Loan relief for law students offered

Thursday, August 14th 2008, 6:49 pm
By: News 9

By Jennifer Pierce, NEWS 9

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Attorneys will be the first to tell you that law school is expensive. The average debt for public law school is $57,170, while private law school debt averages $87,906 per student.

With that kind of debt many new law professionals are eager to go in to private practice and make more money. A new law, however, could give attorneys some loan relief and keep them in public service.

Most of the law students at Oklahoma City University rely on loans to get them through school. If they choose to go into criminal prosecution or public defense the federal government will help them pay off those loans.

Jay Husbands has been on the job at the Oklahoma County Public Defender's Office for 10 months. He's already handling felony cases.

"They sort of just threw me into the fire a bit and it's been great on-the-job training," Husbands said.

Lawyers take the high-paying jobs, in part, to pay off student loans.

"It's well over $100,000," Husbands said. "Law school is expensive."

Husbands could get some relief, however, if he sticks with the PD's office.

Congress has passed a student loan repayment program for law school grads who commit to working as public defenders or criminal prosecutors. The feds will pay off $10,000 a year and cap off at $60,000.

"It's a sad situation because public defenders provide a very important service," former public defender Cindy Viol said.

Viol said the job can be stressful, but rewarding.

"It takes very special people to do that job," Viol said.

She's happy to see the feds are doing something to stop the turnover not only in the PD's office but the District Attorney's office as well.

"Any help they can give to people who have made that commitment and are willing to sacrifice, I think it would be terrific," Viol said.

There is one catch. The public defenders or prosecutor has to agree to serve for a minimum of three years before the loan repayment program kicks in.

In Oklahoma County public defenders start out at $38,000 and Assistant District Attorneys make $37,000.