Department of Justice, Student Loans

Student Loan Relief for Public Defenders and Prosecutors

We have good news on the student loan front. Really good news if you are a public defender or prosecutor. The Blog of the Legal Times reports that the Department of Justice is making $10 million available in loan forgiveness for PDs and prosecutors.

So if you want to live the Law & Order dream, it just got a little easier.

The money was actually authorized two years ago by George W. Bush, but the money has been held up in appropriations. Bush authorized up to $25 million for FY 2009, but Congress is only giving out $10 million for FY 2010.

Still, it’s great news for the lawyers eligible, and it could encourage law school graduates to give government criminal law jobs a second look…

Obviously, the point of this program isn’t to be kind to struggling prosecutors and their public adversaries. The point is to encourage people to work as a PD or prosecutor instead of going into private practice. The Blog of the Legal Times reports:

The program’s purpose is to entice law school graduates to choose lower-paying criminal justice jobs versus a position at a private law firm. Attorneys eligible for the program are allowed $10,000 in benefits per year, and $60,000 overall, according to the Bureau of Justice Assistance website. They must agree to remain employed as public defenders or prosecutors for at least three years.

Is this a good deal? Let’s peg a public defender salary at around $50K (obviously, it varies by state and experience). Obviously, people with a shot at the $160K Biglaw dream are unlikely to forgo that opportunity, no matter how much loan forgiveness the government is offering.

However, remember the bimodal salary distribution curve. $50K, or so, is exactly what most law school graduates can expect if they don’t punch their $160K ticket. So let’s say you have a choice between working as a public interest lawyer for $55K versus making $50K as a public defender. That $10,000 per year of loan forgiveness the government is offering the PDs is huge. If you have a choice, it’ll be very tempting to go to the PD’s office.

Which is exactly what the government wants you to do.

This program really isn’t a federal attempt to address the serious problem of student loan debt for law graduates. Instead, it’s an incentive program aimed at changing people’s behavior.

It’s an interesting approach, and one that has worked before. Find people who are drowning, throw them a life raft, but make them promise to do something for you before you save them. There’s every reason to believe that this will work out for the government.

DOJ to Finally Give Government Lawyers Loan Relief [Blog of the Legal Times]

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