Student loan forgiveness for law students is an access to justice issue

  • March 26, 2019

Many of us were introduced to the idea by the 90s TV show Northern Exposure: a just-graduated New York doctor is transplanted to the small town in Alaska that had paid for his education, in order to repay the loan by establishing a practice there.

Hilarity ensued on the show, but in real life the idea has a great deal of merit – especially in communities that would otherwise not have access to medical services. That’s why in 2013 the federal government established a debt-forgiveness program for medical professionals, including nurses, nurse practitioners and family doctors who work in rural and remote communities.

The CBA’s Law Students and Young Lawyers have written to the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour suggesting that the same be done for law grads.

“Expanding the federal debt forgiveness program to include lawyers and articling students would improve access to justice in the areas that currently have the greatest needs – rural and remote communities – by making it possible for indebted law graduates to work in these communities,” the Sections say, noting that the current average debt load of $83,000 on graduation serves to funnel law grads to higher-paid positions in urban areas.

The Sections point out that virtually all Canadians will have a legal problem at some point in their lives but won’t necessarily have access to the help they need – and when people don’t get that help, their legal problems tend to grow and spread to other parts of their lives, affecting their health, employment, relationships and housing.

The high cost of a legal education also deters those of lesser means from joining the profession at all, resulting in a lack of diversity in the profession, the Sections note. A debt-forgiveness program would “also increase the diversity of law schools and the legal profession, by enabling more lower-income applicants to attend law school.”

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