More on Domestic Violence Lawyers and Biden’s Proposal

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Yesterday, I wrote about Senator Biden’s proposed bill to have 1) a network of legal volunteers for domestic violence cases and 2) more loan forgiveness for lawyers who do that work as a regular part of their job so that more lawyers go into the field. This raises a pet issue of mine: loan forgiveness for public interest work is just one side of the coin for getting more people to go into this line of work. The other side of the coin is more jobs. And that’s where Biden’s bill is incomplete (at least, as it was reported).

Maybe I’m wrong (and please correct me if I am), but do you know any domestic violence legal organizations that have long-standing job openings because people won’t take the low pay? I don’t. What I see is that the pay is terribly low (relative to other lawyers), but that there are always lawyers who are so committed to the work and have the financial flexibility (for whatever reason) to take these positions. The pool of people who are willing to do so may not be as large as one might hope, but the positions do not go unfilled. The same goes with legal services and other non-profits.

So, loan repayment assistance is undeniably wonderful for the people in those jobs. (And I know this firsthand, having taken advantage of my school’s loan repayment program.) But, more loan repayment programs doesn’t mean more people doing this needed work. That will only come when more jobs are created, which, to the best of my knowledge, Biden’s bill doesn’t do.

- David S. Cohen

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0 Responses to More on Domestic Violence Lawyers and Biden’s Proposal

  1. mee23 says:

    As a current law student at a school with a well-respected LRAP, I think LRAPs themselves are part of the problem. Even the best programs sharply limit your ability to get married, have children, and save for retirement. Moreover, my generation has watched our parents care for our grandparents and ourselves simultaneously. As a result, many of us intuitively understand the importance of being able to switch professional tracks quickly to accommodate life choices. Even Yale’s LRAP makes this difficult.

    Besides, anyone who’s had experience with the modern financial aid system does not look forward to an entire lifetime of annual audits. From our perspective, it makes more sense to work for ten years to pay off our debt and save a little for retirement, and then do something interesting. However, if you have children making that jump becomes almost impossible because kids require an insane amount of money — especially if you expect your children to attend college.

    If you really want to increase the number of people working on domestic violence, you may want to consider replacing LRAPs with full-tuition, targeted scholarships.

  2. mee23 says:

    Also, Georgetown’s Domestic Abuse Clinic has done wonders revamping domestic violence intake procedures in D.C. Domestic abuse isn’t my field, but I’d be curious to know about how other pilot programs nationwide have fared.

  3. I agree that LRAP programs can be better. But, even in a world with imperfect LRAP programs, are there public interest jobs generally or DV jobs specifically going unfilled? My experience says absolutely not.

    So, that tells me that a better LRAP program would certainly increase the happiness/quality of life for those already working in these fields, but it would not increase the legal assistance provided those who need it. That will only come when there is money for more jobs.

  4. mee23 says:

    From what I can tell, at my school those jobs are primarily taken by the bottom 10-25% of the class. (I’ve heard it’s a higher percentage at other schools, but I’m not sure if that’s actually true or just Bar Review scuttlebut.) Why? Because firms won’t hire those students, so the students are effectively left with no other options. After a few years of courtroom experience, those students lateral into more lucrative private positions. At 8-10% interest on 150k principal, they feel like they have to take the private position or tell their S.O. marriage, children, and retirement are off the table. QOL may seem like a luxury, but to the extent that it impacts turnover — and to the extent that experience is necessary for effective counsel — it may matter.

  5. I think that’s all urban legend. At least, from my experience applying for the public interest jobs and then reviewing applications. From what I’ve seen, they’re much more competitive than firm jobs, especially for those in top schools. Anyone who breathed at Columbia (my alma mater) got a firm job paying a ton of money; it was incredibly difficult to get a public interest job, regardless of class rank.

    Why? Because there just aren’t that many jobs out there. Which brings me back to my original point. Better LRAP is great, but we also need more money creating more jobs. I still don’t think there are huge numbers of public interest jobs sitting open because people won’t take the low pay. They’re always filled, as I have seen, and most of the time by incredibly well-qualified lawyers.

  6. Meredith says:

    At least, from my experience applying for the public interest jobs and then reviewing applications.

    There seems to be a notable difference between public interest fellowship positions and mundane public defender-esque public interest positions. Public interest fellowship positions for organizations like the NAACP are competitive. Further, those are the public interest most HYSCCN career service advisors emphasize. However, the work you propose appears to be along the lines of conventional public defender positions. Even if your proposal were based on private fellowship funding, their increased prevalence would make them less prestigious — and thus make highly qualified law students far less likely to seek them.

    Further, schools are starting to provide students with spreadsheets of student GPAs, callbacks, and offers to guide them in the recruitment process. I’m a 1L so I haven’t been given that information yet, but my 2L acquaintances have it. Hearsay may invite exaggeration, but the 2Ls’ statements match what I’ve heard from my former clients.

    Finally, I don’t doubt that you’ve seen the jobs filled by highly qualified applicants. But it seems that your perspective on public interest comes from a particular, privileged position in the legal industry. The reason why I’m more skeptical is because my former clients include unprestigious public interest attorneys, and they had endemic problems recruitment and turnover. With 100k+ debt, local students felt they would be better off opening a solo practice and playing the odds.