Letter From The President Of The New York County Lawyers' Association

2007-07-01 01:00

To The Readers Of The Metropolitan Corporate Counsel :

At a recent New York County Lawyers' Association Summer Associates' Lunch with a Judge Program, two judges spoke of the career satisfaction each had obtained in their pre-bench careers, one as a government attorney and the other as a civil legal services attorney. At the conclusion of the program, a few of the prospective lawyers asked one of the judges whether it "made sense" to seek a career in public service in light of the tremendous college and law school debt each faced upon graduation.

We should all bemoan the fact that many of our future lawyers will be unable to afford to work as public defenders, prosecutors or civil legal services attorneys.It is a shame that because of crippling student loan debt, many of our best and brightest young lawyers cannot imagine working as a lawyer for a public interest or public sector agency. It is especially shameful in light of recent headlines and news stories reporting that some lenders pay universities incentives in exchange for steering students to preferred lenders. Some of these incentives include entertainment and meals, in addition to payments to the universities related to their lending programs. This scandal came to light thanks in large part to an investigation conducted by the Office of the New York State Attorney General. The Attorney General has developed a Code of Conduct on Student Loans, which has formed the basis for much needed recent reforms in the student loan industry. One positive impact of the almost daily reporting of another university or lender agreeing to follow the code of conduct is the increased attention on the need to have more loan forgiveness programs for graduates in need.

Loan forgiveness programs would provide young lawyers with an incentive to enter public service and, at the same time, enable public sector and public interest employers to retain experienced attorneys who, without such a program, seek to leave solely because they need a higher salary in order to eliminate their crushing loan debt. Last month, the New York County Lawyers' Association joined with other bar associations, including the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the National District Attorney's Association and the American Bar Association (ABA), in applauding the United States House of Representatives' recent passage of a loan forgiveness program, the John R. Justice Prosecutors and Defenders Incentive Act of 2007, for attorneys in the criminal justice field.

In a letter, we urged the United States Senate to follow the House's lead and pass this bipartisan bill. We highlighted the fact that both public defenders and prosecutors are underpaid, and victims, indigent defendants and courts would be better served if more good lawyers considered entering and remaining in public service. Here are three relevant statistics: 1. According to a recent report of the National Association of Realtors, the average price of a home is about $212,300. 2. The ABA recently announced that nationwide, the average annual starting salary for prosecutors and public defenders is $42,000. 3. The national average starting salary of a first-year lawyer in private practice is $80,000. Thus, one quickly sees that a new public interest lawyer faces an average home price of five times his or her income, and the temptation of doubling his or her income in private practice. Indeed, a loan forgiveness program is of critical importance and we urge support of this bill.


Catherine A. Christian