Thursday, March 01, 2007

Loan Repayments for the "Public Interest"

We're currently being spammed by E-mails from the official law school E-mail distribution list urging us to lobby our state legislators on behalf of HB 2024/SB 6039. The efforts are complete with a slick, fluffy, and misleading policy paper that we're supposed to cut-and-paste to our local law makers. This bill creates a fund to repay the loans of any student who works for either a non-profit or the government out of law school. That means that tax dollars support the ACLU, extreme environmental groups like the Sierra Club, religious organizations, abortion advocacy groups, etc. I find this unacceptable, even where the funded non-profits are for conservative causes.

I'm also annoyed as hell that, in spite of the ethical hot water our Dean has found himself in recently with regard to using University resources for private use, and the admonitions we've received against using those same University resources for political lobbying, I'm getting several E-mails a week blatantly doing just that. Have we learned nothing?

Well, I took the advice of the E-mail and wrote my legislator - just not in the way they probably intended. My arguments against this absurdity are contained there. My opposition letter is reproduced below in the comments section.

I also intend to write to the Dean, registering my irritation with the Law School's role in this purely political lobbying effort. Maybe I can get some equal time...

(As always, the opinions are my own. The Federalist Society itself does not lobby for particular policies, nor does it endorse or oppose any specific legislation.)

27 comments:

Orrin Johnson said...

The letter I sent to my reps follows:

Dear Sen/Rep [],

As a current UW law student who intends to work in public interest law, I am writing in opposition to Senate Bill 6039. Indeed – my entire adult career has been in the public interest, as I spent the six years prior to law school as an active duty officer in the US Navy. I am certain by now you have received dozens of form letters from students supporting this measure, forwarded on as part of a dubiously legal political lobbying campaign using the official Law School E-mail distribution lists. I urge you to look past this slick campaign and make a better decision for Washington.

Beyond the questionable legality of the political efforts, the concept behind this bill represents the worst legislative impulses – the desire to “solve” “problems” that don’t necessarily exist, but are instead “feel good” efforts that unintentionally siphon tax dollars to partisan political efforts. Worse, actual problems of access to justice are flatly ignored by this legislation. Specifically:

- The bill’s sponsors and lobbyists complain that prosecutors and defense attorneys are overworked. Maybe they are. But getting a job with any District Attorney’s office in western Washington is tremendously competitive – they are turning qualified applicants away. This is a far more telling statement of true student interests and preferences than an unpublished survey.

- In Snohomish County, the juvenile offender, dependency, truancy, and ARY/CHINS defense contracts were recently renegotiated. Again – they were highly competitive, with far more bidders than hours were available to hire firms for. The problem IS NOT that not enough attorneys are willing to do these jobs. I am certain there are many other examples, but these are merely the ones I am familiar with.

- If I’m wrong, and there IS a need for more prosecutors or defense attorneys, the solutions are a) fund more positions so more of the applicants can be hired, and/or b) create job specific scholarships for these positions. This method directly and most efficiently addresses the alleged problem.

- Much of what is considered “public interest law organizations” are merely political special interest groups, most of which align very closely with partisan agendas on either side of the aisle. The ACLU, Institute for Justice, Innocence Project, etc. are all examples of this. While the goals of these organizations may be laudable, they are certainly not universally held to be so. It is highly inappropriate to use tax dollars to directly fund political activists.

- A profound and un-sung amount of “public interest law” – specifically, the access to justice needed by the poorer segments of society – is done by private attorneys working pro bono, often at large firms where a minimum amount of pro bono work is a requirement of the job. As an example, I work almost exclusively with At-Risk-Youth and Dependency clients in my job as an intern. The firm also is heavily involved in Snohomish County Legal Services, and I have personally worked on many cut-rate or completely pro bono private family law cases. If I go on to work for that firm after graduation, I would not be eligible for these funds. An attorney working at Perkins Coie may do far more for society helping disadvantaged people with apartment leases or debts pro bono (about as apolitical as charity can be) than someone lobbying in vain to achieve full legal standing for house cats (a real “public interest” group here at our school). But under the rubric of “public interest,” the later would be more eligible for loan repayments than the former.

- Nothing whatsoever prevents someone from working for a better paying, larger firm while paying off their loans, and then later (as a better, more experienced attorney) choosing to work for a public interest group for slightly lower pay. Additionally, loan repayments at this already incredibly inexpensive, tax-payer subsidized law school (at only $15,000 per year, far and away one of the least expensive in the nation) are very manageable even at $40,000 (a frankly lowball estimate that doesn’t take benefits into account). The assertion in the lobbyists’ form letter that “serving as a public interest lawyer is nearly impossible” is flatly false – at best misleading hyperbole, and worst, intentionally dishonest.

Whenever someone demands that tax dollars pay for their pet political project, one should ask, “From whom are you asking me to take money?” Our state budget is already strained, and the number of far more worthy, non-partisan, and urgent projects makes repaying law students because they choose to be political activists unconscionable. Let’s save our tax money for the ACTUAL public interest – roads, schools, teachers, etc. – not lobbyists who merely claim they are, using straw men and elastic facts to support their claims.

Thank you for your attention.

Sincerely,
Orrin J. H. Johnson
University of Washington School of Law
Class of 2007

Sonja said...

Orrin,

Interesting post. I think that some of your assumptions are incorrect but it's good to read another perspective. Other schools have addressed the same issues when creating their LRAPs. I agree that there are differences between direct civil legal aid, prosecutor/public defender work, government agency work and non-profit organizations with a certain mission. If you're interested in hearing why we decided to advocate for a bill that includes all of these positions, I'd be happy to have coffee with you sometime.

Sonja Jacobsen, co-president
Public Interest Law Association
UW Law School

PubliusRex said...

You're right Orrin, the Emperor is nude.

Anonymous said...

Good point Orrin, I emailed law dawgs to question the propriety of sending the email. I'll post any response I receive.

Orrin Johnson said...

I appreciate the post, Sonja, and I'd be happy to sit down with you and discuss it. However, I think I'm fully aware of the reasons behind this bill. Non-profit + more government jobs = always public interest; Public interest = always good. These are basic articles of faith at nearly every law school, especially this philosophically monolithic one (administration-wise). All I'm doing is questioning PILA's heretofore unquestioned assumptions, and saying that the party (you) who is asking for the tax/tuition dollars should bear the burden of providing factual support - not the other way around. It's MY money you're asking for, for YOUR career choices. Asking for more specific definitions of what is ACTUALLY in the public interest is not too much to ask, before forcing me to write a check for it on penalty of fines and prison time.

I defy anyone to refute any of my "assumptions" with facts (to include studies with methodologies that can be examined and sourced). None of the lobbying material I've seen so far comes anywhere close. Percentages are conflated to suggest raw numbers. (I would argue that the PERCENTAGE of potential PI lawyers is down - if it is at all - because we have such a glut of new attorneys as a whole.) "Civil litigants" is just about the broadest category of people you can imagine - everything from minor agreed child support or parenting plan modifications to small claims court landlord-tenant disputes over a few hundred dollars to the faceless members of large class action suits. "Civil legal problems" is even broader. And "no access" is NOT the same thing as "choosing not to access to save money." Plenty of private, for profit attorneys offer reduced fee or pro bono services. All people have to do is ask (via legal services programs).

If legal services are turning people away, then let's raise tuition, and use the tax-subsidy savings to donate directly to indigent legal referral service groups, or to hire more public defenders. The rest of us, none of whom will be living under a bridge any time soon, will just have to live in the condo for a few more years while we pay off our loans instead of the house on Mercer Island. (In fact, I'd like to see tax subsidies slashed to public law schools, which aren't exactly begging for enrollees, and that money go to undergrad or even K-12 education - we are NOT the most needy recipients of the government dole.)

Bottom line - you're asking for the public's money to pay for political activists, who coming out of law school will be overwhelmingly liberal. That makes the publicly funded and subsidized law school an ATM for Democrat/liberal interest groups. Would you be so gung-ho about this if 90% of the loan repayments went to groups like the NRA, pro-life advocacy groups, the Catholic church, Focus on the Family, anti-gay marriage groups, lobbyists for tougher minimum sentences, the Federalist Society, the BIAW, pro-war advocacy groups, etc? Would the law school use their listserves to promote it? I think not. And I would be with you.

And even if I agreed that the bill was a good idea, the use of the University central info-distribution system is unethical and probably illegal. It's certainly improper. And the fact that it was just SOOO obvious to the administration that EVERYONE would be all for this SELF-EVIDENTLY GOOD piece of legislation such that they assumed we'd all be OK with our tuition dollars being used to lobby for it really irks me. There was no debate, no questioning of assumptions or "facts", no critical thinking. Just blindly following the law school articles of faith, with other people's money. It's shameful.

Orrin Johnson said...

And just to re-establish my bona fides - I intend to do criminal law, either as a public defender or an ADA, upon graduation. I happen to be leaving the state, but if I weren't I would be seeking the same jobs, and would benefit personally from the bill as proposed. I would still be against it, just as vehemently. It's simply not fair to ask anyone else to fund my career preferences.

UWLawschoolhunk99 said...

Right on Orrin, I am with you 100% Too bad only the vocal minority counts for anything in this state!

Anonymous said...

I too emailed lawnews to request that my email be taken off any politically affiliated listserv. It is amazing that this school would send out an email like this without thinking about it, but they question the hell out of any emails from fedsoc or others unless they follow exact guidelines. With all do respect, it would be nice to have an unbiased admin throwing the switch on the lawdawgs emails.

Orrin Johnson said...

I've not heard anything back from the Dean yet. I understand it's his policy to personally address any issue he gets more than two E-mails about. We'll see if he follows through with that here. If he does, I'll let people know.

Anonymous said...

It seems like the Dean should be able to throw the law school's weight behind something that is so obviously in the public interest. All reasonable people know that this bill is in the public and collective interest.

Juvenal said...

Anonymous

Really?? "All reasonable people know that this bill is in the collective and public interest"? I just hope that you're not a UW law student, because if that's the kind of critical thinking the law school teaches, as a taxpayer I want a refund on my taxes that subsidize your tuition.

Why is this bill so obviously in the collective and public interest? Because the bill says so?

Supporters of the bill have cited all manner of crises that demand the creation of the LRAP program; even if these crises do exist (and its not clear that they do), there's no indication that the LRAP program will actually do anything to solve them.

Let's take one crisis that was cited by a supporter of the program with whom I discussed this yesterday. According to him the LRAP is absolutely essential because many hundreds of thousands of civil litigants (across the country) go without legal representation each year. There's no indication of what type of civil disputes this study covers -- I for instance bravely eschewed legal representation while contesting a traffic ticket this year; I'm sure plenty of people decide not to hire a lawyer to argue cases for them where the stakes are not high, and where a cost-benefit analysis makes it quite clear that its not worth hiring a lawyer. Lets not even discount those cases, lets assume that hundreds of thousand of civil litigants go without representation in serious legal disputes. Lets also assume that the reason they go without representation is because they can't afford it (both assumptions that favor the pro LRAP argument). How does the creation of the LRAP do anything to solve that probem? Are there large numbers of vacancies in the agencies that provide free legal aid? Are these vacancies caused by the fact that many lawyers want to work for these agencies, but don't because the salaries are too low? There's no evidence that would enable us to answer yes on either of these questions. There is a great deal of competition for every position in these agencies, with several qualified applicants applying for each vacancy. Is there a retention problem after hiring? There may be, but no indication that salary is the primary problem in retaining employees. Even if low salaries were the primary cause of low employee retention, why is it efficient to adopt an indirect solution like LRAP to address that problem? If you do want tax subsidies, why not directly subsidize those agencies and mandate that the entire subsidy go towards raising salaries? There are overheads associated with administering an LRAP program, and you would have potential wastage of funds that would go towards subsidizing lawyers who chose to work in low paying jobs in the not for profit sector, for which there are insane amounts of competition, and which provide a dramatic long term financial upside -- e.g. clerkships. The primary problem with legal aid to indigent litigants is capacity in the system; capacity in the system is not going to be increased with an LRAP program. If lack of representation for indigent civil litigants is a problem the legislature wants to solve, an LRAP program is not the way to do it; they should take direct steps to increase capacity in the system.

Also, from my experience those who chose to enter public service in the legal profession do so out of genuine passion, and a desire to help others or gain valuable long term experience. Those who join private practice for high salaries do so either because they're passionate about the type of work they'll do there, or the particular experience they'll gain there, or are passionate about the money. An extra 3000 dollars or so a year (which is probably the maximum that an LRAP program would cover) is not going to induce large numbers of people who would otherwise have worked for firms to opt to work in the not-for-profit sector. Its not going to change the minds of those who would not be attracted to public service in the first instance; its not going to change the minds of those who want the experience and the kind of work firms do; its not going to change the minds of those who join firms for the money (its just not enough money to make a difference). It will only work at the margins -- possibly changing the career choices of those who are genuinely interested in public service, but who take jobs in the for-profit sector because of a higher salary (and only those who took jobs that pay marginally more than the private sector -- someone who decides to work for a firm because it pays 20,000 more than a non-profit she really wanted to work for is not going to change her mind for 3,000 dollars worth of loan forgiveness).

There's no evidence that indicates that an LRAP program will boost dramatically the number of people working in public service after graduation. Unfortunately the notion that LRAP is in the public interest is viewed as an axiom in the law school -- an essential and unquestionable truth that does not need to be proved, and in fact cannot be questioned. All that the LRAP program will do is subsidize those who would have chosen public service careers even in the absence of the program. I admire those who enter public service, but there's no reason why the taxpayers should subsidize their career choices.

Rebecca said...

As a future public interest law practitioner, and a supporter of LRAP in general but not necessarily state funding for LRAP, here's what I have to say about this:

I think that it is possible that LRAP can improve the amount of public interest law work available. (I realize this doesn't address whether or not you think the state should fund them, or whether or not you think public interest law is a social good.) Here's how: I have been looking at posts for public interest jobs (not to apply for them, I'm only a 2L) and a lot of them state that they have LRAP assistance available (at least in the bigger orgs with offices throughout the state, such as Columbia Legal Services or Northwest Justice Project). Now, you are not eligible for assistance from both your employer and from your school/the state; so, by freeing up that 3-5K put aside for each attorney that uses the employer-provided LRAP in offices with somewhere between 10-20 attorneys, and, say, 5-7 branches throughout the state, you WOULD have enough money leftover to create at least one extra attorney position. (assuming maybe 1/2 the attorneys are using the LRAP program, which, in my experience, is about right.)

I would also like to address the hypothesis that 'you could just work in a firm and then go to public interest work.' Not likely. Everyone I've talked to who planned on taking this route gets used to a certain amount of affluence, and the comforts and amenities they can buy, and are not willing to give them up - no, they look forward to when they don't have the loans so they can buy even more amenities and comforts.

I also think that, even though the school pays a lot of lip service to 'supporting public interest,' it is quite another story if you are one of the people who is in a position of attending law school exclusively for that purpose. (I realize that this is slightly off the main point of the post, but bear with me.) Everytime a professor or staff person hears that I want to do public interest, the way they say 'good for you!' rings a little false, a little patronizing - it reminds me a bit of the way a professor once said. 'It's great to have other viewpoints!' to a student expressing a conservative view - you're not really glad, you just know that's what you're supposed to say. If you really look at the way the classes here are structured - from the assumptions made by the professors in constructing the classes to the general areas of classes offered - there seems to be an implicit assumption that you are going in to firm or corporate work, and that you are at least moderately liberal. That's fine if that's what you want, but it chaps my hide that UW continually advertises how public interest friendly it is, all the while the people doing the work are either students, a private foundation (the Gates scholar program) set up by a private donor - not by the administration - that benefits 5 people, and now, possibly, the state. It's as if I took credit for the Federalist blog.

and Juvenal, try not to feed the trolls.

Orrin Johnson said...

The following is the response I received from Dean Knight:

Orrin,

Thanks for your message. I have delayed in responding because I asked our Attorney General's office to investigate the matter. The response from that office is noted below:


The general legal principles that bear on this question are:

1. The UW may use its resources to directly lobby the legislature, but may only do so "through official channels."

2. The Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) has held that state agencies may not use their resources for indirect (or "grassroots") lobbying. The PDC defines this prohibited conduct as "communicating with members or segments of the general public in a manner intended, designed, or calculated to mobilize the general public to influence legislation."

3. UW students, acting in their private, individual capacity, may use their assigned email accounts for their personal First Amendment activities.

It certainly appears that the email complained about would be found by the PDC to be "grassroots lobbying" if the UW wrote or sent it out. What is not clear (from what I've seen) is the degree of institutional involvement in the preparation and distribution of the email. If it was written and sent out entirely by one or more individual students, in their own right, there would seem to be no violation of state law. If UW institutional time, staff, money, or other resources were spent on it, however, I think the PDC would find a violation.



The sticking question is whether we, as a school, were involved. Our approach on lawdawgs has been to forward information when requested by UW Law students. Since the email was sent out by students to other students, the question on institutional input or involvement can be raised. To their credit, students have asked that comments go to a non-UW e:mail address.

I have shared my inquiry and the responses received with our administrative cabinet. We are divided on the issue of prudence, rather than violation. While we do not see an obvious violation as you have suggested, there are some who believe that we should ask students NOT to communicate through lawdawgs on such matters. I must say that I do not like this approach because that type of banning message also sets an undesirable tone. That action would suggest that the behavior of students self-generating a message that reports on a news-related item and requesting that such information be forwarded to other students encouraging those reading it to to contact a non-UW e:mail, is not easily identified as a violation (as evidenced by the AG's response). I believe that the message was crafted by students for students with no law school involvement, and is therefore be lawful. I also believe that prudence to let this matter rest, rather than to issue a blanket prohibition.

The AG has noted that a complaining person (you were not identified to either Cabinet members of the AG), could certainly file with the Public Disclosures Commission claiming a violation of the state policy on lobbying. Because our trying to establish a UW Law school policy that would be clear when applied to circumstances like this one, would be difficult, I will not institute a policy prohibiting this type of information communication. Moreover, I do not see a need for a law school official to act as a PDC content-reviewer. To do so would involve law school resources in a more, rather than less, in-depth manner, and create more opportunities to claim law school involvement. You have the ability to file a complaint with the PDC, and thus seek their interpretation of whether we our position is correct or not.

As always, I stand ready to speak to you about this decision.

WHK

Orrin Johnson said...

My response to the Dean follows:

Dean Knight,

I appreciate the time you put into your response, including the research involved. However, I think your application of the AG’s rule strains credulity. Consider:

- The E-mail was not sent via the usual announcement system adopted for purely student generated announcements, that is, the morning and afternoon announcements. Virtually every other message we get from the LawNews listserve comes either directly from the administration or its various departments, or from semi-official student run activities such as moot court tournaments.

- There was no header on the E-mail to indicate from whom or from what group the message was generated. The only indication of source was lawnews@u.washington.edu (the official Law School message distro system) in the “from” line. That’s it. No disclaimer saying it was not sponsored by the school. No identifying label to indicate which group or student HAD sent it. And the “contact for further information” line on the last LRAP message received listed an @u.washington.edu address, with no indication as to who the person was, or if they were a student or faculty member.

- Virtually every LRAP E-mail received followed this pattern – the expected pattern for official Law School announcements, and very much NOT the expected pattern from student announcements. In fact, Academic Services has been extremely strict in forcing student groups I have been a part of to conform closely with the combined twice-daily student announcement format, sometimes at the peril of a timely announcement. I can’t believe this would have gotten past the renowned LawNews goaltending (at least 3 times) without at least tacit support from the administration.

- This was NOT a student using their personal E-mail address to urge friends to vote a certain way, which is the way your E-mail couches it. This was a student gaining access to THE OFFICIAL LAW SCHOOL ANNOUNCEMENT SYSTEM, and then using it in a way that would be and has been denied to other students in other political efforts; and further, using it in a way that would lead the reasonable reader to believe their efforts had the official sanction and support of the law school administration.

- Based on the above factors, I personally believed the Law School was officially behind the efforts. Many other people I have spoken with felt the same way. In fact, I would hazard to guess that MOST students felt these were official announcements from the University.

- Had I attempted to send out the same type of message, independent of the AM/PM student announcement format, but IN OPPOSITION to the LRAP (or any other issue before the legislature), I have no doubt I would have been rebuffed by Academic Services (and rightfully so), and told that I could not use official University resources for direct political lobbying.

- Had a student supporter sent out a similar message over LawNews urging students to lobby on behalf of and vote for a specific political candidate, such as Darcy Burner, independent of the regular student announcement system (or even as part of it), a violation would have been obvious. This is no different.

- Consider the outrage you would have faced had such a message been sent out in support of a Republican running for office, a conservative judicial candidate, or an anti-abortion measure pending before the legislature. Your office and inbox would have been inundated by angry students who didn’t want their tax and tuition dollars used to support these things, and they would be correct to be angry.

- Having a more restrictive and careful policy concerning direct political lobbying efforts on LawNews (i.e., one which comports with both the letter and the spirit of the applicable laws and regulations) DOES NOT censor students. It does not deny them their ability to get their political messages out, as there are countless other ways to accomplish this (on- and off-campus). It does not prevent students from building their own E-mail lists which would reach nearly every student they wished. It does not even prevent them from advertising their efforts the exact same way any other group would sponsor a speaker or hold an event not necessarily officially supported by the administration. It merely prevents the University from becoming a partisan political activist agency, which it frankly is already far too close to being. Having such a policy may “be difficult,” as you say (navigating government regulations often is), but we can't only choose to follow laws which are convenient.


Seen in the most generous possible light, the Law School tacitly sanctioned this grass-roots lobbying effort by looking the other way when a single faculty member singled them out for special, preferential treatment (not once, but on at least 3 separate occasions) because he or she approved of their political message. This was my initial assumption, frankly – that an exuberant faculty was glad to see the efforts, and simply let slip their minds the political lobbying rules without stopping to consider not everyone would like to see their tax or tuition dollars used for such an “obviously good” goal. As such, I expected a, “You’re probably right, we didn’t consider people might be opposed to this, and we should have been more careful,” message from you, along with a pledge to more precisely segregate political lobbying efforts from official school announcements. I expect the leadership of a tax-funded government organization to take responsibility for things done under its official color. I had no plans to file a formal complaint.

But after having read your response in stunned disbelief, I can only conclude that it was far more – official sanction given to a grass-roots lobbying effort, with only the thinnest of veils used to attempt to shield the administration from the clear rules that would bar exactly this type of lobbying. This isn’t the first time situations like this have flared up, and unless people stand willing to call the administration on it, it won’t be the last. I wish to prevent this type of abuse in the future, which is why I brought it up in the first place. As such, I feel I have no choice but to address the PDC directly with a complaint.

Sincerely,
Orrin Johnson

Anonymous said...

Some neighborhoods have that one cranky old man. You know, the one who bitches and moans and crabs about every real or perceived slight. Sometimes he's right, sometimes he's wrong; but he's always a pain in the ass.

You'll usually find this old man tearing down flyers for bake sales (because flyers are not allowed on light poles!). Or you'll find him screaming at the neighborhood kids who chased a baseball into his yard (because that's private property dammit!).

You usually can't do anything to stop this old man. He's not breaking the law. In fact, he's often arguing to apply the law in some nitpicky (yet technically correct) way. So, you end up just having to put up with him.

We here at UW Law School have our very own cranky old man who we have to begrudgingly put up with. His name is Orrin Johnson.

Orrin Johnson said...

Hey - I've been called worse.

I don't want my money paying for political lobbying for agendas I'm opposed to. Would you be so dismissive if I used the same method to urge a sweeping abortion ban? I don't think that's "merely technical" or even de minimus. I think it's important. And if you can tell me with a straight face that my response wouldn't have been multiplied by 200 had the legislation been less popular, then you can tell me what a curmudgeon I am. But that's just not the case.

The bottom line is that because you lack the ability to honestly address and refute the real and valid reasons people are opposed to this (i.e., the facts don't support tyour possition, but the heartstrings do), you simply want to make dissent on the issue illegitimate. Who needs facts? Who needs to support the arguments for using other people's money for their pet projects? Only unreasonable people think puppies, kids playing ball, bake sales, or LRAP legislation could possibly be anything but a good thing. It's so OBVIOUS, it doesn't require any actual persuasion! I mean, come ON man! MAN!!

Your's is an entertaining argument (I've often dreamed of being a crotchety old man), but a profoundly intellectually lazy and dishonest one. (Especially when done anonymously.)

Anonymous said...

Fair enough Orrin. I stick by my crotchety old man comments, but I agree that I need to get specific about the LRAP.

Overall, I'm deeply disappointed by your position on our UW LRAP. And I disagree that this is the political issue you make it out to be.

First, look here for a list of other law schools that have LRAP programs. You'll notice both top schools (Yale, Stanford) and public schools (U of Michigan, UC, U of Utah for cripesakes!). The widespread acknowledgment of the necessity of these programs undercuts your position.

Second, because we're a public school, we face different issues in getting a program like this started than would a private school. So, they sent out an email telling people to urge support for the LRAP. Big freaking deal. Your analogizing this to support for abortion is specious. They're just not even remotely the same. Why not man up and just ignore the email? Or send the letter against it like you did? Why bother getting in a huff about email distro? Just doesn't seem worth it to me.

Third, I disagree that LRAP programs in general have a political bent to them. From Stanford's LRAP website: "LRAP participants work in federal and local government, community law firms, nonprofits, and advocacy groups—from Human Rights Watch to your nearest Public Defender's Office." The breadth of service covered by these programs undercuts your argument.

Fourth, pro bono attorneys do not and cannot do the work that public interest attorneys can do. Pro bonos handle individual cases for individual clients. Or sometimes they handle high-profile cases (helps publicize the firm, don't ya know). Pro bono attorneys can't do the day-in, day-out work that public interest attorneys do. It's impossible. So, the public interest attorneys get the thankless tasks of doing the work that needs to get done and getting paid jack for it. Then on top, they get to try to service their loan debt. That's why LRAPs are necessary.

Finally, LRAPs are about both attracting new attorneys into this area of practice, and retaining them once they're there. Sure, there are plenty of 25 year olds who'll take the financial hit to do what they feel is important work. But 10 years down the line when they have kids and a mortgage, it gets a lot tougher. The public interest legal field needs experienced attorneys just as much
as it needs young, idealistic ones. LRAPs help make that a reality.

So, there's my two cents. Every other top tier law school has an LRAP program. It's time we get on board. Let's hope that happens despite our favorite old crank.

Anonymous said...

Oh yeah. One other thing. LRAPs aren't just for lawyers.

See here for an LRAP program for graduates of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.

Also, my sister-in-law is an elementary school teacher for deaf kids. She was just telling me the other day that there is a state loan repayment program in Washington for teachers that teach in low-income areas. This repayment program also covers all teachers who go into teaching math and science. My sister-in-law is in the process of applying for that assistance now.

So, this is what government is for. (Likely you will disagree.) There is a social need for a certain type of work. Financial incentives don't exist to draw people into the work. So, the government creates its own programs to assist. That is what the Washington legislature is doing with the LRAP.

(In particular, it's worth remembering that the LRAP bill going around now only applies to UWLS grads who do public interest work in the state of Washington. That means the legislature is creating this program specifically for the people of this state. And it also makes your challenges to the program that much more troubling, given that you're leaving Washington after graduating and won't be eligible for the LRAP even if you find you need it.)

Orrin Johnson said...

Well, it's good to know you stand by your logicless, anonymous ad hominem attack. The bravery of your convictions is truly inspiring.

Most other schools have affirmative action programs, too, which I consider to be racist, counter-beneficial, immoral, and unconstitutional. If, "Everyone else is doing it," was a substitute for logic or responsibility, then powder blue tuxedos with ruffles would be held up as a monument to wisdom and adulthood.

This is an issue before the legislature. It is an issue of spending other people's tax and tuition dollars. The school is asking other people to lobby elected officials. That is political. Its popularity doesn't change that. If you can't grasp that, then I'm sorry, but you simply don't have an adequate understanding of the system.

Why is spending millions of other people's dollars less important than, say, lobbying for an anti-gay marriage amendment to the State Constutution which doesn't cost anybody anything, but merely maintains the status quo? Simply asserting lobbying for other issues is "completely different" doesn't make it so. It's grass roots political lobbying, done in a way to look like it's being encouraged officially, and it's wrong.

Likewise, if you seriously don't see that most non-profits UW law grads will engage in are substantially left of center, then you also are not living in the real world. But that's probably because you are so far to the left, that you don't consider groups like the UCLA, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the Innocence Project, etc. to be left leaning political groups. Even the ABA's policy positions are essentially photocopied talking points memos from the Democratic party.

And if you think that the LRAP will help the 35 year old who wants to keep doing public interest law after 10 years but now has a family, then you are completely ignorant as to what the bill will actually do, or if not, then you are lying about its content. I'll give you the benefit of the doubt - I don't think you're lying - but you really, really, really need to do some more homework. Even if it paid off 100% of your loans, it wouldn't make much of a difference when the 6 figure offer from the big firm came along.

I defy you to cite a SINGLE STUDY that reports its methodology that can back up ANY of your assertions. Hint: The Stanford "Aren't we great" website doesn't meet this criteria. Has the percentage of public interest lawyers as opposed to firm lawers increased at those other schools? Has every other state solved its public defender caseload problems? Has the LRAP from SU Law or Gonzaga Law made a quantifiable difference? Is there any evidence beyond the annecdotal that any substantial numbers of people from those other schools are career PI attorneys when they otherwise would have been working for firms rolling in the dough? I think the answer is no. Because I'm not the one demanding other people's money, I don't consider myself to have the burden of proof here.

Despite the fact that I'm moving out of state, my tuition dollars are still on the table here, and were used for the lobbying. This may seem small, but excusing small violations encourages larger ones - and this school's administration has continually shown itself to be willing to play fast and loose with the ethics rules. Nipping things in the bud early prevents more egregious abuses.

And after I leave, I will still have a connection to the school. I will be asked for alumni donations. Charging that I have no stake because I'm moving is, once again, simply ignorant. (There seems to be a pattern forming.) Even if it was true, the principles behind it remain, and I happen to feel strongly about my principles.

Bottom line - I just don't think you know what you're talking about regarding the ACTUAL effect of THIS bill, or the ACTUAL problems asserted, or the ACTUAL solvency potential of THIS ACTUAL bill. I understand its attractiveness philosophically, but in the real world, you have a responsibility to understand FACTS. When your heart is the master of your head, you wind up wasting a hell of a lot of other people's money, in spite of the purity of your intentions.

---

By the way, I'm not opposed to LRAP programs which are SPECIFICALLY tailored to meet an identified need (supported by FACT, not conjecture, as the current bill is). If we truly need more PDs, then lets offer ROTC-like scholarships to people who agree as 1Ls to do that for 5 years or whatever. Same thing with teachers. Why is it that HOW money is spent - as opposed to just the fact that it is - is such a hard concept to grasp?

A great example - John Kerry proposed a teacher scholarship program, not unlike ROTC (Feds pay for college, you do the job for X years when you graduate). I had thought that was a great idea since I was in ROTC myself. But Kerry's proposal would have covered ANY teacher at ANY school, and would only require 2 years. I would have made it available ONLY to teachers willing to teach at identified failing schools, or special needs schools (my dad grew up in a deaf community and was the recipient of an LRAP program because of the amount of Indians in the school district in which he taught, so I get it), and would require at least 4 years of service in that school. Kerry's solution would have addressed a problem, but would have been like using a fire hose to fill a shot glass - lots and lots of other people's "water" wasted.

It's irresponsible and immoral to be so unthinkingly free with other people's money. Just ask yourself - from whom should we take the LRAP dollars? Who should be deprived of over $1,000,000 per year, just so someone can be a political lobbyist for the ACLU instead of having a real job? It's time to join the grown up world (crotchety though it may be) and understand that there's no free lunch here, that your "solutions" aren't, and that more spending does NOT automatically = more benefit to the public.

Anonymous said...

Oh how I hope this will be the last post on this. I’m too goddamn busy (in LAW SCHOOL!) to keep going back and forth on this. That being said…a couple points:

I go back and forth on keeping my posts anonymous. I’m sticking with it though because I don’t want to have to keep going with this when we run into each other in the hall. “What happens on the internet, stays on the internet,” is my philosophy here.
---
As far as the lobbying goes, I just disagree with you that there was any lobbying done or encouraged by the school. I still have the email. It doesn’t say who sent it, but it does direct questions to Amelia Kegan. I don’t know who that is, but I’m guessing it’s one of the PILA people who is working on this issue.

I get a bunch of crap over lawdawgs. Sometimes it looks like school-sanctioned stuff. Sometimes it’s just stuff that’s relevant to the school community, but isn’t sanctioned or run by the school. There’s plenty of stuff that gets distributed over that email list that’s just “FYI.” There isn’t any language in that LRAP email indicating that it is conveying a position of the law school.

Ultimately, I don’t see anything wrong with the lawdawgs email list being used to pass along info that’s relevant and important to the school community. And I still disagree that this is a political issue at all similar to abortion or gay-marriage legislation.
---
As to the left-leaning nature of the organizations that will benefit from this. You attend one of the most left-leaning law schools, in one of the most left-leaning states, in a profession that as a whole tends to be left-leaning. You’re going to have to come to grips with this or you’re going to have a brain hemorrhage.

Regardless of the professional choices of many graduates of this school, the language of the bill itself (SB 6039) conveys the broad applicability of this program:

From Section 1:
“The nationwide decline in the percentage of new lawyers choosing to enter public interest law fields, from five and four-tenths percent to two and nine-tenths percent in the last thirty years, can be substantially attributed to dramatic increases in higher education debt coupled with wide discrepancies between public and private salaries for new lawyers…It is the intent of this act to provide for the partial or full repayment of educational loans of University of Washington law school graduates who provide legal services in a public service area of the law within Washington state.”

From Section 2:
“(3) The loan repayment assistance program must be available to otherwise eligible graduates of the law school who work in positions with nonprofit organizations or government agencies. Such positions must be located within Washington state. Government agencies shall include the various branches of the military.”

So, the argument that this bill exists to pour money into ACLU pockets is—by the language of the bill itself—simply incorrect. Many of the recipients of this assistance are going to be working for public defenders, prosecutor’s offices, human service agencies, and, yes, even the military. These are non-partisan positions that benefit the people of Washington, and are justifiably supported by the state government.
---
As to your belief that I should have a methodological study at hand. I don’t have one and I haven’t looked for one. I’m a freaking student. I don’t have time to do this kind of research, much less create a study like this on my own. Not going to happen. So, maybe they exist, maybe not. I don’t know.

For me, the numbers cited in SB 6039, along with the anecdotal evidence I have seen, are enough to convince me that this is a vital, necessary, and useful program.

As for my anecdotal evidence, I met an attorney the other day who is doing child dependency cases for a local Native American tribe. She went to Yale Law School. Her job for the tribe pays peanuts. And it’s hardly the cushy lobbying job you’ve imagined. But the work needs to get done. So, Yale is paying off the bulk of her loans. And that’s under a far more generous program than we would be getting. That’s exactly the kind of work the LRAP will be supporting.
---
Finally, you finish with the argument that “this” could be a better program, or “that” could be a better arrangement. (Conveniently taking the time to diss some John Kerry program that has nothing to do with the task at hand.) Well, those programs sound great. Are you working on creating them? No? Then your argument is basically: “Since I think this program could be better, there should be no program at all.” That kind of sour grapes doesn’t benefit anyone. It’s the kind of “no, no, no” policy argument that, ironically, Seattle is too well-known for.

Rebecca said...
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Rebecca said...
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Rebecca said...

First of all, sorry about the deleted posts, I didn't know it would leave up a notice that said it was deleted.

anonymous,
although I agree that public interest lawyers can do things that pro bono attorneys can't, if it is true that the percentages of students pursuing public interest law has declined, how do you know LRAP is the answer? There has probably been an increase in the amount of law students in that time period; what if the numbers of public interest lawyers have remained the same? From everything I have seen in the various branches of law that are represented under the term 'public interest,' there is not a problem with a lack of committed, qualified applicants for any of the jobs. There are more than enough people to do these jobs.

Unlike Orrin, I think that the goals of public interest law are a social good; however, LRAP is an incredibly indirect, inefficient way of going about it. It takes a bunch of state money and gives it to attorneys, who, let's admit it, even on the lower end of salaries, are doing pretty well. If you want to help lower-income people, this does very little of that; it diverts money to people who are already well off. Even if any given individual can't do the job, there is someone who is qualified to do the job.

I'm not saying there shouldn't be LRAP, just that using state money to achieve it strikes me as a way to divert funds that could be used for people who would really benefit, and instead would use those funds to benefit people who are already pretty privileged.

Orrin Johnson said...

I don't mind anonymity. I mind anonymous personal attacks made in lieu of logic or common sense. Putting your name on this stuff is a good personal check from leveling them.

Your whole post was completely non-responsive. Again - no evidence, no support, no answer to "From whom should we take money." No serious thought given to the "how" beyond the "why" or "if we should." It's an example of a critical thinking bypass - "it's so obviously good, I don't need to justify it with logic or facts."

If I said to you, "I knew a guy once who had a hard time starting his car, and didn't have AAA. I've heard that from one or two other people, too. There might be stats out there, but I don't have time to research them (although I have time to blog endlessly about how I FEEL about it). Based on this alone, I plan on lobbying the state legislature to force you and everyone else you know to pay me $1,000 per year to administer a state roadside assistance program. They're all from my party, so it's gonna pass. If you choose not to pay, you'll be fined or jailed. If you complain, I'll call you names."

If you wouldn't be outraged by that, you're not paying attention. But if not, I have a bridge to sell you that I SWEAR will TOTALLY help little needy sick kids.

Here's the bottom line: 1) There's not a problem in need of solving, and not one thin strand of evidence has been offered to support your contentions to the contrary, 2) even if there is, this solution WILL IN NO WAY solve the problem asserted, and 3) even if both 1 and 2 are by some stroke of luck (as opposed to never completed research) wrong, the admitted inefficiency of the program steals money away from others who will benefit from it vastly more. Because of that, I'd rather see nothing than an expensive non-solution to a non-problem. Again, I'm not the one arguing the status quo should be changed - I don't. But if it MUST be, then there are better ways of doing it.

Rebecca, I don't necessarily disagree that certain attorney jobs are in the social good. Even agenda driven non-profits (I think the FedSoc is in the public interest, obviously). And further, I don't disagree that it's sometimes the correct role of government to fund certain attorney jobs (PDs, DAs, etc.), or subsidize them to encourage more participation. But this bill is clearly not the answer.

Jennifer BC 3L said...

Hurray for Rebecca! As she points out there is no shortage of people willing to work for the peanuts provided in public interest law. In fact, there is woman who graduated last year, was on law review, dying for a public interest job but she cannot find one. There are people lining up to work for the AG's office and the prosecutor's office, but they're not hiring. The state should use money to finance more positions that eager law school grads would be willing to fill even without an LRAP.
The story about Yale paying back a grads loans, good for them, they are using endowment money that they raised from willing donors.

The reason we don't have an LRAP program here is because of lack of institutional will. Just like we don't have adequate funding for the clinics. Blame the dean, he determines the budget. He should be out talking up an LRAP program and raising money from alumni but apparently he has other priorities.

Note to anonymous: Orrin's politics may be not be representative of most of the students here, but his argument is solid and sound. I am disappointed that you feel the need to pick a fight with one of the few students that makes this school interesting. And for the record, Orrin thinks I am a hippie so I am not some right winger coming to his defense because I agree with his ideas. However, for the reasons Rebecca cites and the reasons he set forth in the initial post, I do agree with on this.

I even have the cajones to identify myself :-)

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