One southern Ontario law student’s need of a robe has sparked dozens of other students around the country to do the same on Twitter on Wednesday, as many new students face mountains of debt and expenses.
Elsa Ascencio said she graduated from the University of Ottawa’s law school in 2017 and spent the last two years “articling in Ottawa in a union firm” and then started focusing on her bar exam.
As Ascencio is expected to be called to the bar in “just a couple weeks in June,” she realized that a robe is mandatory to attend the ceremony but the cost just seemed “didn’t seem feasible”, she said, as she would not be needing one at all once she enters the law profession.
“You can’t really just show up the day of [the ceremony] with just whatever you want to wear,” she explained, “but young lawyers like myself, who are the first ones in our family to go to university let alone law school, we have no where to go to figure out where can I find cheap robes,” since a new robes costs approximately $800 and renting one can also cost an upward of $200.
She said not every law student will need a robe, as not every lawyer attends court. And with her area of focus being mainly on “union and labour law,” spending nearly a thousand dollars on a robe wasn’t worth her “interest, even if she had the money, when [she] is just going to use it for a one day moment.”
Asking for help ‘out of necessity’
“We are now dismantling assumptions that we need to find [a robe] because before we were just told that we need to buy them or rent them,” Ascencio said. “I’m fairly happy that I am very vocal about this but its out of necessity and it is something that we are frustrated with.”
She said before new graduates make the call on Twitter for their need of a robe, they have to admit “how broke [they] are” first, which can be a “humbling experience.”
“It also raises questions of how much of my own personal journey do I need to share in order for me to essentially save money,” Ascencio explained. “It’s a systematic change that needs to be done,” and it “blows my mind” that something hasn’t been set up already to help students.
There is a robe bank through the Ontario Bar Association, however, Ascencio believes that its “very formatted into what you can donate.”
“I have followed up and it seems like they now updating it with how students can request it,” she added. “I’m interested in seeing how it moves forward.”
‘Barriers for new calls’
Maggie Wente said she’s been practising law for the past 16 years and decided to lend her robe to Ascencio when she saw the Twitter post.
“I think I’ve been seeing some people saying things about barriers generally for new calls on Twitter … and I just saw she was looking for a set of robes in her size and it was the same size as me, so I direct messaged her.”
“When I went to school, it was expensive … but I was lucky to have articled at a firm … and they did buy my robe when I was called to the bar,” Wente added, “and I don’t think I realized it at the time but that was something that was obviously extremely beneficial.”
She said it “seems like a silly barrier to have” and it should be the last thing young lawyers need to worry about when they are called to the bar.
“Students are really tapped out these days. Certainly the young lawyers in my firm, they are arriving here often with over $100,000 of student debt … and I can absolutely see why the concept of even shelling out another $300 or another $1000 to get these robes would seem … impossible.”
New graduates around Canada who are in need of a robe are encouraged to use the hashtag Robecall on Twitter to find anyone who can loan them a robe for free.