As I’ve said before: As long as each of us lives within society, each of us is required to give to it from whatever personal abundance you have. I also recently tweeted that Public Service Loan Forgiveness is my retirement account.
A reporter saw my tweet and asked me if I would talk to her a little about my experiences and opinions of the income-based repayment system and the public service loan forgiveness program. She said it’s clear that student loan debt remains out of control, but she’s trying to figure out how these programs change the landscape. I am happy to talk about it because these programs are life-changing and I am afraid they will be ripped out from under those of us who are depending on their rewards, who are basing career choices on their promise. I need these programs to stay above water and without them, I can never retire.
I told her that PSLF was necessary not simply because it lets me afford my job financially but also because it helps me afford my job emotionally. I chose this work–I always wanted to do public interest lawyering. But this work is hard. It’s tiring, it’s thankless and it’s exhausting. We can’t always show immediate or obvious benefits from our work, either–especially people like me, who work in systemic reform rather than direct services.
It’s also unstable work–funding is always at risk. We’re constantly begging for money from colleagues, friends and people whose annual bonuses are the size of our salaries. That’s depressing. It marginalizes your work and marginalizes you and your colleagues who do the same work.
So loan forgiveness as a reward for public interest work is huge. Receiving a tangible benefit from dedicating a good chunk (10 years) of your career to service changes everything. Having this tiny acknowledgement from the government shows that the work we do is valuable and meaningful. Having this small validation that I am important for the good of my community truly matters. Investment from society in public service careers makes me feel that my investment in society is mirrored.
The law library at the alma says “Law is but the means; Justice is the end”. I was moved by the concept then and I still believe in both, all evidence to the contrary. But we don’t get to justice without investment. Investment in society requires more than the personal effort, emotional or financial sacrifice of motivated professionals and the generosity of small (or large) donors. It requires government participation.
Tangentially, the Marshall Project (which is excellent modern reporting) has a feature on a lawyer in Missouri who defends people in capital cases and who keeps seeing her clients executed. This system is brutalizing this woman, in addition to brutalizing defendants.
The people I know who are most passionate about capital defense and individual justice have this ungodly mixture of optimism, deep cynicism, lethargy and passion. Their coping mechanisms are all specifically very different but often seem to take on magical thinking components, especially those with very hopeless tasks at hand. We owe a duty to defense attorneys to fund them adequately and support them systemically.