Joshua Wilkinson

Joshua’s Essay

During my time in law school I’ve had the opportunity to work at a small family
law firm. I decided to work in family law because as a child I was placed in foster care at
the age of eleven. My mother was a drug addict who let her addiction get he best of her.
During this time my father quit his job and attempted to keep his family together. We lost
our home, the Department of Child and Family Services placed us in foster care, and my
father was left with no money and no idea what to do next. My father had no financial
resources to pay for legal services, he tried to argue his own case but as an auto mechanic
with no legal training he was helpless. I’m not angry or vindictive about what happened
to my family, I have been extremely fortunate in my life since that time. I don’t blame
my mother, my father or the legal system. However, because of my experience I have
always recognized that there is a problem and it’s something I have thought about since I
was young.

My personal experience is why I decided to go to law school. Working at the
family law firm has been incredibly rewarding. I wanted to help children and parents like
my father overcome the obstacles of a well meaning but sometimes cold and confusing
legal system. At the firm I have seen families reunited because of the amazing work of
the attorneys. I’ve even seen legal fees written off for some of the lower income families.
I thought to myself “I want to be able to do that.” Unfortunately, while many graduating
law students try to maintain frugality during law school, the rising costs of tuition
coupled with the lower starting salaries for attorneys in recent years makes it difficult for
any attorney to help the less fortunate when there is so much student debt. Every month I
get a reminder from my student loan provider of how hard it will be for me to accomplish
what I set out to when I started law school.

To remedy the situation I have come up with a solution that would be beneficial
to low-income families, attorneys, as well as the government in its efforts to remedy the
student debt crisis and assure adequate legal assistance to those in need. The solution is
government-approved assistance for legal services, similar to food stamps or Medicaid.
The service would be offered to low income families in a similar way to current forms of
government assistance except the funds would not come from the same place. These low-
income individuals or families would have to apply for legal services similar to the way
they apply to receive public assistance for food, housing and Medicaid. In turn attorneys
who have significant student debt but still have a desire to help low income individuals
would submit receipts for these legal services as credits toward their federally backed
student loans. The federal loan program has already shown its willingness to forgive
student debt for public service in the legal field by providing student loan forgiveness for
attorneys who work in public sector for ten years or more. This program would be an
extension of this effort by the federal government to promote public service while also
aiding attorneys with their student debt. Such a program would not only bridge the gap in
justice for the poor, it would closer align the ideals of private practice with public service,
all while helping to alleviate the student debt crisis.

The program would be run in such a way that it would be very difficult for an
attorney to abuse. In addition to relying on the rules of professional responsibility, any
services submitted for credit towards student debt could be verified by the client in an
affidavit, with final approval from the judge or commissioner adjudicating the case. The
program would apply to necessary legal services approved of by the governing agency.
This program would be a win for everyone involved and a huge step forward in bridging
the justice gap currently found in the legal system.