year (at yours truly), it’s certainly a considerable factor. Instead, opening a law school in a smaller community would encourage lower tuition, enable students to pay less money in rent, and promote remaining in that community for articling. It doesn’t solve the crisis by any means, but it desaturates the Toronto job market and enables graduates to take lesser paying jobs without the looming overwhelm of as much debt as, say, one of us.

Ultimately, Ryerson’s law school will have severely negative impacts on articling and, as a result, mental health. We can all attest to the stress and anguish we face while seeking jobs, with much of our focus being success and paying back our lines of credit. A similar setup can be seen in the medical school graduate community, which is facing a shortage crisis in residency positions. In September 2016, after two rounds of applying for residencies, a graduate from McMaster Medicine died by suicide. While this could be attributed to inadequate mental health services, the student made it clear that his action was driven by an inability to obtain a residency spot.

Not to be dramatic, but this is exactly the issue to which Ryerson Law contributes. Some people who support the creation of Ryerson Law claim that it will keep potential law students in Canada and prevent them from going abroad to attain a legal education. Frankly, this isn’t a viable reason to support Ryerson’s move. Opening another law school without increasing the number of articling positions available does nothing to solve the problem. This is not to undermine the students who come to law school with no intention of practicing law, who are not the target of this article, but rather to highlight the vast majority of wannabe lawyers who simply can’t find articling positions.

So what can we do? Well, I guess not much. Ryerson Law is scheduled to open in Fall 2020. My only advice moving forward is to support future law students through mentorship and networking. We will be legal professionals one day with the ability to be relatable and helpful to the law students of the future. Be aware of their stressors, meet with them for coffee whenever you can, and tune into mental health concerns that you might notice. If the Law Society doesn’t seem to be functioning in the best interests of law students, we should assist them however we can.