Loans and the public sector

August 18, 2008
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President Bush signed the Higher Education Opportunity Act, H.R. 4137, into law last week, which provides loan forgiveness for students entering public services jobs, including public defenders, prosecutors, and legal aid attorneys.

In exchange for committing to work for at least three years as an attorney in one of the above fields, the attorney general will have the obligation to repay up to $10,000 a calendar year in student loans for those attorneys. The law limits the amount of money a graduate can have repaid by the attorney general and who will receive priority in having repayment benefits.

This is a great idea and it’s about time the government stepped up and helped out college graduates who choose to help the public instead of getting a high-paying salary in a nice office. Smothered under a mountain of law school debt after three years, many students look to private practice and law firms to earn bigger salaries than what public defenders and prosecutors’ offices can offer. I guarantee you there will be more law students looking more closely at entering a public service job as opposed to joining a law firm because of this program.

Turnover is high in public defenders and prosecutors’ offices because attorneys earn low pay for the amount of work they do as compared to private practice attorneys. Does this law have its limitations? Sure. Will this mean there will be a huge rush in applications to the public defender’s office? Probably not, but I bet there will be more interest from students who were debating whether to go that route.

This new law is a step in the right direction in ensuring more quality attorneys will choose to enter the public service sector, not only because they want to, but now they can more easily afford to.

Updates about the implementation of the bill will be made available at Equal Justice Works, which has been following the bill and its real world applications.
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  • Does anyone know how and when prosecutors can apply for loan forgiveness under H.R. 4137?
  • We\'re currently working on a story about HR 4137 and what it means.

    The part about who is eligible and how is (more or less) under Section 952, about Page 393 of the 431-page bill. Information about civil legal aid attorneys is under Section 431, around Page 165.

    The entire document includes information about other higher education programs and repayment initiatives.

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