Law School Provides Debt Forgiveness to Four 'Citizen Lawyers'| March 14, 2005
One of the hallmarks of a William & Mary legal education is its emphasis on educating lawyers to serve the public good. In establishing the Loan Repayment Assistance Program (LRAP), honoring Professor Emeritus John Levy, the school is making the choice of public service for its law graduates more viable.
"We take seriously Thomas Jefferson's original intent for the Law School - that it train aspiring members of the bar to be not only excellent practitioners of the law but also good citizens and leaders of their communities, their states, and nation," said Taylor Reveley, Dean of the Law School. "Our inaugural LRAP awards assist recent graduates who work at very low pay for the public good."
This year, four 2004 graduates have been granted LRAP awards. They are Jason Eisner, Danville, Virginia, Public Defender's Office, Shannon Hadeed, Lynchburg Commonwealth Attorney's Office, Scott Kennedy, Virginia Department of Environmental Quality in Glen Allen, and Hope Townes, Virginia Legal Aid Society, Lynchburg.
"So many of our law students who want to do good and change the world are stymied," John Levy said. "Some of them are influenced by society's assumption that law graduates will work for large law firms and some of them may be reeling with debt. That's why the loan repayment assistance program is so sensible and hopeful. I feel very honored."
Levy has spent a lifetime in both the law and public service. After two years in the Peace Corps teaching English and African history in a secondary school in Nigeria, a stint in the Department of Health, Education and Welfare's education office, and work as director for Richmond's Legal Aid Society, he moved to the Law School, where he became a mainstay of the Legal Skills Program as well as director of clinical education, the summer program abroad, and the graduate LL.M. program.
As Chancellor Professor Emeritus since 2002, Levy has acted as a consultant to the National Center for State Courts for Nigeria, and participated as a Fulbright scholar at Moi University in Kenya. He also chairs the Community Action Board in Williamsburg, overseeing the Head Start program. In addition, Levy volunteers one morning a week for the Head Start program in Gloucester. There, three-, four- and five-year-olds are intrigued by his storytelling and lured into verbalizing their own stories using 'talking sticks' that John hand-carves from fallen cedar trees.
"The talking sticks are a Native American tradition," he said. The stick is passed from person to person and each one tells what the stick represents to them. The holder of the stick is allowed to speak without interruption while the others sit and listen and formulate their own ideas. "Watching the children's faces as they sit and think about the stick or their story or their classmates' stories is a real treasure," Levy said. He and Christie Warren, an adjunct professor at the Law School, have consulted on legal aid projects for Nigeria and may consult on access to the courts for women with the East African nations of Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania in the near future.
One of this year's LRAP award recipients, Scott Kennedy, works in the Petroleum Storage Tanks Division in the Piedmont Regional Office of the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality. Much of his job consists of tracking underground petroleum storage tank (UST) facilities, mostly gas stations, that are out of compliance with state regulations. He assists in bringing enforcement actions against them. "The regulations require UST owners to take certain preventive actions to protect against releases of petroleum into the ground as wells as spills that can occur when the tanks are being filled," he said.
"I think it's great that Professor Levy and the Law School have put the LRAP together," Kennedy said. "I think it already is, and will continue to become, a very positive aspect of the school."
Hope Townes, another 2004 LRAP award recipient, works with the Virginia Legal Aid Society, where she assists low income people in civil matters. "Eventually my primary focus will be in family law," she said, "however, I am currently handling cases in a variety of areas such as housing, health care, consumer law and public benefits."
So far, through her legal aid work, she has helped clients: avoid home foreclosure; stop landlords from using illegal rent collection tactics; get Medicaid, Medicare or FAMIS; receive unemployment benefits; stop unfair debt collection activity; and procure no cost and low-cost divorces.
"The Loan Repayment Assistance Program is a godsend," Townes said. "It would be extremely difficult to pay my student loans and remain in a position I truly enjoy without the LRAP. I can now envision remaining in the pubic service field long term."
A third LRAP recipient, Jason Eisner, works as an Assistant Public Defender who represents indigent criminal defendants.
"Public Defenders' offices provide excellent opportunities for those who wish to create their legacy in the courtroom," Eisner said. "Even brand new attorneys are assigned clients immediately and allowed to undertake courtroom proceedings."
Members of the Law School's LRAP committee who chose this year's recipients are John Levy, Cutler Professor of Law Jayne Barnard, Judith Conti '94, David Dalke '93, Associate Deans Robert Kaplan, Sally Kellam, Patty Roberts, and Faye Shealy, and Emily Meyer '05."I believe that the new LRAP program at William and Mary Law School is a watershed moment in the school's history," said LRAP committee member Judith Conti. "The Law School's goal is to train the 'Citizen Lawyer' and supporting our alumni who go into public interest careers making extreme financial sacrifices to do so, should be a top priority of the school."
Conti was a judicial clerk for the United Stated States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit after graduation from William & Mary Law School. She then represented labor unions, their members and individuals in employment-related legal actions at James & Hoffman in Washington, D.C., before becoming cofounder and director of Legal Services & Administration of the DC Employment Justice Center. The Center is dedicated to serving the employment legal needs of low-wage workers "I can think of no better person to name the fund after than John Levy," Conti said. "Throughout his whole career, before, during and after his time in academia, he has always been a true public servant, giving generously of his time and resources to legal services. He has been a mentor and inspiration to countless students over the years and is the reason why many have chosen to pursue public interest careers."
"As a public interest lawyer myself, I can truly think of no more exciting experience I have had during all my years connected with William and Mary than the LRAP program," she added. "I have never been so proud of any initiative launched by the Law School, and am confident that through the LRAP, we will not only be able to support excellent careers in the public sector, but will also attract more students who are interested in public service careers."
The Loan Repayment Assistance Program (LRAP) was founded to help pay for law school debt incurred for alumni of the William and Mary School of Law who take jobs with high social value but low pay. LRAP will award up to $5,000 in loan forgiveness annually to several recipients. Recipients will be eligible for up to $15,000 over three calendar years. Depending on the mix of applicants in any given year, smaller awards may be made to more than three graduates per year.
Eligible applicants must earn an annual salary of $50,000 or less and work full-time for a legal aid/legal services organization, public defender, prosecutor, government agency, Judge Advocate General corps, or an academic, law-related, nonlegal or other 501(c)(3) organization with a public service mission. Other criteria include the applicant's prior commitment to public service, the size of the law school debt, other financial circumstances, and the cost of living in the applicant's place of residence.
For more information about the William & Mary Law School Loan Repayment Assistance Program, please contact Robert Kaplan at (firstname.lastname@example.org) or 757