Public Interest Lawyer Says Loaned Associates Should Be Permanent Program

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Deferred law firm associates are providing much-needed legal help for legal aid and public interest groups battered by a reduction in private grants. In fact, the program has proved so beneficial that at least one lawyer says it should become permanent.

Law firms have paid stipends to hundreds of associates whose start dates were pushed back, often with the requirement that the new lawyers spend their time working for nonprofits or government offices. Esther Lardent, president of the Pro Bono Institute, told the Associated Press that the programs benefit associates because they can get more experience going to court and interacting with clients than they could get in their first year at big law firms.

Some lawyers are suggesting that sending new lawyers into the field is such a good idea that it shouldn’t be dropped when the recession ends. One of them is Barbara Arnwine, executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

The programs were “a creative response by the firms to what was a very ugly crisis,” Arnwine told AP. “My wish going forward is that what you can do in bad times you can do in good times.”

The article profiled some lawyers who are working in public interest jobs. One of them is Albinas Prizgintas, who is being paid $80,000 by Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr after he volunteered to take a year’s deferral to work at the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia.

“It would seem almost absurd to be angry about $80,000 when every day you’re dealing with clients who are hoping that any day that check comes in,” he told AP. The article also points out that his salary is far higher than the typical $40,000 paycheck for a new legal aid lawyer.

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