FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Federally funded program designed to help legal aid grantees recruit, retain high-quality attorneys by defraying educational debt
The Legal Services Corporation has finalized its plans to pilot a federally funded Loan Repayment Assistance Program (LRAP) to alleviate some of the financial burden on aspiring and current legal services attorneys who face significant educational debt.
Beginning late this spring, the pilot LRAP will offer qualified attorneys chosen to participate as much as $5,000 in annual debt relief for up to three years. The pilot program is being implemented as LSC-funded grantees report significant difficulties attracting and retaining attorneys due to the high costs of a legal education. According to a 2003 American Bar Association report, law school tuition has more than doubled over the past decade, leaving law-school graduates with an average educational debt of more than $80,000. Meanwhile, legal aid lawyers continue to be among the very lowest-paid members of the legal profession; the average starting salary of a staff attorney at an LSC-funded legal services program is $37,000.
"We hope the pilot LRAP will allow programs to recruit well-qualified graduates with a passion for public service," says LSC President Helaine M. Barnett. "We also hope it will help more experienced lawyers remain in legal services, which will help improve the quality of program staff and result in higher-quality service for our clients."
A limited number of LSC-funded legal aid programs will be selected to participate in the pilot program late this spring. Newly hired lawyers and staff attorneys who have less than three years of experience and an annual outstanding debt of at least $2,400 may apply for loan assistance if they meet eligibility requirements. To qualify, attorneys must have annual salaries under $45,000, annual household incomes under $90,000, and net worth of less than $35,000 (or a total household net worth under $70,000).
Under the leadership of Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA), Chairman of LSC's House Appropriations Subcommittee, Congress has approved $1 million for the pilot program. LSC has requested an additional $1 million in Fiscal Year 2006 to continue the pilot program. If the pilot is successful in meeting its objectives, LSC leaders plan to seek permanent sources of funding for loan repayment assistance.