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May 16, 2007

Public Service/Public Interest Lawyers and Debt

The newest Association of American Law Schools cover President's Message, "Preserving the Route to Public Service Careers," highlights the growing debt burden of law school students and the impact that has on career choice and will soon have on the ability of non-profits/public service employers to fill open positions.  The report notes that many law schools have under-funded programs that reflect, according to Howard Law School Dean (and former Baltimore Mayor) Kurt Schmoke, "more will than wallet."  It also urged support for federal debt relief for public interest lawyers, in line with some aspects of the D.C. loan repayment assistance program (LRAP).

For a webcast of a Georgetown roundtable on the topic, click here

I will admit this topic is personal, one of the reasons I transfered law schools was to put myself in a better position to do public interest work, included within that concern was a desire to go to a school with a better loan repayment program.  LRAP programs and Low Income Protection Programs (LIPP) vary from school to school, and the question I have been asking myself is if I know students who are going to practice poverty related law, to what extent am I morally required to tell them to seek out the schools with the better LRAP programs and consider transfering to the school that accepts them and has the best such program?   The other question that comes up with this and equal justice foundation type summer grants is the question of to what extent is this merely a subsidy for the middle class?  I don't have good answers.    

Below are some Articles and Books related to LRAP, from more recent to older texts. 

  • Christa McGill, Law Between the Global and the Local: Educational Debt and Law Student Failure to Enter Public Service Careers: Bringing Empirical Data to Bear, 31 Law & Soc. Inquiry 677 (2006).
  • ABA. 2003. Lifting the Burden: Law Student Debt as a Barrier to Public Service:The Final Report of the ABA Commission on Loan Repayment and Forgiveness.
  • Equal Justice Works, From Paper Chase to Money Chase: Law School Debt Diverts Road to Public Service (2002). 
  • Philip G. Schrag, Repay As You Earn: The Flawed Government Program to Help Students Have Public Service Careers (2002). 
  • Claudia MacLachlan, Doing Well vs. Doing Good: Students Increasingly Tempted to Forgo Public Service for Law Firm Salaries, Legal Times, Sept. 4, 2000.
  • Richard C.E. Beck, Loan Repayment Assistance Programs for Public-Interest Lawyers: Why Does Everyone Think They Are Taxable?, 40 N.Y.L. Sch. L. Rev. 251 (1996).  
  • Lewis A. Kornhauser & Richard L. Revesz, Legal Education and Entry into the Legal Profession: The Role of Race, Gender, and Educational Debt, 70 N.Y.U. L. Rev. 829 (1995). 
  • David L. Chambers, The Burdens of Educational Loans: The Impacts of Debt on Job Choice and Standards of Living for Students at Nine American Law Schools, 42 J. Legal Educ. 187 (1992).
  • Luize E. Zubrow, Is Loan Forgiveness Divine? Another View, 59 Geo. Wash. L. Rev. 451 (1991).  
  • Robert V. Stover, Making it and Breaking It: The Fate of Public Interest Commitment During Law School (Howard S. Erlanger ed., 1989).
  • David L. Chambers, Educational Debts and the Worsening Position of Small-Firm, Government, and Legal-Services Lawyers, 39 J. Legal Educ. 709, 709 (1989).

-E.R. [email protected] 

May 16, 2007 | Permalink


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I'm surprised your post didn't mention the several LRAP bills that are on deck as we speak in Congress:

H.R. 916: $25 million federal LRAP for public defenders and prosecutors (up to $10,000 a year per young lawyer). This bill passed the house on Wednesday. It has a companion bill in the Senate, S. 442, which is out of committee and on the floor.

S. 1167: $10 million federal LRAP for legal aid lawyers (up to $6,000 a year per young lawyer). This bill is in committee, where it will likely stay without citizen action or more formal lobbying.

The ABA Law Student Division has a page of resources to help folks interested in advocating for bills like these: http://www.abanet.org/lsd/legislation/

(As for whether these are subsidies for the middle and upper classes, I think it's obvious that they are. In addition to providing more financial assistance to law students and young lawyers who want to pursue a public interest or poverty law career, we also ought to be convincing them that giving up on that path because you can't make substantially more than the median American household is just that---giving up. The prestige and high annual incomes that even poverty lawyers feel they're entitled to is embarrassing to the profession.)

Posted by: Ritchie | May 16, 2007 8:39:12 PM

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