Bar News - February 8, 2008
Bar Foundation News
By: Susan Noon
Loan Forgiveness Exceeds $500,000 for Legal Services Lawyers Your Philanthropy at Work
In the late 1990s, John Tobin, executive director of NH Legal Assistance, approached the NH Bar Foundation with the observation that hiring and retaining attorneys was increasingly difficult for nonprofit legal service organizations. The NH Bar Foundation recognized that in recent years, increasing law school loan burdens had deterred promising law school graduates from accepting staff attorney positions at agencies serving disadvantaged and low-income residents. Debt burdens had also caused the departure of experienced attorneys who had hoped to have a career in the nonprofit sector. The loss of skillful and dedicated attorneys had a significant impact on clients and the agencies they served.
John Tobin stands with new staff attorneys at NH Legal Assistance's 35th anniversary in 2007. (L-R) John Tobin, Sarah Mattson, Mary Krueger, and Daniel Feltes. Photo by Susan Noon
Honored at the Bar Foundation Fellows Reception on Jan. 24, retired Probate Court Judge John Maher, the 2008 NH Honorary Bar Foundation Fellow, celebrates with his wife Skye. The event was held at the Bedford Village Inn, and also included the presentation of $29,771 in Justice Grants to 12 nonprofit agencies.
To help agencies recruit and retain qualified staff attorneys, the NH Bar Foundation established the Loan Forgiveness Program in 2000. The program provides forgivable loans to help attorneys pay down their law school loan debt. Attorneys working for NH Legal Assistance, Legal Advice and Referral Center, NH Pro Bono Referral Program, or the Disabilities Rights Center providing civil legal services to the elderly, low-income and other disadvantaged residents, are eligible to apply for the Loan Forgiveness Program through their agencies.
The loan amounts are based on employment status and the balance of the law school loan debt. For example, attorneys who work four days per week receive 80% of the assistance for which they would be eligible if they were full-time. Assistance is pro-rated for attorneys who are employed for less than the full year (June 1-May 31). An attorney who is employed full-time for six months of a program year would receive 50% of the assistance for which they would have been eligible if they had been employed for the entire year. The discharge of loans issued by the NH Bar Foundation under the Loan Forgiveness Program does not create taxable income for loan recipients.
The NH Bar Foundation started the loan forgiveness program with a $30,000 allocation from IOLTA in 2000. As the program proved successful in hiring and retaining attorneys in the nonprofit sector, the annual allocations increased. With $96,000 allocated in 2008, the total amount invested in this program now exceeds $500,000. In the past eight years, 38 attorneys have benefited from the program and 19 are still employed at the same agencies where they started.