Bar News - December 13, 2013
NH Bar Foundation: Loan Repayment: Helping Public Interest Lawyers
By: Dan Wise
An important element of providing access to justice is having advocates with the skills and experience to be efficient and effective, says John Tobin, executive director of NH Legal Assistance, who urged the NH Bar Foundation to create a Law School Loan Assistance Program (LRAP) 13 years ago.
New England Law Student Debt
The following figures are from US News’ “Best Grad Schools 2014 – Law” report, published in March 2013. (The US News rankings include only ABA-accredited law schools; this list includes only law schools in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont.)
||Ave. debt for
||Percent of grads w/debt
|New England Law
|Vermont Law School
|Western New England
|Univ. of Maine
To date, the NH Bar Foundation’s IOLTA program has granted $992,225 to its LRAP project. In the current fiscal year, the LRAP program received $89,500 from IOLTA for 12 attorneys working for four civil legal services organizations – the Disabilities Rights Center, Legal Advice & Referral Center (LARC), NH Legal Assistance and the NH Pro Bono Referral Program.
The Bar Foundation sets the funding level annually for LRAP, which provides financial aid to assist lawyers at the four agencies in paying principal on their law school student loans. The amount each attorney receives (in the form of a short-term loan that is forgiven each year if he or she continues to be employed at an eligible organization) is based on full- or part-time employment status, outstanding law school loan debt, and any loan assistance they may be receiving from other sources.
Even during the depths of the recession, the IOLTA Grants Committee continued to include LRAP in its grantmaking. Ruth Ansell, a member of the Bar Foundation’s IOLTA Grants Committee, which reviews grant requests and makes recommendations to the Bar Foundation Board, said the committee has supported the LRAP program because the legal services agencies have been convinced of its value in attracting and retaining experienced attorneys.
“This is very efficient, targeted use of IOLTA money to sustain the capability of legal services organizations,” Tobin said. “It’s a great recruiting tool, and it may be even more important for retention.”
“We get talented lawyers, but it takes a couple of years for any lawyer to learn enough to be really effective. If some of our attorneys are able to obtain assistance through the loan repayment program, there’s a better chance they will stay [working] here. We don’t want to lose them and have to start all over again with training and having a new lawyer gain that experience.”
Nicole Fellian, a staff attorney for LARC, was admitted to the NH Bar in 2010 after graduating from UNH School of Law intent on a career in public service law. While at UNH Law, she did internships with the Disabilities Rights Center and the NH Division of Children, Youth and Families. Working at LARC since August 2011, she said the LRAP program has made a big difference in her life.
“Like most recent law school graduates, I got out of school with a staggering amount of debt. It is even more daunting because my dream was and still is to work in public interest, which does not come with a big paycheck,” said Fellian, who is married and a mother of a 17-month old boy. “Managing household expenses, student loans and daycare is no easy task. The Bar Foundation’s loan forgiveness program has allowed me to remain in public interest and ease the stress of having to navigate a tight budget.”
Tobin said having loan assistance also means that legal services programs can hire talented lawyers with diverse backgrounds. “We don’t want to be in a position where we are limited to hiring people who only come from families that were able to write the whole [tuition] check.”
For more information about the New Hampshire Bar Foundation and its programs, or to make a donation to the NH Bar Foundation, please visit www.nhbarfoundation.org.