Sen. Bob Hertzberg introduces plan to promote legal services for low-income Californians

Announcement comes on 99th anniversary for ‘the people’s attorney’

January 29, 2015

SACRAMENTO – In an effort to ensure that low-income Californians have greater access to equal justice, Sen. Bob Hertzberg today announced a plan to help attorneys pay off student loans if they agree to practice in key areas of public-interest law. Funding would come from donations to a special fund.

“People who love the law may be inspired by former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, who was nominated to the Court in January 1916 – or 99 years ago today – because he devoted his life to promoting social justice and legal services for the poor, often without pay,” Hertzberg, D-Van Nuys, said about Senate Bill 134. “He was known as the ‘people’s attorney’ and a ‘Robin Hood of the law’ and my hope is we will celebrate next year’s 100th anniversary of Brandeis’ appointment with a flood of donations to promote justice, equality and greater interest in legal services helping the less fortunate among us.” 

Hertzberg, himself a lawyer, also noted that among Brandeis’ notable early cases were actions fighting railroad monopolies and defending workplace and labor laws. Brandeis also campaigned for savings banks to provide life insurance for poor people. 
 
Today, there is often little incentive to work in public-interest areas of law since the pay often is substantially lower than in private practice, Hertzberg said. 
According to the American Bar Association, the average debt of a 2012 law school graduate was about $85,000 when graduating from a public school, and $122,000 from a private school. This level of debt makes it difficult for attorneys to pay off their debt, despite any interest in public service. 

As a result, legal-service advocates, such as child support agencies, have found it increasingly difficult to keep talented attorneys.
Specifically, SB 134 would authorize the California State Bar Association to collect voluntary fees to the Public Interest Loan Repayment Program when collecting mandatory annual Bar Association dues. The Legislature created the program years ago to help repay the student loans of attorneys if they agreed to practice in certain public-interest areas of law, but the program has not been funded.  
Qualifying work areas include: 
•    A legal services organization that serves a clientele where more than 70 percent of clients are low-income persons, according to applicable federal income guidelines.
•    A prosecuting attorney’s office.
•    A child support agency office.
•    A public defender’s office. 

If SB 134 is signed into law, the California Student Aid Commission would administer the program. The commission could make 3,000 awards annually, given sufficient funding. Participants are eligible for a maximum of $11,000 in four years of service. 

“It is in the best interests of the state to ensure that all Californians, and not just those who are better off, have equal access to quality legal services,” Hertzberg said. “With that will come equal access to justice.” 

The date of an initial policy hearing on SB 134 has not yet been set. 

For more, including a Fact Sheet on SB 134, visit Hertzberg’s Web site at the address below.

Bob Hertzberg, chair of the Senate Committee on Governance and Finance, represents nearly 1 million San Fernando Valley residents of Senate District 18, which includes part of Burbank and the following communities in Los Angeles: Arleta, Granada Hills, Hansen Dam, Lake View Terrace, Mission Hills, North Hills, North Hollywood, part of Northridge, Pacoima, Panorama City, Sherman Oaks, Studio city, part of Sun Valley, Sylmar, Toluca Lake, Valley Glen, Valley Village, Van Nuys, the city of San Fernando and Universal City. See a district map HERE or at http://sd18.senate.ca.gov/district.  After serving in the Assembly from 1996-2002, including two years as Speaker, Hertzberg built an international renewable energy business; invested in solar, wind and electric-car projects; and worked for structural changes in government through two civic groups: California Forward and the Think Long Committee of California. More HERE or at www.senate.ca.gov/hertzberg

MEDIA CONTACT: Ray Sotero
Communications Director
Sen. Bob Hertzberg, Senate District 18
Capitol Building, Room 4038
Sacramento, Calif. 95814
(916) 651-4018 office; 916 834-1128 cell
www.sen.ca.gov/hertzberg

 

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