by Kaiya Lyons
At the 2017 ACS National Convention, Professor William Yeomans concluded the breakout panel on whether to serve in an unfriendly administration by emphasizing to the room of current, former and aspiring government lawyers that public service “really is a lawyer’s highest calling.” But for too many law students, the choice to pursue that higher calling comes at a high price, as student loan debt continues to rise well beyond most public interest wages. Later in the day, ACS Board member David Frederick had a simple solution—“make law school less expensive.”
During the “Progressive Federalism” plenary, Frederick declared that massive student loan debt is the “number one impediment to law students going out and doing public service jobs.” To support his assertion, Frederick pointed to the time-honored tradition of public interest-minded grads spending two to three years in BigLaw to pay down their student loans before entering public service. Frederick explained that, instead of starting in public service, “law students are often forced into corporate law firms” for years to pay off their loans, a practice he characterized as a type of “indentured servitude.” While this image sparked laughter and jokes from the other panelists, Frederick maintained the veracity of his comparison and went on to stress that legal education must be more affordable in order for young lawyers to pursue public interest.
Forgiveness in Exchange for Services Rendered
However, much to our collective disappointment, law school tuition hikes show no signs of decreasing, nor does a decrease in tuition rates seem likely. Therefore, law students and recent grads have two options: (1) take the tried-and-true path of their predecessors and enter the corporate sector for a few years with the hope that they will be able to move into the public sector later, or (2) take advantage of the government’s Public Service Loan Forgiveness program and be able to work in public interest law immediately after graduation and have their debt erased after ten years.