Oregon State Bar Bulletin — DECEMBER 2013



Parting Thoughts

A Common Touch:
The Hon. Ralph M. Holman, 1914-2013
By the Hon. Timothy C. Gerking



An article appeared under my name in the July 2007 Bulletin entitled “Lightening the Burden,” which described the bar’s new Loan Repayment Assistance Program (LRAP). As chair of the advisory committee for the program, I described that LRAP’s purpose was to provide forgivable loans up to $5,000 per year for three years to help pay down the education debt of those OSB members who practice law in civil legal aid offices, as public defenders or as deputy district attorneys. No one should be surprised that these lawyers are at the bottom of the heap in terms of the salaries they earn — yet these are the lawyers who perform the vital work of advancing society’s ideal of equal access to justice for all citizens.

Six years have now passed since LRAP’s inception. I, along with Portland attorney Linda Eyerman, have remained on the committee. Each spring, the committee meets and approves loans between $30,000 to $35,000 to deserving lawyers who have demonstrated a career commitment to public-interest law and who desperately need financial help in paying off their crushing education debt load.

For the older lawyers who are reading this article, yes, the horror stories you have heard are true! Most law school graduates have enormous education debt loads that all too often balloon to $100,000-$150,000 or more. Each year, we on the committee go through the difficult process of selecting a handful from 25 to 40 worthy applications. Because we don’t have nearly enough money to award all of them loans, we do our best to ensure geographic, ethnic, gender and practice-type diversity among those few who are awarded loans. In going through this complicated and sometimes gut-wrenching task, I always find inspiration in the dedication, selflessness and courage these lawyers exemplify, devoting their careers, at great financial sacrifice, to serving those who have little or no financial means to deal with oftentimes insurmountable legal problems. Rather than the so-called “super lawyers,” these public-interest lawyers, it seems to me, are the real heroes of our bar. Over the past seven years, it has been our honor to award forgivable loans to 53 worthy applicants, totaling $505,303. That sounds like a lot of money, but every year we find that it is just not nearly enough.

From time to time, the committee receives letters from past recipients, excerpts from a few I would like to share. Past recipient Eric Dietrick recently wrote and expressed how much the money from LRAP helped him and his young family. He described in his letter how difficult and exhausting it was for he and his wife, who also worked, to raise a small child, deal with the day-and-night responsibilities that child-rearing entails, manage a caseload of 400 criminal cases a year and to be “dead broke” at the same time. And then he said this:

In 2009, the OSB provided me with an LRAP award. For three years, I received funding in semi-annual disbursements to help cover the costs of student loan payments. … Jobs are few and far between, and many of the jobs, important jobs, pay very little.

This year is my seventh year at Multnomah Defenders Inc. Working as a public defender is a remarkable job. So is being a dad. Both jobs are tough. Because of the LRAP, I was able to continue working as a public defender through the “thin” years, even with the added costs of having a family. The LRAP award was a blessing, and the money helped me and my family. For that I am very thankful.

Another recipient was Jennifer Amiott, who is a staff attorney at Native American Program, Legal Aid Services of Oregon (NAPOLS), a program that provides a wide range of legal services to low-income tribes, Native organizations and individual Native people throughout Oregon. Jennifer wrote:

I … feel incredibly lucky to have been chosen to participate in the Oregon State Bar’s LRAP Program. Civil legal aid lawyers are among the lowest paid members of the legal profession. The loan assistance that I received through the LRAP Program helped me to fulfill my financial responsibilities on my legal aid salary. Without assistance from the LRAP Program, I’m not sure that I could have afforded to continue to work in this rewarding and important area of public interest law. I am extremely grateful to the Oregon State Bar for its LRAP Program. Thank you!

The advisory committee wishes to thank the Board of Governors and each member of the bar for supporting this vitally important program.

 


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Timothy C. Gerking is a judge in the Jackson County Circuit Court in Medford.

© 2013 the Hon. Timothy C. Gerking


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