Supporting Public Service Lawyers Loan Repayment Assistance Act or Similar Legislation Intended to Establish Statewide Program Providing Student Loan Repayment Assistance to Eligible Law Graduates Employed by Qualifying Public Service Organizations

WHEREAS, one of the major challenges facing the legal profession and the attainment of justice for all citizens is the staggering amount of student loan debt that burdens law graduates and adversely affects their financial ability to enter and remain in public service;

WHEREAS, recent national studies have documented that the average graduating law student owes close to $80,000 in student loans, requiring monthly repayment amounts of more than $1,000;

WHEREAS, these same studies have also documented that starting salaries in public interest legal employment are substantially lower than starting salaries in the private sector, with annual starting public interest legal salaries averaging only $36,000;

WHEREAS, the Pennsylvania Bar Association’s first Task Force on Legal Services to the Needy recommended in its report delivered to the House of Delegates on May 18, 1990 that the PBA “endorse the enactment of an educational loan repayment assistance law that would encourage talented law students to undertake lower-paying public service legal positions in Pennsylvania by paying at least part of their monthly educational loan obligations during the period of their public service”;

WHEREAS, the PBA’s House of Delegates unanimously adopted the report of the Task Force on Legal Services to the Needy on May 18, 1990, including this recommendation relating to student loan debt and the enactment of educational loan repayment assistance legislation;

WHEREAS, in 2001 the American Bar Association appointed a Commission on Loan Repayment and Forgiveness to study the intensifying problem of student loan debt and its impact upon the ability of law graduates to serve their communities through public service employment;

WHEREAS, after a two year period of study, the ABA Commission issued a comprehensive report, entitled Lifting the Burden: Law Student Debt as a Barrier to Public Service, in which it documented that the vast majority of law students borrow to finance their legal education, that public service salaries have not kept pace with rising student loan debt burdens or private sector salaries, and that high student debt bars many law graduates from pursuing public service careers;

WHEREAS, the ABA Commission concluded that the legal profession and society pay a severe price when law graduates are shut out from pursuing public service careers due to high educational debt burdens, and that loan repayment assistance programs help law graduates take and remain in public service legal jobs;

WHEREAS, among other recommendations, the ABA Commission recommended that state governments, as a matter of access to justice, work closely with bar associations, law schools, public service employers, IOLTA programs, and others to create, fund, and coordinate state loan repayment assistance programs;

WHEREAS, in 2003 the Pennsylvania Bar Association created a Task Force on Student Loan Forgiveness and Repayment Assistance (“Task Force”), a 23 person task force composed of representatives from the legislature, the governor’s office, local bar associations, legal services and public interest organizations, law schools, law firms, private foundations, PHEAA, and law students enrolled in Pennsylvania law schools, and charged the Task Force with the responsibility of studying this problem and proposing needed solutions;

WHEREAS, the Task Force compiled extensive student debt information relating to law students enrolled in Pennsylvania and public service lawyers employed throughout Pennsylvania, and examined the strengths and weaknesses of student loan repayment assistance programs operating in other states and at law schools;

WHEREAS, the Task Force surveyed 661 current law students enrolled in Pennsylvania law schools about their educational debt and found that 94.7% of all respondents will graduate from law school with an educational debt burden and that the average student debt burden among these 661 Pennsylvania law students is $98,324;

WHEREAS, the Task Force found that high student loan debt prevents many law graduates in Pennsylvania from entering public service, even though they want to, and it forces other public service lawyers to leave their jobs after just two or three years because of burdensome financial responsibilities;

WHEREAS, the Task Force presented a Report and Recommendations summarizing its work and proposing a series of recommendations intended, among other things, to sponsor state legislation that would create a statewide loan repayment assistance program administered by the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA) and that would ultimately be funded through a public-private partnership;

WHEREAS, the Board of Governors and the House of Delegates of the Pennsylvania Bar Association formally approved the recommendations of the Task Force in June 2006 and PBA leadership thereafter created an Implementation Committee charged with the responsibility of implementing the Task Force’s Recommendations;

WHEREAS, the Task Force recommended proposed legislation, known as the Public Service Lawyers Loan Repayment Assistance Act, which if adopted would create a statewide program administered by the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA) and would benefit qualified public service law graduates employed by eligible organizations, including legal aid attorneys, district attorneys, public defenders, and other public service lawyers employed in pro bono and public interest organizations providing legal assistance in Pennsylvania;

WHEREAS, the Philadelphia Bar Association has long been concerned with the issue of staggering student loan debt of law graduates and its impact upon public service, and has previously supported proposed legislation that would provide loan forgiveness and repayment assistance to public service attorneys, including, for example, the federal Prosecutors and Defenders Incentive Act which the Board of Governors supported by resolution on February 26, 2004;

WHEREAS, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s Interbranch Commission for Gender, Racial, and Ethic Fairness has also recommended loan forgiveness and repayment assistance to public defenders and has joined with the Task Force in adopting its recommendations on the subject of student loan repayment assistance, including the recommendation that legislation be enacted establishing a statewide loan repayment assistance program for public service attorneys;

WHEREAS, at least fourteen states now have loan repayment assistance programs intended to address this serious problem.

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the Philadelphia Bar Association supports the establishment of a statewide loan repayment assistance program for qualified public service attorneys, and supports the enactment of SB 860, the Public Service Lawyers Loan Repayment Assistance Act, or similar legislation.

AND BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the Chancellor, or her designee, is authorized to take whatever steps are necessary to effectuate this resolution.

PHILADELPHIA BAR ASSOCIATION
BOARD OF GOVERNORS
ADOPTED: MAY 24, 2007