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Shoring Up Pro Bono Work in a Tough Economy

by Rebecca Barns

Chief Justice Randall Shepard ’95
Indiana Chief Justice Randall Shepard

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Last fall, Chief Justice Randall Shepard ’95 of the Indiana Supreme Court and his colleagues on the court stepped forward to help rescue a program that recruits and retains attorneys who work for low-income clients. Many of these attorneys face a dilemma: they want to work for non-profit agencies that help the poor, but their low salaries mean they struggle to pay off their high debt from law school.

Since 2006 the Indiana Bar Foundation’s Loan Repayment Assistance Program for Indiana has helped support law school graduates doing legal aid work. The economic downturn caused a suspension in program awards and threatened to force some highly qualified attorneys to seek more profitable positions.

To shore up the program, the Indiana Supreme Court has transferred $25,000 to it. The funds come from fees paid by law graduates who applied to take the bar exam. To encourage private donations, the Supreme Court offers to match new money raised by the Bar Foundation for this purpose up to $175,000.

The help couldn’t come at a better time. Non-profits need attorneys with a passion for pro bono work more than ever, because more people rely on legal aid to resolve their own legal and financial problems.

“The Indiana Supreme Court commends attorneys who are serving the needs of the poor,” says Chief Justice Shepard. “We are pleased to support their efforts and help them repay a small fraction of the educational debt they have likely acquired. It is important that civil legal aid organizations have qualified passionate attorneys representing the needs of the poor.”