Loan forgiveness proposed for rural lawyers

Attorneys who serve low-income citizens in Nebraska’s less populated areas would be eligible for financial aid under a bill heard by the Judiciary Committee Feb. 21.

LB808, introduced by Lincoln Sen. Danielle Conrad, would reduce student loan obligations for attorneys who provide public legal service in rural Nebraska. Public service attorneys practicing in areas having a population of less than 15,000 people would be eligible for $6,000 a year in loan forgiveness. The bill also would provide $500,000 to the loan repayment fund.

Conrad said there are 12 Nebraska counties with no attorneys and areas in the state in which people have to drive 200 miles for legal counsel. LB808 would address this critical shortage of attorneys in rural Nebraska by giving recent law school graduates a financial incentive to move to underserved communities, she said.

Testifying in support of the bill, Dr. Liz Neeley of the Nebraska State Bar Association said law school tuition has nearly doubled over the last decade, leaving an average law school graduate approximately $150,000 in debt.

“This major increase in student loan debt hinders rural Nebraska’s ability to attract lawyers in their communities,” Neeley said.

David Piester of Legal Aid of Nebraska also testified in support of LB808, saying that often, new attorneys can’t afford to provide public service and pay their loans.

“By increasing the amount of money available to assist lawyers with their loan obligations, it facilitates the hiring and retention of lawyers committed to serving the interests of the poor and low-income clients, particularly in rural areas,” Piester said.

No one testified in opposition to the bill and the committee took no immediate action on LB808.

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