Del. lawmakers tackle public attorney shortages with new legislation, incentive to attract/retain talent
DELAWARE – “They love their jobs, they’re passionate about their jobs, they’re dedicated. But it’s really difficult for them to continue to stay on with the state given their amount of student debt,” Delaware State Representative Krista Griffith said.
An American Bar Association study found that 90% of lawyers carry a burden of more than $130,000 of student loan debt, an issue Delaware lawmakers look to tackle with legislation, as House Bill 380 would establish a Public Attorney Student Loan Repayment Program aiming to recruit and retain those who want to work in public service.
“Majority of our folks who’ve responded to the surveys we’ve done say they owe anywhere of $100,000 to $125,000 and that amounts to monthly payments anywhere between $500 to $1,000 depending on the payment program you’re on,” Delaware’s Office of Defense Services Jon Offredo said.
Representative Griffith says that with that massive amount of debt, young lawyers will have very few positions available that pay enough to offset that burden.
The program offers between $2,500 and $5,000 in student loan repayment to attorneys working for the state for more than a year, for up to 10 years. To qualify, those attorneys who work for the state of Delaware must make below $110,000 a year.
Delaware’s Office of Defense Services says another challenge they face in recruitment is pay disparities between the public and private sectors.
“For instance, a first year person just coming out of law school in the private sector may get a job at $150,000, starting salaries at the Office of Defense or Department of Justice are just under $60,000 so much less than half,” Representative Griffith said.
“I can say that in Sussex County in particular we’ve had a job opening for an attorney in our Sussex County office for over a year,” Offredo said.
Those in favor of this legislation say if passed, the first state could become a major player when it comes to jobs in the world of law. “If you can just add $5,000 to someone’s salary that we pay directly to their student loan lender, that can be considered a good incentive to come work in the AG’s office or other offices of the courts,” Executive Director of Delaware Criminal Justice Council Christian Kervick said.
The cost of that program would range from $215,000 to $435,000 yearly depending on the number of those who apply, with Representative Griffith adding that the bill will also need to be included in the budget by the Joint Finance Committee.
Representative Griffith says there’s currently no objection to this legislation as it unanimously passed the Judiciary Committee.
That bill has now been assigned to House Appropriations Committee