Is Massive Law School Debt Hurting Public Interest Law?

By Jonathan R. Tung, Esq. on January 28, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

It looks like our neighbors to the north are going through a bit of a crisis in terms of law student priority. In the opinion of a current 2L at the University of Manitoba, the climbing tuition rates of law school is possibly hurting public interest. Rather that pursuing public interest work, debt-laden law students are motivated to seek higher paying corporate jobs.

These same observation can be made down south. In fact, we Americans were talking about it a long time ago.

Vexing Effects for Public Interest

In his article, Wickstrom argued that many Canadian law students graduated from their schools facing at least $100,000 in debt. Changing dynamics and rising costs have already prompted many would-be applicants to veer clear of pursuing a future in the law. Since there is already very little money in public interest for lack of a market mechanism, students are often faced with the choice of going into law driven by markets, or law driven by moral satisfaction.

He also cites data from the National-Self Represented Litigants Project in 2013. According to data from that year, about half of Canadian litigants proceed to court pro se. Inability to afford legal counsel is at least one of the reasons blamed, at least according to a report contained in the 2013 release issue of Canadian Bar Association.

Going to Get Worse Before It Gets Better

The school that Wickstrom attended already held its tuition rates lower than other Canadian law schools -- at $9,487 for the 2015-16 year, the University of Manitoba boasts some of the lowest Canadian law school tuition in the country. It's been adjusted higher recently. But there's talk about hiking that number closer to $15,000 to bring it more in line with the rest of Canada's law schools.

Academics and policy critics have suggested that Canadian lawmakers allow students who choose to work in the country's more remote areas to be compensated federally, or have a portion of the tuition subsidized, or debt forgiven. This may not be a bad approach. Any incentive to encourage students to pursue public interest would be welcomed, both in Canada and the United States.

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