Thursday, September 11, 2008

Loan Repayment Plans for Judges?

One of the most welcome initiatives in U.S. law schools over the last decade or so has been the creation of LRAPs, or Loan Repayment Assistance Programs, which subsidize (by delaying or reducing payments on student loans) recent law school graduates who work in an approved list of jobs. Those jobs are generally referred to as "public interest employment" and are, therefore, rather low paying -- especially by comparison to the positions in large law firms that so many law students seek. Many students who take the higher paying jobs will tell you that they feel boxed in, forced to take higher-paying jobs simply to pay off their student loans, even thought they'd really rather work in the public interest. Law schools responded with LRAP programs. Makes sense.

Given that LRAPs cost the law schools money, the difficulty lies in deciding who is most deserving of the limited dollars available for these subsidies. Beyond the obvious starting point of limiting the pool of potential recipients to those who accept lower-paying jobs, however, some difficult questions arise. For example, at the University of Michigan Law School, which was in the process of significantly expanding its LRAP program when I was a J.D. student there from 1999-2002, I was told that judicial clerkships were not on the list of approved LRAP positions. The theory, as I understood it, was that even though federal judicial clerks were then being paid annual salaries of about $45,000 (about one-third of the starting salaries at big law firms at the time), and even though clerk's duties clearly served the public interest, clerking was most often a stepping stone to jobs that paid very well. As a matter of allocating scarce dollars, it made sense to exclude clerks in favor of, say, advocates for tenants' rights in blighted neighborhoods (or community organizers?).

I recently had a discussion with a colleague about an aspect of LRAP programs about which I had not previously been aware. For at least some LRAP programs, being a prosecutor is on the list of approved LRAP jobs, so long as the salary is below a certain level. When I expressed surprise that prosecutors would be eligible for loan subsidies, my colleague pointed out that it would be political suicide for law schools to subsidize law graduates who work as low-paid assistant public defenders but not those who work as low-paid assistant district attorneys. As a matter of public relations, this would obviously be easy to spin as "friendly to criminals." I can only imagine the storm of protest and demagoguery that would follow. Still, there seemed to be an important difference between the two positions, even when the salaries are similarly low.

For me, it is significant that district attorneys' offices are a well established stepping stone to later career success in politics and private practice, whereas attorneys who provide legal services for the poor more often sacrifice long-term career advancement even as they sacrifice short-term financial security. Obviously, not every assistant DA becomes Lieutenant Governor, nor is every assistant PD stuck earning $30,000 per year forever; but the career paths that lead out of the two offices are generally quite different. Public relations concerns aside, it seemed odd that prosecutors would be eligible for these limited funds. (Clearly, the more money that is available within any LRAP program, the easier it is to avoid difficult tradeoffs. In the extreme, we could make law school free for everyone. I haven't heard any plans to move in that direction recently, though.)

Pursuing this line of reasoning further, I began to wonder whether LRAP money should be available for judges. Clearly, federal judges would be ineligible for assistance simply on income-cutoff grounds, since all federal judges earn well over $100,000 per year. We often hear arguments about whether even those salaries are too low, but I cannot imagine anyone suggesting that a federal judge should be eligible for an LRAP program. Some state judges, however, are paid quite poorly, reportedly as low as $40,000 per year in New York State and lower still elsewhere. Should they be eligible?

Certainly, any person who is earning a low salary would welcome loan repayment assistance. That, however, is true of judicial clerks, who are excluded from coverage. Judges have opportunities to leave the bench at any time to move into some seriously high-paying jobs. Perhaps the difference is that we want judicial clerks to move on, whereas we are worried about judges hitting the trail too soon. There is thus at least one good policy reason to think that subsidizing judges is better than subsidizing judges' clerks.

Of course, it is also possible that we should not be excluding judicial clerks from the pool, either. Just as a thought experiment, I encourage readers to consider the following hypothetical. You are running an LRAP program's selection committee. You have four applicants, each of whom will earn the same (low) salary, is the same age (let's say 28 years old), and is in every other way similarly situated. They are about to accept the following positions:

(A) Judicial clerk,
(B) Public defender,
(C) District attorney,
(D) State judge.

Do you give all of the money to one recipient (which one?) or split it among two or more (which ones? evenly?)? Why? Show your work.

[Note: During September, I am cross-posting my Dorf on Law posts on the Concurring Opinions blog.]

-- Posted by Neil H. Buchanan


Adam P. said...

One potential solution to the clerkship dilemma is that used by Columbia and some other schools - the job after the clerkship determines your eligibility.
- At Columbia, the LRAP benefit accrues your clerkship year as a loan with interest. If you go to Biglaw (or other non qualifying employment) after, you pay it back. If you do more traditional public service, you don't.

Its also not a huge issue for clerkships since most will come straight from law school and there is a 9 month grace period on loans.

Michael C. Dorf said...

I'm very much inclined towards a "content-neutral" approach for all of these positions, similar to what adam describes for clerkships at columbia. One's eligibility would be determined solely by income, with "uforgiveness" kicking in based on a schedule of earnings for those who move from low paying to high paying jobs. I don't think this is a requirement, certainly. A law school could use its LRAP funds to channel graduates into providing legal services for those most in need, as determined by the administration, the ABA, the students, the faculty or whoever. But if the main point of LRAP is to free graduates to make career choices without undue influence of their debt, then a content-neutral approach strikes me as better. And who are these 28-year-old judges?

Craig J. Albert said...

On a tangent, there's ongoing litigation here in New York between various judges/judges associations and the legislature over arcane issues related to judicial compensation. But the justices in our trial courts of general jurisdiction don't make anything like the $40,000 figure you cited; they get a little less than $137K, and they have been at that level since 1999. If there are judges making $40K, they're probably village and town court justices, which are part-time positions that don't even require the judge to be a lawyer.

I'm sure that you'll be shocked, shocked to find that various large law firms have been happy to represent these judges -- before whom they appear as advocates -- pro bono. They're doing this out of a sense of civic duty, I'm sure, with no hope of receiving anything in return.

No presentation of salary benchmarking is complete without a Powerpoint presentation, so here's one prepared by the Fund for Modern Courts. But any debate over judicial pay needs to focus on a question that is rarely asked and never answered, as far as I can tell: what's the link, if any, between judicial quality and judicial salaries?

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  再待他時,阡陌花開花落炮友 ,流年似水柔情。回想往事,最美不過過往時援交-msn ,最美麗的莫過於心中暖暖的記憶按摩店 。有些東西,原來藏於心中援交妹,不易發現,壹驚發現一夜情聊天室,卻是壹頓感傷,援交日記幾許憂懷而已。回首,只留,援助交際時光靜美,流年不散,深藏於心援魚

高合金鋼 said...


Unknown said...

青年跋涉傳播妹 深山,歷經險阻,終於找到了隱居山中的禪師,他迫不及待地問道:“我長得丑指油壓按摩魚訊網站頭:“心如止水,獨善其身?”“不,長得丑外約舒壓就要像我一樣趕緊找個深山躲起來。”折筆看花花易傷,留紙隨心心卻涼。忘卻秋意悲一夜情援交 更勝,直到枯情不再蒼。心上心傷心亦殤,淚哭淚苦淚亦枯。我心裡有一座墳,裡援-交line面埋葬著自己。我看不懂你的眼淚,你聽不懂我的心碎。

高合金鋼 said...


流逝,援交妹反復出現在腦海裏,洪爺影城無限空虛籠罩心中。 援交妹思念是一種抽象的思維活動魚訊,它充溢著我的大腦,傳播妹使得自己不再有其他的思想,是壹味的回憶,回憶過

去與妳的點點滴滴,一夜情論壇 回憶過去的美好

時光,過去的一切摸摸茶 ……