Last week, Slate’s do-gooder tag team Patty and Sandy Stonesifer addressed the “law-school debt trap,” offering the potential legal public servant advice on how she might—just might—be able to both do good and do well (or at least survive) after incurring some $100,000 in law school debt. Under a new Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, those who make loan payments while working at a qualifying public service job may have a portion of their debt forgiven after 10 years. A number of law schools, including NYU and Harvard, also have their own loan forgiveness or tuition assistance programs for lawyers entering public service. (The new UC Irvine Law School, whose focus is public interest law, plans to offer three years of free tuition to its inaugural class.)
However, most of our audience (lawyers looking for private practice jobs) are not eligible for these public service-oriented programs. And while “the chill of salary freezes” is cause for anxiety among attorneys at the top law firms, very few lawyers at smaller firms (which is, in fact, where most lawyers work) have ever enjoyed the luxury of six-figure salaries and five-figure bonuses. For graduates at non-Vault 100 firms, repaying law school debt can be a very real struggle—they have as much debt as those who land high-paying, big-firm jobs, but their salaries are closer to those at nonprofits or government agencies. (According to NALP research, a substantial portion of first-year associates earn $55,000 or less, slightly more than an entry-level prosecutor and roughly one-third of what a first-year at Latham & Watkins makes.)
Enter another new program cited by Slate: the Department of Education's Income Based Repayment Plan, which may help overburdened, underpaid lawyers in private practice reduce their monthly loan payments, though it won’t necessarily eliminate much of their overall debt since the forgiveness aspect doesn’t kick in for 25 years. Still, in these dire economic times, when students are scaling back on their pre-law dreams ("Now the thought is: 'I'm not going to get a $150,000 job. I just want a job with benefits.'"), it may be some small comfort.
- posted by vera