Let’s say two law students, neck and neck in class rank graduate law school with $80,000 in student loan debt (including interest) – or roughly $8000/year over a ten year period. Student A goes on to his dream job at a large New York firm, starting salary $125K while Student B follows his dream to work as a Legal Aid attorney, starting salary $40,000. Clearly, Student B is going to be facing financial disaster while Student A should be able to repay his loans with minimal impact. But what if instead of each student repaying $9000/year, each paid a set percentage of his respective salary – say, $12,500 (10 percent) for Student A and $4000 for Student B. That’s the proposal that Michelle Singletary highlights in her recent column A New Idea on Student Loans , (11/28/04).
Would this kind of proposal encourage law students to follow their dreams? It’s not clear since the biglaw attorney would still come out way ahead in terms of salary, even while subsidizing his legal aid classmate’s loan repayments. And would large firm attorneys want to do this? What about a situation where a large firm attorney subsidizes a starting solo who’s gone solo, frankly, because he couldn’t find another job? Would the subsidy system penalize lawyers who’ve done well enough to snag high paying jobs and force them to pay for those who didn’t work hard enough to do as well?
I’m intrigued by this concept, but not sure where I come down. Sure, I’d like to see more financial support for new solo attorneys because I think that helping solos is one way to expand access to law for a larger segment of the population. But I’ve never given much thought to where the money should come from. So I’d love to hear comments from readers on this idea.