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With an average debt burden that virtually precludes a career in public interest law, many new law school graduates surrender idealism to pragmatism and go with the highest bidder — which almost always means something other than public service. Some start off in public service, only to find they cannot make ends meet. But a New York State Bar Association program is attempting to change that. Seed money contributed by the New York Bar Foundation, the association’s philanthropic arm, resulted recently in the first five grants under the Student Loan Assistance Program. Five attorneys carrying an average school debt of $128,000 were recently given $5,000 each toward this year’s loan payments in hopes that a little financial assistance will keep them in public interest law. “Without programs such as this, it will become increasingly difficult to attract law school graduates to public service and retain them — both of which threatens to undermine our system of legal services to low income and disadvantaged New Yorkers who need it most,” said Glen T. Bruening, general counsel to the state Department of State and chairman of the State Bar’s Student Loan Assistance for the Public Interest (SLAPI) committee. Grants are available to attorneys admitted less than five years who work at least 35 hours a week with a New York state organization that provides civil or criminal legal services to low-income people, or who work at a federal, state or local government agency. So far, all the money has come from the bar foundation, but State Bar President A. Thomas Levin of Meyer, Suozzi, English & Klein in Mineola would like to increase both the funding source and the number of grants. “We hope to be able to expand SLAPI to make assistance available to more young lawyers through the additional financial support of private law firms,” he said. The first recipients were: � Christopher Nelson of the Bronx. Nelson, a 1999 graduate of Touro Law Center, works for the Administration for Children Services. � Corinne Lundstrum of Syosset, Nassau County. A staff attorney with My Sisters’ Place, a White Plains organization that assists victims of domestic violence, Lundstrum is a graduate of St. John’s University. � Holly Graham of the Bronx. Graham graduated from New England School of Law and is a staff attorney with the juvenile rights division of the Legal Aid Society in Manhattan. � Sara Lynne Thrasher of Randolph, Cattaraugus County. Thrasher is a staff attorney with Southern Tier Legal Services in Jamestown. She is a 1999 graduate of the University of Buffalo School of Law, where she obtained her J.D. and LLM degrees. � Mary Lynne Frey of the Bronx. A staff attorney with the Legal Aid Society in the Bronx, Frey is a 2001 graduate of New York Law School. She also holds an LLM from Cardozo School of Law. Bruening said the recipients are expected to remain in public service law for at least three years. “Our goal is to give them assistance annually and help keep their student loan payments under control,” he said. “This program should help attract and retain the brightest and most dedicated public interest lawyers to stay in their chosen career.” Bruening said the SLAPI committee is working with the bar foundation on a strategy to ensure continued funding through grants and donations.

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