This article, Debt Relief May Be In Sight for Lawyers (Chicago Sun Times 11/27/06) reports on the status of legislation proposed by Senator Dick Durbin back in 2003, that would grant student loan relief to public sector lawyers in the criminal justice system. From the article:
The average young lawyer from a private law school graduated with $78,763 in debt last year, according to the American Bar Association. The average graduate of a public law school owed $51,056. Durbin’s office puts the numbers higher, with the average private law school graduate carrying $97,763 in debt, and public school graduates owing $66,810 . According to Murray — who had $14,000 in debt when he graduated in 1983 — the trend is forcing lawyers to leave the state’s attorney’s office, and persuading third-year law students not to apply. “It definitely weighs on me. I’m going to be paying it for the rest of my life,” said assistant Cook County State’s Attorney Jullian Brevard, who owes about $90,000.
Durbin’s legislation would alleviate the burden of student loans, and
help prosecutors and defenders offices attract and retain top lawyers,
who often leave when “big bucks beckon” from private sector jobs (the Enron task force attorneys
are a recent example of this phenomenon, most of whom fled government
for private practice once their prosecutions had concluded) The
Prosecutors and Defenders Incentive Act would pay up to $10,000 a year
of the law school loans of any prosecutor or public defender. To
qualify, a lawyer would have to commit to three years of service. Loan
assistance would be capped at $60,000 per lawyer and would apply only
to loans made through federal programs.
I’ve often wondered why lawyers going into solo practice don’t qualify
for loan forgiveness. Many new solos serve lower income populations
(as I wrote here)
or handle court appointed work similar to defenders’ offices.
Moreover, solo attorneys don’t receive the same benefits as prosecutors
or defenders, like health insurance or formal training, like trial
bootcamp or CLE. Instead, they pay these expenses out of pocket. And
because of student loan debt, some new solos feel pressured to run a
volume practice, where they don’t adequately serve lower income clients
or to turn down lower income clients who can’t pay the bills.
Many lawyers who accept prosecutor or defendants positions do so
because they want the training, and are willing to make a financial
sacrifice to get it. Loan forgiveness would make this choice easier,
but I don’t think that an extra $10,000 per year is going to give a
lawyer set on earning $145,000 a year to think about a job with the
Public Defender. By contrast, because fewer quality attorneys start
their own solo practice, loan forgiviness would make a difference to
those who choose to do so.