A challenge by Indiana Chief Justice Randall Shepard to revive a program that subsidizes student-loan payments for lawyers who offer pro bono work is falling short of a self-imposed goal.
Shepard asked the Indiana Bar Foundation in 2009 to raise $175,000 by November this year to bring back the Loan Repayment Assistance Plan. So far, though, the foundation has raised only $73,400 toward a goal of creating an endowment for the program.
Indiana Bar Foundation Director Chuck Dunlap said it’s unlikely the goal will be met by November, but he nevertheless predicted success—eventually.
“We were hoping to be a little bit further on, and with everything going on in the economy, it’s a challenging time,” Dunlap said. “We’re satisfied with that.”
The program, renamed the Givan Loan Repayment Assistance Plan in 2009 in honor of former Indiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Richard Givan, who served on the court from 1969-1994, provides student loan assistance for attorneys who do primarily pro bono legal work. To qualify, attorneys must earn less than $50,000 per year.
The program was initially funded through the state’s Interest on Lawyers’ Trust Accounts—a fund created by the state Supreme Court in 1987 that required attorneys holding money in trust for clients to keep them in interest-bearing accounts. Interest on the trust money funded the pro bono services.
However, the recent recession and subsequent fall of interest rates squeezed money coming into the program, and it had to be suspended. The Supreme Court stepped in and offered $175,000 in matching funds to endow the program.
Many of the donations to the resurrected fund have come from individual attorneys and justices, Dunlap said. The foundation has had little success raising money from private community foundations because they are focusing more on direct human services needs.
Attorneys familiar with the program say it’s critical for helping lawyers who sometimes carry upward of $100,000 in student loans.
John Floreancig, director of the Indianapolis Legal Aid Society, has a staff of nine lawyers, and recently lost an attorney due to student loans.
John Sage, an Indianapolis Legal Aid Society attorney who has received the funds three times, said the program has allowed him to provide free work.
“It’s among a number of programs that will influence attorneys, especially new attorneys, to think about a career in public service, or at least public service law while they learn enough law to move on somewhere else,” Sage said.
Dunlap said bills hit quickly for the young, idealistic attorneys typically attracted to pro bono work: “Two or three years after, reality hits, they want to start a family, buy a house. A lot of times, that’s when people drop out.”
Floreancig has noticed an increase in demands on the society, which handles civil cases. More than half of the Indianapolis Legal Aid Society’s cases involve family law.
“The entire reason we’re here is, these people have nowhere else to turn to,” Floreancig said.•