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American Bar Association President-elect Robert Hirshon has announced the appointment of a special commission to address the debt burden that many law school students assume upon graduation. The announcement was made Monday at the ABA’s annual conference in Chicago. The Commission on Loan Repayment and Forgiveness will promote and guide ABA efforts in relation to law schools and the federal government. These steps are being taken in the hope of freeing law students from making career choices based on starting salaries, an ABA news release says. “The national effort probably will make a difference,” said Melissa Schwartz, a fourth-year associate at Naulty Scaricamazza & McDevitt who is dealing with loans of her own. “It will encourage people interested in going into public interest law to not be dissuaded from doing it because of debt.” James Elam, chairman of the Philadelphia Bar Association’s young lawyers division and fourth-year associate at Dilworth Paxson, said economics play a tremendous role because law schools charge a lot of money. “You sometimes just cannot afford to go into public interest law,” he said. Though many students have intentions of graduating from law school and helping others, “you can’t tell the graduate loan center that you are more interested in helping the homeless than going into corporate law,” Schwartz said. “All they care about is your payment of the monthly bill,” she said. Schwartz, the financial secretary of the young lawyers division, said loan forgiveness has long been used in the medical field to encourage young doctors to pursue their passions. The legal community has yet to carry out a similar, widely accepted program. Talks are under way to put in place a debt assistance program on a local level, Elam said. “The young lawyers division will be the catalyst, working with other public interest organizations,” he said, though he declined to go into further detail because talks are continuing. Elam said the committee hopes something tangible will be in place by next month. Frank M. Coffin, senior judge on the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and Curtis M. Canton, a lawyer in private practice in San Francisco, will be the chairmen of the ABA Commission on Loan Repayment and Forgiveness. Ten members were named. Among them was the chief deputy attorney general of Pennsylvania, David J. DeVries. In the same statement, Hirshon announced the creation of a second committee, the Billable Hours Project, aimed at addressing the “treadmill of billable hours” that often hinders young lawyers from engaging in substantial pro bono work.

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