Federal Support for Prosecutors and Public Defenders

Independence_Hall_Public_Court_Room.jpgAttention law students: The Justice Prosecutors and Defenders Act of 2008 began as an independent bill but was engrossed with the Higher Education Opportunity Act which became a public law when President Bush signed it on August 14, 2008. Why does this act matter to law students? As the press release of one of the key sponsors, Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, explains it “creates a student loan repayment program for law school graduates who commit to serve as criminal prosecutors or public defenders.” The Act tracks a similar federal program and “attorneys eligible for loan repayment could have up to $10,000 per year of student loan debt repaid. Loan repayments are capped at a maximum of $60,000 per individual.”

The program should allow more people to pursue public service on both sides of the criminal justice system. Whether the support is enough to keep people in this part of the public sector beyond three years of practice remains to be seen. For after that much training, an attorney could have enough skills and reputation to transfer to a firm and increase pay by two or three times the public sector income. Still, my old firm, Quinn, Emanuel, employed a strategy of looking for attorneys with five to seven years as public litigators before brining them in as senior associates. At that point the attorney was well able to handle a case. From a personal, professional standpoint one may thus face less of the junior associate grunt work than a third or fourth year who has handled her own cases for years would have to do.

In any event, the program is there and hopefully will allow more students to pursue public sector work and gain excellent experience at the same time.

Image WikiCommons

Author: Ben Franske

License: GNU Free Documentation license, Version 1.2 or any later version

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3 Responses

  1. JrL says:

    The title of the posting is misleading. The version of the statute I saw applies to government lawyers who “prosecute criminal cases at the state or local level.” Few assistant attorneys general in the states will qualify; in all but a couple of states, nearly all prosecutions are done outside of AG’s offices. Hopefully the statute will be construed by the US Attorney General to cover the assistant attorneys general who handle criminal appeals – a much larger group, though still relatively small minority of lawyers hired by state attorneys general. It might even be construed to cover those handling post-conviction challenges, including habeas. But again, it will be of little benefit to most state attorneys general and their assistants.

  2. Deven says:

    hmm. Interesting point. I inadvertently conflated prosecutors with attorney’s general. The bill itself seems more broad as you note. I will change the title of the post. Thanks.

    By the way if you have more about the structure of the state offices that would great to learn. Oklahoma was in favor of the bill and saw it as helping all its prosectors and attorneys, but it seems it may not be the norm if I understand your comment.

  3. Mr. Cookie says:

    A major problem with the bill is that it does not contain a salary cap. One can receive the aid regardless of his or her salary and regardless of whether the community is underserved. This comes at a time when there are folks who can truly use the need and there are areas that are truly underserved and in a state of economic depression.

    The bill should apply to all attorneys who are objectively underpaid and serve the public in some manner A separate bill is desirable to assist communities to hire more public service attorneys.