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More than 100 of the nation’s nearly 200 laws schools now offer loan repayment assistance programs-a 20% increase from 2004-in an effort to lure law students into public service. And law schools aren’t alone in offering programs that pay partial or full loans for public service lawyers. Nonprofit organizations are launching their own, most recently the District of Columbia Bar Foundation’s Poverty Lawyer Loan Repayment Assistance Program, which pays up to $60,000 in educational loans for lawyers in the Washington-area who represent low-income clients. But despite the sharp increase in the programs, reflected in a 2006-2007 study by Equal Justice Works, only a small percentage of graduating law students are taking public interest jobs. Statistics from Equal Justice Works, a Washington-based public interest law advocacy group, show that most schools send between 1% and 5% of their students into public interest jobs, and 10% to 20% into government positions. The problem does not come from a weak demand for public interest lawyers. Last year, the Legal Services Corp., which funds 138 legal aid programs across the country, found that 80% of the legal needs of the poor are not met. So, what’s the problem? There’s more than one. Low salaries, lack of funds to create public service jobs and undesirable locations where the jobs exist are major reasons for the shortage of public service attorneys. The ‘justice gap’ “There just is not enough money nationally to make a dent in the justice gap,” said Karen Sarjeant, vice president of programs and compliance for Legal Services Corp., which also recently launched a pilot “loan repayment assistance programs” (LRAPs) for its legal aid programs. But Sarjeant doesn’t think LRAPs can close the “gap” on their own, nor should they be expected to. “There isn’t just one reason why students don’t go into the field. It’s all part of a puzzle that has to be looked at from many different angles,” Sarjeant said. And the main angle points to low salaries for public interest attorneys. The average starting salary for entry-level civil legal service jobs nationwide is $36,000, according to the 2006 Public Sector and Public Interest Attorney Salary Report, published by the nonprofit National Association for Law Placement (NALP). The average starting salary for a first-year associate at a private law firm is $105,000, according to NALP. “If I were just graduating from law school and had the choice of starting at $30,000 or taking a private sector job at $100,000, it would be a hard decision to make,” said Robert Echols, state support director for the American Bar Association (ABA) Resource Center for Access to Justice Initiatives. “While LRAP programs are effective for helping young lawyers be able to afford the careers, it still is insufficient,” Echols said. “It’s very important to just increase the funding for legal aid and get more lawyers involved in pro bono work.” Legal services programs don’t have enough funding to employ the students who want to do the work, Sarjeant noted. Amy Carroll, a staff attorney for MFY Legal Services in New York, receives funding for her job through a fellowship from Equal Justice America Foundation, an organization that pays the summer salaries of more than 200 law students and the post-graduate salaries of about eight lawyers each year who take public interest jobs. MFY would not have been able to retain her without the funding from Equal Justice America, she said-and they need her. “If we had 50 more lawyers here to do this work, it still would not be enough,” Carroll said. But in some parts of the country, the funding is there, yet the positions are impossible to fill, Echols said. The vacancies are caused by the high cost of living or the opposite: Legal aid programs are located in rural areas that are not desirable places to live. Help for rural locations The Texas Civil Rights Project in San Juan, Texas, is one of the locations that has trouble recruiting attorneys because of its remote location, said Corinna Spencer-Scheurich, a staff attorney at the organization. A 2004 graduate of Lewis & Clark Law School in Portland, Ore., Spencer-Scheurich receives funding from the school’s LRAP, which pays off most of her loans. It’s these organizations that can benefit the most from LRAP. “A lot, if not all, of the young attorneys they have recruited came with LRAP plans or some other program that can help,” Spencer-Scheurich said. “Without those programs, it would be even more difficult for them to recruit.” Jonathan Smith, executive director of the Legal Aid Society in Washington, hopes that the new D.C. Bar Foundation’s LRAP will attract the lawyers the city needs. “We want a diverse work force, and sometimes that means lawyers who themselves grew up in poverty,” Smith said. Those lawyers received loans putting them through law school, and so LRAP is what they need in order to be able to work in legal aid, he explained. “It really will be a tremendous benefit if we can draw people out of the community we are serving.” The D.C. Bar Foundation’s program will award a maximum of $12,000 per year to each qualifying candidate who makes a salary of less than $65,000. The money will go to pay up to $60,000 in loans for each recipient. Katherine Garrett, executive director for the D.C. Bar Foundation, said that the group chose to institute an LRAP because there wasn’t enough money to increase salaries substantially. She said that to bring salaries up to $60,000 in Washington, it would require $30,000 more per lawyer. And there are 100 full-time legal aid attorneys in the Washington area. “That’s a significant amount of money,” Garrett said. “If we could do that, we would. But at least LRAP levels the playing field and can increase salaries indirectly to up to $1,000 per month.” And that is how most schools who provide LRAP options look at it. At most law schools, a majority of students are taking out loans, Equal Justice Works reports. The average cost of legal education at a public university, in-state tuition, is $13,145 and for private universities, the average cost is $28,000, according to information from the ABA’s 2005 statistics. At some law schools such as Lewis & Clark, every student has some type of educational loan, and the average amount borrowed per student is $79,769. But still, 11% of students graduating in 2005 went into public interest jobs, much higher than the average. In the summer of 2006, the faculty and administration of the school announced that $500,000 will be dedicated to funding an LRAP. “We do have a lot of students going into public interest practice and the school is just looking to support those students,” said Maya Crawford, the school’s public interest law coordinator, a newly created position to help students develop public interest careers. “We also feel it is part of being a vital and active member of the city, county, state and legal community. We have a duty to support access to justice.” University of California, Berkeley School of Law has just improved its LRAP program: It now offers to pay up to $100,000 in educational loans for students who take jobs making less than $58,000. Laurent Heller, the school’s director of strategic planning, said that the LRAP is used as more of a preventive measure rather than as a tool to entice students to public interest work. “I’d love to see the number of students going into public interest go up, but we really just want to make sure it doesn’t go down,” he said. The school hasn’t seen that happen yet, but it was beginning to hear concerns from students. ‘Passion’ factor Yet at some law schools, loans don’t stand in the way of students pursuing careers in public interest. The school that sends the highest percentage of its graduating students into public service jobs does not have a large LRAP. City University of New York School of Law at Queens College sent more than half of its 2005 graduating class into public interest and government jobs. Eighty-six percent of its students take out loans to go to law school, averaging $50,382 per student. “They are aware of the loans, but this is their passion, this is what they want to do,” said Angela Joseph, the school’s director of financial aid. The school’s mission is public interest, so most students know that that is the career they want before accepting admission. Loans don’t deter them from this mission, she said, proving that it doesn’t take LRAPs to entice some to a public service career. But LRAPs will make it easier for a lawyer inclined to go into public interest to begin with, the ABA’s Echols said. Even if salaries increased, it still takes a person who feels passionately about doing this work. “No one is ever going to go into public service for the money, that’s for sure,” he said.

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