Retaining Attorneys with a Loan Repayment Assistance Program

To earn their law degrees, law school graduates borrow an average of $84,600 in student loan debt. Coupled with loans borrowed for undergraduate degrees, new lawyers have an average debt of more than $100,000, a number that continues to rise as more students seek loans to pay for higher education programs and advance their careers.

This heavy debt load presents challenges for recruiting and retaining new lawyers in public interest positions which frequently pay less than jobs in the private sector. The American Bar Association published Lifting the Burden: Law Student Debt as a Barrier to Public Service, a report which analyzed student loan debt, discussed the impact of the problem, and summarized strategies and success stories.

Loan repayment assistance programs can help ease the burden of debt and help legal aid organizations recruit and retain qualified staff and attorneys. By viewing loan repayment assistance programs as a retention effort, you can not only improve employee satisfaction but also promote continued, quality legal services to low-income clients.

Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program

Attorneys employed by a government or nonprofit organization may receive loan forgiveness under the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program.

For those working full-time at a government organization, a tax-exempt nonprofit organization, or other types of nonprofit organizations that provide certain types of public services, the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program forgives the remaining balance on Direct Loans after 120 qualifying monthly payments under a qualifying repayment plan.

Statewide Loan Repayment Assistance Programs

The American Bar Association's Commission on Loan Repayment and Forgiveness created the State Loan Repayment Assistance Program Toolkit to provide support to organizations interested in implementing a statewide loan repayment program.

Check the American Bar Association's list of statewide loan repayment assistance programs to see if your state has one.

Law School Loan Repayment Assistance Programs

Law schools also have loan repayment assistance programs in order to help their students manage repayment of student loan debt.

To see if a loan repayment assistance program has been established at your school, visit Equal Justice Works and view a list of law schools with loan repayment assistance programs. If there isn't one at your school, Equal Justice Works also has a step-by-step guide to advocate for a school-based loan repayment assistance program.

Herbert S. Garten Loan Repayment Assistance Program

Attorneys who are employed by our grantees and who meet certain requirements can apply for our Herbert S. Garten Loan Repayment Assistance Program.

Attorneys who are selected to participate in our loan repayment assistance program receive loans of up to $5,600 per year for up to three years if they remain eligible and if funding is available.

Legal Aid Organizations Loan Repayment Assistance Programs

Establishing a loan repayment assistance program at a legal aid organization can help in two ways:

  1. recruit attorneys who may have an interest in public service
  2. retain quality attorneys who now have the experience and dedication to serve low-income residents in your community

Below is a list of legal aid organizations that offer loan repayment assistance programs to their employees.

Arkansas

Center for Arkansas Legal Services

The Center for Arkansas Legal Services offers a loan repayment assistance program that reimburses participating attorneys up to $200 a month. If employees receive benefits from another loan repayment assistance program, the Center for Arkansas Legal Services assistance will be secondary to outside loan repayment assistance. Attorneys must provide documentation of each monthly loan payment.

To be eligible for assistance, attorneys must commit to working for the Center for Arkansas Legal Services for two years. In the event that an attorney leaves prior to fulfilling the two-year commitment, the attorney will be required to repay a portion of the assistance.

For this program, the loan repayment assistance is considered income for tax purposes.

California

Bay Area Legal Aid

Full-time attorneys or a law school graduate who is within 11 years of graduation from law school are eligible to be reimbursed up to $3,000 per year. Part-time attorneys are eligible to receive a pro-rated payment that reflects regular work hours at Bay Area Legal Aid.

For this program, the loan repayment assistance is considered income for tax purposes. Prior to receiving reimbursements, participating attorneys are required to provide documentation of their loans.

Legal Aid Society of San Diego

Participating attorneys at Legal Aid Society of San Diego may receive up to 50 percent of their minimum loan payment obligation, up to $500 per month. Attorneys are eligible as long as they are both full-time regular employees of Legal Aid Society of San Diego and members of the State Bar of California.

Participating attorneys must provide the accounting office with proof of payment to be reimbursed. Legal Aid Society of San Diego's loan repayment assistance program funds are considered income for tax purposes.

Legal Services of Northern California

Participating attorneys are eligible for up to $400 per month in assistance for up to 20 years. Legal Services of Northern California reimburses employees once documentation for each payment has been provided. Reimbursements are considered income for tax purposes.

To be eligible, attorneys must be full-time and members of the bar. Participants must take advantage of any law school loan repayment assistance programs prior to applying for assistance with Legal Services of Northern California.

Florida

Florida Rural Legal Services

Attorneys are eligible to receive up to 50 percent of the loan obligation up to a maximum monthly payment of $350 per attorney.

To receive the full benefits of loan repayment assistance, attorneys must commit to working for Florida Rural Legal Services for two years. If an attorney leaves during the first year of employment, the attorney will be required to repay all of Florida Rural Legal Services' loan repayment assistance. If an attorney leaves between the first and second years of employment, the attorney will be required to repay 50 percent of the assistance.

Florida Rural Legal Services does not penalize attorneys who participate in loan repayment assistance programs offered by outside organizations.

Legal Services of North Florida

To assist full-time attorneys in repaying outstanding law school debt, Legal Services of North Florida adopted the Florida Bar Foundation's Loan Repayment Assistance Program.

Under the Florida Bar Foundation's program, attorneys must be employed on a full-time or at least a 50 percent part-time basis at a qualified legal aid organization and must become a member of the Florida Bar within the first year of enrolling in the program.

Attorneys can receive a standardized amount of $5,000 per year regardless of their annual student loan payments. All student loan debt associated with obtaining a law degree will be considered eligible debt, so student loans incurred for undergraduate, law school, and LLM programs are considered eligible.

Benefits are designed to be non-taxable since they are provided in the form of a loan from the Florida Bar Foundation and not from an employer.

Kentucky

Appalachian Research and Defense Fund of Kentucky

Attorneys who participate in Appalachian Research and Defense Fund of Kentucky's Loan Repayment Assistance Program are eligible to receive 10 percent of their annual loan obligation up to $4,500 per year.

Payment amounts will be re-computed every three years to reflect changes in loan balances. Every six months, attorneys are required to provide documentation that the assistance paid has been used towards student loans.

To receive the full benefits of the loan repayment assistance program, attorneys must remain employed with Appalachian Research and Defense Fund of Kentucky for at least two years. In the event that an employee leaves prior to the two-year mark, the employee will be required to repay a portion of the assistance as detailed in the guidelines.

Massachusetts

Northeast Legal Aid

Attorneys and paralegals are eligible for assistance during the first four years following the completion of education relevant to their position. The only employees eligible for loan forgiveness are full-time employees who carry a loan repayment obligation at the time that they accept employment.

Full-time employees remain eligible until the loan has been repaid or the employee is paid at four years on the Northeast Legal Aid salary scale. Northeast Legal Aid pays up to 75 percent of each participant's loan obligation up to $250 per month. Employees are reimbursed based on the extended repayment rate for their loans. Loan repayment assistance appears on W-2 forms and is considered income for tax purposes.

Volunteer Lawyers Project of the Boston Bar Association

Under the Volunteer Lawyers Project of the Boston Bar Association's Loan Repayment Assistance Program, attorneys may begin receiving benefits once they have completed a probationary period.

Each eligible attorney can receive up to $200 per month towards their monthly loan obligation. Each attorney may receive up to a total of $12,000 in loan assistance during their employment with Volunteer Lawyers Project. Loan repayment assistance is pro-rated for part-time attorneys.

As the loan assistance is added to salary, loan repayment assistance is considered income for tax purposes.

Michigan

Legal Services of Eastern Michigan

Participating attorneys may receive up to $250 per month in assistance for up to three years. Payments are made directly to the lender.

Loan repayment assistance payments are considered loans to the employees. These loans are forgiven at the same rate that they were made ($250 per month) for the three years after the loan payment was issued from Legal Services of Eastern Michigan.

In the event that attorneys leave prior to the six-year commitment, attorneys are required to repay Legal Services of Eastern Michigan for the amount not yet forgiven plus 7 percent annual interest.

To be eligible, employees must be a full-time attorney and must be admitted to the bar. Prior to receiving benefits, attorneys must provide documentation detailing their loan debt.

Ohio

Community Legal Aid Services

Participating attorneys receive direct payments from Community Legal Aid Services for 20 percent of the loan obligation up to $100 per month.

Full-time and part-time employees are eligible for these benefits; however, part-time staff receive a pro-rated amount. Employees remain eligible as long as they remain employed with Community Legal Aid Services.

Benefits are recorded on W-2 forms and are taxable as income.

Ohio State Legal Services Association

Attorneys, paralegals, and select technology staff can receive assistance in repaying certified educational loans that accumulated while pursuing a law degree, paralegal certification, or technical training.

Full-time eligible employees may receive up to 50 percent of their monthly loan obligation, up to $300 per month. Part-time employees are eligible to receive a pro-rated amount.

Employees must commit to working for Ohio State Legal Services Association for two years. If an employee leaves before fulfilling the two-year commitment, the employee will have to repay all of the assistance provided by the organization.

Pennsylvania

Community Legal Services

Participants may receive up to $436 per month of assistance. Part-time employees are eligible for loan repayment assistance on a pro-rated basis.

Assistance is given in the form of a loan, which is forgiven over a two-year period. Employees must remain employed by Community Legal Services. If an employee leaves prior to paying off all loans, they are required to repay Community Legal Services for any outstanding loans paid by Community Legal Services plus 5 percent annual interest.

To ensure fiscal accountability, Community Legal Services has a fixed amount of funds specifically for loan assistance. In the event that loan repayment assistance requests exceed the allotted amount, loan assistance would be distributed to employees on a pro-rated basis.

Washington

Northwest Justice Project

Full-time staff attorneys are eligible to receive up to $500 after taxes per calendar quarter to help repay their debt. Attorneys may receive assistance as long as they are employed with Northwest Justice Project and their salary remains below the 20-year level on Northwest Justice Project's attorney salary scale.

Loan assistance is recorded on W-2 forms as taxable income.

Attorneys are encouraged to investigate various loan repayment options. Attorneys may be required to take advantage of law school loan repayment assistance programs and use Northwest Justice Project's program to compliment the assistance provided by their law school.