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By day, Dan Griffin conducts preliminary hearings, interviews police officers and prepares drug cases as a prosecutor for the Cook County State Attorney's Office in Chicago.
At 6:30 p.m., he sheds his suit and tie, dons jeans and a hard hat and heads to his night job, doing construction for Great Lakes Heating and Plumbing, where he toils until about 1:30 a.m.
On weekends, you'll find Griffin bartending and refereeing children's basketball games.
Griffin's schedule may be grueling, but the 27-year-old says it's necessary to pay off his $70,000 law school loan, save up for a house and simply make ends meet as the cost of living skyrockets. He is desperately hoping a law school student loan forgiveness bill he's been hearing about for years takes effect some time soon so he can quit one of his part-time jobs -- and maybe have a social life.
"I never thought I'd be working this hard as a lawyer," said Griffin. "I love my job, but the guys I work with on construction, who are union, make more than I do as a lawyer. It's pretty ridiculous."
Griffin is part of a growing group of prosecutors and assistant public defenders who are moonlighting to make ends meet.
Government lawyers have, traditionally, turned to teaching at their law school, tutoring or even doing a few wills or real estate closings on the side to supplement their income. That is, the ones who don't flee after a few years for lucrative private practices.
But as the cost of living explodes, salaries are frozen, state budgets are slashed and law school tuition continues to rise, moonlighting has become commonplace for prosecutors and assistant public defenders.
"More and more people are asking for permission to teach," said Howard Finkelstein, public defender for Broward County, Fla. "I always give them permission. I want to keep people because turnover is such a huge problem so I have to let them make enough money to feed their families."
Many are pinning their hopes on a law school loan forgiveness bill, the John R. Justice Prosecutors and Defenders Incentive Act. After years of lobbying by various agencies, the bill was signed into law by President Bush last month as part of the Higher Education Opportunity Act, H.R. 4137. The bill calls for $10,000 a year in rebates for prosecutors and assistant public defenders who stay at their jobs for three years. The law, which was sponsored by Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., would forgive a maximum of $60,000 in school loans.
But the bill is still unfunded. Similar bills have been proposed in various states. So for the time being, from Minnesota to Idaho to Florida to Illinois, young government lawyers are waiting tables, working construction, bartending, tutoring and working retail nights and weekends.
"I have lawyers delivering pizzas, I have another lawyer umpiring and another bartending," said Frank de la Torre, chief assistant at the Broward County Public Defender's Office. "Many of us could be making more money in private practice, but obviously, those of us who make a career in the field of indigent defense do it because we love it and we believe in the Constitution."
The starting salary at the Broward public defender's office is about $39,000 a year, and salaries have been frozen for at least three years.
In Florida, Georgia, Kentucky and Minnesota, public defender offices have had their budgets slashed so severely that they've had to lay off lawyers, freeze salaries and even turn away defendants due to exhaustive caseloads.
If she had it to do over again, Lisa Palmer, an assistant public defender in Cordele, Ga., would still become a lawyer -- but would attend a public law school.
"It wasn't worth it," said Palmer, 31, of her degree from the private Mercer University Walter F. George School of Law in Macon, Ga. She now faces $100,000 in debt, or $1,000 a month -- more than her $600 monthly mortgage -- forcing her to take every side job she can.
In the past few years, Palmer drove all over the state of Georgia doing real estate refinancings for about $200 a pop, four nights a week (in Georgia, lawyers, not notaries, are required to oversee signatures on refinancings). The mother of four would routinely get home at midnight or later.
Now that the real estate market has dried up, Palmer is teaching business law at two technical colleges. But because she is getting a divorce, she may not be able to continue teaching. "I guess I got sold on the myth that you were going to get out of law school and someone was going to have their hand out offering you a $100,000 job," she said. In her small town of 4,500 people, that has not happened.
Corey Sherman, an assistant public defender in Minneapolis, says almost everyone in her office has a second job. Sherman has two. The 29-year-old bartends at weddings about one night a week and also tutors law students at her alma mater, Hamline University School of Law in St. Paul, Minn. She makes more at the other jobs than she does as an assistant public defender.
"I have less debt than most people, because I was on academic scholarship and I paid my way through undergrad," said Sherman. "I could defer my loans, but that's the problem with our society. I want to head this off and pay off my debt now."
Sherman said she had opportunities to make more money in private practice, but "I believe in this job, and I want to defend the Constitution."
But if she has a family down the road, she may have to make that leap.
"You'd think the state would compensate its employees enough to earn a livable wage," she said, adding that when she tells wedding guests where she's bartending that she's a lawyer, "their jaws drop."
A survey done by the Massachusetts District Attorney's Association in 2004 revealed that 15 percent of all assistant district attorneys in that state worked second jobs. The jobs included such diverse ventures as working at a funeral home, teaching Irish step-dancing classes and driving the Zamboni machine at a local ice-skating rink.
Four out of 12 attorneys in the Idaho appellate public defender's office teach on the side to make extra money,
Still, Erik Lehtinen, 34, one of those attorneys, says the extra 10 to 20 hours a week he puts in teaching is well worth it.
"I do it for purely financial reasons, with the cost of living as high as it is these days," he said. "But I'm going to stay. I like what I'm doing."