Marion County Prosecutor Carl Brizzi said whoever succeeds him next year will have a tougher time finding talented young lawyers if city officials don't find a way to keep a student loan repayment program in the 2011 budget.To see the rest of the article, click here.
"The student loan program concerns me the most," Brizzi said Wednesday after a hearing before the City-County Council's Public Safety and Criminal Justice Committee. "We're asking lawyers to take a $2,200-plus pay decrease. That's a pretty significant hit when you're making $45,000 a year."
Under the loan repayment program, deputy prosecutors receive about $2,200 a year to make payments on their student loans. Law school is expensive, Brizzi said, noting most newly hired prosecutors are saddled with student loan debts of $100,000 or more.
The cut would mean 98 of the county's 168 prosecutors will have to find other ways to repay their student loans next year, Brizzi said. The move likely would force some talented prosecutors to take better-paying jobs with private law firms, he said.
The loan repayment program costs about $170,000 a year, Brizzi said. The prosecutor's office is trimming about $460,000 from its 2011 budget of $23.6 million.
Brizzi, a Republican who will leave office when his second term ends at the end of the year, said he wrote about the possible effect of cutting the loan repayment money to the men hoping to win his job in the Nov. 2 election -- Republican Mark Massa and Democrat Terry Curry.
City-County Council President Ryan Vaughn, a former deputy prosecutor, said the student loan program helped him repay some of his student debt of about $80,000. Vaughn said he would try to find a way to fund the program in the final budget.
While I can't blame Prosecutor Brizzi for fighting for better pay for his staff, he grossly misstates the realities of the legal job market. The fact is that a $45,000 salary with government benefits straight out of law school is a far better employment situation than most new lawyers receive.
When I graduated from law school in 1987, law firms provided the best salaries. The situation has changed dramatically. Public sector attorney pay have risen while the pay in the private sector has remained flat for 20 plus years. Private law firms remain notoriously bad about paying benefits.
The fact is there are plenty of law firms paying associates salaries of $30,000 to $35,000. It's gotten even worse though - some law firms will not even pay a salary or hourly rate - they'll just pay the associate a portion of whatever legal fees he or she is able to bring into the firm. Recruiting new clients and getting paid by them can be a very difficult thing for a new attorney with little in the way of legal contacts. As a result, associates can find themselves working at a law firm for months, making only a few thousand dollars during that time.
The notion that the Marion County Prosecutor's Office is facing stiff competition for new attorneys from law firms is laughable for anyone who knows what the job market is really like for attorneys. So, on the one hand while I applaud Brizzi for standing up for his attorneys, the fact is he's being very dishonest when he says the student loan repayment program is needed to prevent attorneys from leaving his office to go to private law firms.
As a side note, I found Ryan Vaughn's comment interesting. Here's a guy who had no problem cutting the law library out of the budget, even though the library was of vital importance to the public and downtown lawyers. Vaughn continues to show how out of touch he is with real practicing attorneys.