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Debt Relief for Prosecutors and Public Defenders

posted by Angie Littwin

Earlier this week Senator Dick Durbin introduced legislation that would create a student-loan repayment program for new prosecutors and public defenders.  The program would cover up to $10,000 per year of loans, with a lifetime cap of $60,000.  To be eligible, attorneys would commit to at least three years of service.  It is heartening to see progress on student loans being made during the week that Credit Slips guest blogger David Moss has so effectively articulated the inadequacies of the current system.

More than 80 percent of law students finance their education with loans, and they graduate with extraordinary amounts of student debt – an average of $51,056 for state school graduates and $78,763 for those who graduate from private schools.  Many of these students still carry additional debt from their undergraduate educations.  Starting salaries for attorneys in the criminal justice system are in the mid-$40,000s, with a median of $46,000 for State prosecutors and $43,000 for public defenders.  (Federal prosecutors are already covered under a separate program.)  Persuading students to take jobs with starting salaries below their level of total debt is a tough sell.  A program like this would eliminate some of the hardest choices students face.

Despite my general enthusiasm for this bill, I have two criticisms. First, a lifetime cap of $60,000 is too low.  A large number of law students graduate with over $100,000 worth of student loans, and this cap will leave them stranded after six years.  Perhaps the theory is that these attorneys’ salaries will have risen to the point where they can absorb the debt, but that will not always be the case.  One-hundred thousand dollars of student debt can mean monthly payments of $1,200-1,300, a high burden on most government salaries.  My second criticism isn’t so much a concern about this bill as a hope for the future.  A major selling point of this program is that loan assistance for public defenders’ and prosecutors’ offices would promote public safety and effective criminal justice by enabling them to better recruit and retain qualified attorneys.  But I hope that once such a program is established, it could expanded to include law-school graduates who work in the non-profit sector.  Their work is equally as essential, and their pay is equally as low.

Comments

Then there is that whole issue of how we as a country are pushing all of these costs onto those who are seeking to improve their quality of life, but will effectively regress due to the high debt loads (when you add in the interest over their lifetime) being greater than the potential return.

Think of it this way: the encouragement to use loans creates a "barrier to entry" to move up to the middle and upper classes to graduates.

when will this bill be voted on/go through? COUNT ME IN!

As someone who consults people daily on ways to deal with their debt, I can attest personally that this will offer minimal debt relief for recent law school graduates. A suprising number of young lawyers with good jobs have also financed a large part of their education (or living expenses while finishing schoool) with high interest credit cards, unsecured personal loans, etc.

I applaud the bill, but I'm not sure that it strikes deeply enough.

If the President signs this bill it could be a God send to many prosecutors. I have been a prosecutor for 7 years and borrowed $93,000 to attend a private law school (I did not get accepted to the public institution in Illinois). Upon graduating I quickly consolidated my loans at 6.35% (not knowing that the interest rates would eventually allow others that waited to consolidate to reduce their interest rates to under 2%) $63000 of my debt was Federal Loans the remaining $30000 is private loans. I pay about $1000 per month in student loans. I took a job waiting tables the same day I became a Cook County State's Attorney in order to make ends meet. I would work 20 to 30 hours a week waiting tables just to get by. Luckily I got married last year, to a man that had no student loans and his income has enabled me to stop waiting tables. However, I feel very guilty that he has been burdened with my student loan debt. (I have no credit card debt). I hope that if this bill is signed by President Bush, it is implemented in a way that doesn't exclude me from availing myself of the program because I am married and they consider my husbands salary in the criteria. My loans are higher than our mortgage payment--and I am the person that took the loans out not my husband. There are countless other prosecutors and public defenders that work second jobs and this bill will make a difference!

If the President signs this bill it could be a God send to many prosecutors. I have been a prosecutor for 7 years and borrowed $93,000 to attend a private law school (I did not get accepted to the public institution in Illinois). Upon graduating I quickly consolidated my loans at 6.35% (not knowing that the interest rates would eventually allow others that waited to consolidate to reduce their interest rates to under 2%) $63000 of my debt was Federal Loans the remaining $30000 is private loans. I pay about $1000 per month in student loans. I took a job waiting tables the same day I became a Cook County State's Attorney in order to make ends meet. I would work 20 to 30 hours a week waiting tables just to get by. Luckily I got married last year, to a man that had no student loans and his income has enabled me to stop waiting tables. However, I feel very guilty that he has been burdened with my student loan debt. (I have no credit card debt). I hope that if this bill is signed by President Bush, it is implemented in a way that doesn't exclude me from availing myself of the program because I am married and they consider my husbands salary in the criteria. My loans are higher than our mortgage payment--and I am the person that took the loans out not my husband. There are countless other prosecutors and public defenders that work second jobs and this bill will make a difference!

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