Florida Public Sector Attorneys Could Receive Assistance With Student Loans

Senate bill 150 will require the Office of the Attorney General and the justice Administrative Commission to create a ‘student loan assistance program,’ which will help assistant public defenders, assistant state attorneys, assistant attorney generals and assistant statewide prosecutors pay off eligible student loans. The goal of the bill is to attract more lawyers to join the public workforce.

Jon Perdue, Esq., the director of the Florida A&M University Legal Scholars program, believes what the state is trying to do is “a great deal.”

Student loan debt is a major issue facing America. According to The Project on Student Debut, a student that attended a four-year pubic or private institution in Florida acquired $24, 017 in debut in 2012-2013.

The American Bar Association reports that in 2011-2012, the average law student is $84,600 to $122,158 in debt, depending on the type of institution.

With the cost of law school increasing and the economy’s purse strings tightening, any type of loan assistance could be seen as an asset.

Lisa Stewart, financial aid director at FAMU, realizes the importance of this bill.

“Since this is the case, many students borrow loans while obtaining their Bachelor’s, Masters and Professional degrees,” Stewart said. “Any type of assistance that would eliminate loan indebtedness can potentially have a positive impact on loan repayment delinquency and default rates.”

The bill was written by Sen. Jeremy Ring and was co-introduced by Sen. Maria Lorts Sachs, the Democratic Whip in the Florida Senate.

Ring, also a democrat, was elected in 2006 and has been re-elected consecutively since.

“We [FAMU College of Law] strongly want to encourage students to go into public service because that is were the community as a whole will benefit,” Reginald Green, the associate dean for Student Services & Administration at the FAMU College of Law in Orlando, Fla.

The issue is the substantial difference in pay between public sector and private practice attorneys. According to the ABA, public sector lawyers can expect to make $15,000-$20,000 less than their private practice counterparts doing equal or more work.

“I was a consumer bankruptcy lawyer in Virginia,” said Perdue. “Quite a few public defenders and prosecutors would consult me on the sly [because] they were drowning in debut, and it was their student loans that were just killing them.”

The bill now sits in the appropriations subcommittee on criminal and civil justice in the Florida Senate. If passed the bill will be effective July 1, 2015.