Fewer first-generation law students

Nearly 83 per cent of law students had at least one parent who had a post-secondary credential, while more than half of law students have two parents with post-secondary education, according to a survey released on Jan. 31 by the Law Students’ Society of Ontario.

The survey, with 697 responses, also found that more than 40 per cent of law students have a parent “with at least a master’s degree, a professional degree, or a doctorate degree.”

Of Ontario’s law schools, students at Queen’s University were most likely to have a parent with a professional degree, such as a JD or a medical school degree, the survey results said.

About 16 per cent of respondents said that neither parent had a post-secondary credential. The most common level of education completed by students’ parents was an undergraduate degree, held by almost 27 per cent of the students’ parents.

The survey, which was an update to a 2014 report, showed little change in the numbers of first-generation law students over those years.

It also said that first-generation law students in their third year of law school have an average of $32,066 more debt than students whose parents have post-secondary education.

“We want our profession to be representative of the diverse communities that it serves. And in order to do so, we require support from the law schools, the government, the LSO and members of the profession,” wrote Heather Donkers in the report. Donkers is president of the student organization and the author of the report.

Titled “Just or Bust,” the report also indicated that debt load was $83,746 for third-year students. Fifty-five per cent of respondents said they were worried they would be unable to make debt payments after graduation.

In terms of mental health, the report said the majority of respondents “agreed that financing law school has negatively impacted their mental health.”

Atrisha Lewis, who was called to the bar in 2013 and now practises at McCarthy Tétrault in Toronto, says that the profession has only recently begun to openly explore the mental health ramifications of paying for law school. Lewis, who is running for bencher, says there has been a “striking rate” of tuition increases since she attended law school. Even when she graduated,  many of her peers opted to go to New York or Bay Street firms for financial reasons.

“I commend these students.
. . . We do need advocacy on this issue. What I would like to see is law schools coming to be part of the discussion,” she says.

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