This week, Sept. 20-24, the American Bar Association is joining more than a dozen national professional groups to urge the White House and Congress to relieve the burdens of heavy student loan debt on recent graduates.
During Student Debt Week of Action, ABA members will work alongside professionals at the American Institute of Architects, the American Psychological Association, the National Association of Realtors, the American Association of Medical Colleges and other groups to help debt-plagued young professionals.
The ABA is urging its members and all lawyers to contact their elected officials. Find out how you can get involved here.
More than 90% of law students take out loans to pay for law school and the typical student has $130,000 in total debt at graduation, according to a 2021 survey by the ABA Young Lawyers Division. While a small percentage of young lawyers secure high-paying jobs at large law firms after graduation, the vast majority do not.
In fact, many new lawyers work at lower-paying jobs – at nonprofits that serve disadvantaged individuals, in prosecutors and public defenders’ offices and at local, state and federal government agencies. The median salary for a first-year legal aid lawyer in 2018 was $48,000, and for a public interest lawyer it was $50,300, according to a survey by the National Association for Law Placement. The median starting salary for a first-year local prosecutor in 2018 was $56,200, and for a public defender it was $58,300.
Most young lawyers struggle to pay their student loans and some wind up in heavier debt after years of repayments because of accumulating interest. As a result, many new lawyers suffer from mental health issues and postpone major life decisions because of their huge debt.
For example, in the 2021 survey, 39% of young lawyers said they postponed or decided not to have children because of heavy loan burdens, and 27% postponed or decided not to get married. Nearly two-thirds of young lawyers (65%) said they suffered from high stress or overwhelming stress because of their law school debt.
During Student Debt Week of Action, the ABA is urging members to send letters through the ABA congressional message portal, engage online or meet with their elected officials by teleconference or videoconference. More information is available at the action week website. Law firms and other groups can participate and receive a packet of resources at the website or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Participants will urge the Biden administration and Congress to:
- Forgive some amount of student loan debt
- Offer borrowers the ability to refinance federal student loans at lower interest rates
- Extend the current student loan forbearance period
- Strengthen the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program
- Support the FRESH START through Bankruptcy Act of 2021, which would allow struggling borrowers to seek a bankruptcy discharge for federal student loans after a 10-year waiting period.
A full schedule of events, plus summaries of the issues and ABA policies, is available at the event website.
- ABA House of Delegates: Resolution 512 on student loan debt (August 2021)
- U.S. Senate: The FRESH START Through Bankruptcy Act of 2021
- U.S. Department of Education: Public Service Loan Forgiveness Help Tool
- ABA Journal: