Several public interest lawyers are suing the United States Department of Education after the Department made an about-face concerning its commitment to forgive the lawyers’ student debt.
In 2007, the Department of Education implemented its Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program in order to incentivize college graduates to pursue careers in public service in a variety of fields. After a program participant makes 120 payments over a span of ten years, while working for a qualifying employer, the program forgives the remainder of the participant’s student debt. Qualifying employers include government organizations, 501(c)(3) nonprofits, and public education entities.
For some graduates with especially substantial student debt, like lawyers, participation in the program is the only viable way to pursue a career in public interest in lieu of higher paying private sector employment. The four attorneys who, with the American Bar Association, are suing the Department of Education in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia were relying on the prospect of loan forgiveness as they pursued careers in public interest: two are or were employees of the American Bar Association, one worked for the Vietnam Veterans of America, and the fourth works for the American Immigration Lawyers Association.
The crux of the plaintiffs’ grievance is that the Department had specifically informed some of the lawyers that they were eligible for loan forgiveness based on their specific employment, before retroactively deeming their employment ineligible and invalidating years of work toward loan forgiveness. All of the plaintiffs allege that reliance on the prospect of loan forgiveness impacted their career and financial decisions.
The Department’s conduct, particularly if the plaintiffs are unsuccessful, will be unwelcome news to current law students interested in careers in public interest and other young attorneys currently relying on the program. Some worry that insecurity in the implementation of the loan forgiveness program could chill the ambitions of young attorneys who aspire to work in public interest.
Posted By: Charles Fine
Credits: Washington Post, New York Times, Federal Student Aid
Image Credit: Inside Sources