Nearly two decades ago, Philip G. Schrag said he saw the need to help law students with crippling law school debt.
Schrag, professor of law and director of the Center for Applied Legal Studies and Public Interest Law Scholars Program at Georgetown University Law Center, said many of his students stayed in the public sector, but struggled to make ends meet.
"They had to live like students while working like lawyers -- driving very beat-up cars, not being able to go on vacations, living with their parents -- all this because of the high debt they incurred," he said.
"I saw the problem for my students and realized the problem is even worse for students who go to the 100 or so law schools that don't have any loan-repayment programs."
Help is finally on the way with the College Cost Reduction and Access Act of 2007. Passed by Congress on Sept. 7, the bill aims to help law students and other graduates with high debt through an income-based loan-repayment plan.
The bill also would allow for loan forgiveness for qualifying employees after 10 years of service to government agencies or nonprofit organizations.
A good explanation of how the program works -- along with a table based on various incomes -- can be found in this article: http://www.law.georgetown.edu/news/documents/forgiveness.pdf.
A White House spokesman said President Bush has indicated he will sign the legislation, but there has been no announcement of when he will do so. Schrag said that because the bill is part of a package that reauthorizes some programs due to expire on Oct. 1, he hopes the signing will take place before that.
The American Bar Association said the class of 2006 owed a median of $54,500 to public law schools and about $83,200 to private law schools.
In an upcoming Hofstra Law Review article, Schrag cited a number of examples of law school debt, such as a news article reporting that, last year, 42 percent of Illinois' legal aid lawyers planned to leave their jobs within the next three years, partly because of law school debt.
Nancy Rogers, president of the Association of American of Law Schools and dean of the Ohio State University Michael E. Moritz College of Law, said the bill will also help organizations retain top workers.
"It is so important that the public sectors of this nation are able to attract the very best lawyers," she said. "We were seeing signs that it was becoming more difficult to do so."
Schrag first suggested a law forgiveness program in a 2001 Hofstra Law Review article and then in a 2002 book, "Repay as You Earn." He led a national advocacy effort as vice chair of the committee on government relations and student financial aid of the American Bar Association's Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar.
Peter A. Winograd, who chairs the committee, said everyone will benefit from the legislation.
"My hope and expectation is that people who earn forgiveness under this bill will after 10 years not do something else," said Winograd, professor emeritus at University of New Mexico School of Law.
"I expect in 20 years they'll still be doing public service, and everybody benefits from that -- the practitioner is doing what he or she wants to do, and the country benefits because we have people doing public service jobs."