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Eager to entice young lawyers into public service careers, the New York State Bar Association has launched a program to help new attorneys cover their daunting debts while living on the salary of a public law practitioner. State Bar President A. Thomas Levin of Meyer Suozzi English & Klein in Mineola said Oct. 29 that the group’s philanthropic and charitable arm, the New York Bar Foundation, is kicking in $25,000 to launch the program. But Levin said that with many young lawyers carrying $80,000 or so in debt, a lot more is needed — and he called on the private sector to support an expansion of the inaugural program. “With the amount of debt people are coming out of law school with, it is prohibitive to go into public service,” Levin said. “We are losing not just what you might call the ‘private sector’ side — Legal Aid and rural services — but also district attorney’s offices have the same problem. They can’t get people because they can’t pay enough for people to carry their debt load.” Levin’s concerns echo those long expressed by his predecessors, and more recently articulated by the American Bar Association. Last summer, the ABA issued a 60-page report suggesting that recent graduates are shying away from public service. The report, “Lifting the Burden: Law Student Debt as a Barrier to Public Service,” is available online at www.abalegalservices.org/lrap. It noted that: � Most law school graduates are carrying a cumulative undergraduate/law school debt burden of about $80,000, which amounts to about a $1,000 monthly commitment over 10 years. � About 25 percent of year 2000 law school graduates had debts over $100,000. � Entry-level public service legal jobs pay a median of about $36,000 annually, or less than half that paid to starting attorneys in the private sector. � A survey showed that two-thirds of student respondents said they could not consider a public interest or government job because of economics. � Many law school graduates who take public sector positions leave after a few years for financial reasons. The ABA recommended a number of remedies, including more loan repayment assistance programs (LRAP) that provide incentives for new lawyers willing to accept lower-paying public service jobs. Those programs, typically administered by law schools and bar foundations, usually forgive loans after applicants complete a service obligation. The State Bar’s new Student Loan Assistance for Public Interest (SLAPI) program is rooted in an initiative began by then-State Bar President Steven C. Krane of Proskauer Rose in 2001. Awards of up to $5,000 are now available to new lawyers entering public service. Only attorneys admitted within the last five years are eligible. They must work at least 35 hours weekly for an organization providing legal services to low-income clients or in a federal, state or local government agency. A committee of representatives from the bar, the judiciary, law schools and others will determine awards based on numerous factors, including the nature of employment and the availability of other assistance. Applications are due Dec. 15. “Obviously, we are not in a financial position to do a lot for any one person,” Levin said. “We have been working with the Bar Foundation to come up with some way to provide a reasonable benefit to people. But obviously we need more principal in the fund.”

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