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Author Topic: USF, Idaho: Public Defender?  (Read 1265 times)

kmm420

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USF, Idaho: Public Defender?
« on: April 21, 2009, 06:27:50 PM »
Hello everyone--
This is my first time posting here, though I've been looking at the forum for a few months now. Here's my question:

While I'm still waiting to hear back from a few of my reach schools (UCLA and Davis, in particular), I'm fairly certain that I won't get in to these schools and will have to choose from the schools I've already been admitted to. I got into USF, which I would be totally psyched about- if the tuition wasn't $38K, plus books and living expenses. If I had gotten into Hastings I would go there in a heartbeat but as it stands, USF is the best Bay Area school I got into, and it seems pretty tempting. I'm finishing undergrad at UC Berkeley (UGPA= 3.51) and I'd like to practice in the area (or somewhere in Cali- I'm from LA, where my family lives).

However, there is one major problem: debt. It has been weighing very heavily on my mind and, although it may be a played out subject on this board, I'd like to hear what some of you say on the matter regarding my situation. When I graduate I want to work as a public defender, preferably in California. I've heard that it is fairly difficult to get this kind of work and that to do so you pretty much need to go to a well ranked school in CA and intern at a PD office every summer. Is this true? If I end up going to USF I reckon I'll be more able to get an internship or work at a PD office in CA- but I'll also be $130K in debt when I graduate. This is more money than I can fathom. While I know for sure that I want to be a lawyer, I just don't know if I can justify to myself spending that much for a degree.

Another school I got into was the University of Idaho. I applied there on a whim because my parents have a house there and it is really pretty up there. If I go there, I have calculated that I can graduate with less than $25K in debt (recieving in-state tuition and the $3K scholarship/year they offered me). This actually seems really great to me: getting away from the city might be good (since I am a party animal) and I want to believe that the lower debt will benefit me in the long run. But will it?

If I want to work as a public defender in California (or possibly Washington), would it be totally crazy for me to go to Idaho? I know that they have a good pro-bono program, and that I saw them in the Princeton Review's book of "184 Best Law Schools" or whatever, but other than that it seems people have barely heard of them. How important is prestige and location of your law school when it comes to public defender work? How hard would it be to pay off $130K in loans, if I went to USF and chose to work as a PD afterwards? It seems like a losing proposition to me, since I'd be stuck with huge monthly payments for what seems like a lifetime. What do you guys think?

A few things are worth noting: I don't care about living in the boonies for a few years, and I want to be able (financially) to have a family. On the other hand, I don't think UI has much of a criminal law program, which is what I'm interested in, though they do have something called "Advocacy and Dispute Resolution," which might apply to what I'm interested in. Does this change things?

Also, I am interested in the prospect of going to Idaho for a year and then transferring to a school in CA like Southwestern, Golden Gate, UCI or USF. Supposing I finish in top percent of my class in my first year (yes, I know I can't count on it), how likely do you think this is? I wish I could have gone straight to a CA school but alas- I bombed on my LSATs (logic games suck -->156). What if I retook them and did better?

Thank you for your opinions. Don't hold back!

dashrashi

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Re: USF, Idaho: Public Defender?
« Reply #1 on: April 21, 2009, 06:34:00 PM »
Some general thoughts:

One should never plan to transfer. One should always plan on graduating from the school you enroll in, since transferring is always a crapshoot even assuming you do well enough to make it a possibility.

Advocacy and Dispute Resolution sounds more like ADR (alternative dispute resolution, i.e. negotiation/mediation) than traditional litigation, which is more what you'll be focusing on as an aspiring PD.

Retaking and reapplying might be a good idea for you since common wisdom is that logic games are the most learnable of the sections.

Regarding your bigger questions, I don't have enough knowledge of the west coast to really have an informed opinion. The general consensus is that if your school is regional, then that's where you should anticipate working right out of law school. I kind of doubt that the UIdaho market would extend as far as CA/Seattle, but again, I am just spitballing.
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botbot

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Re: USF, Idaho: Public Defender?
« Reply #2 on: April 21, 2009, 06:42:17 PM »
Idaho or retake.  $130k debt as a Socal PD would be miserable.

Matthies

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Re: USF, Idaho: Public Defender?
« Reply #3 on: April 21, 2009, 06:42:38 PM »
ID is probably not going to carry far into CA. If you can get summer PD work there 1 and 2L you might be able to get an offering (assuming that the PD you chose has both offerings and a budget to pay new PDs). But if you can get out of ID for $25k total then beg, borrow or steal another 30k or so you could move back to CA intern for free for 6-12 months and make connections and still come out with half the debt. Or you could see if USF will let you go part time, get a PT job, pay down your laonds then try get a paying gig (not likely) at the PDs for years 2,3 and 4.
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Moe Zhust

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Re: USF, Idaho: Public Defender?
« Reply #4 on: May 13, 2009, 04:14:28 PM »
My advice is go to USF.  (Full disclosure:  I'm a 1L there)

1) Location, location, location.
2) Unlike many/most law schools, at USF Criminal Procedure is a required first year course.  That means that you will have a leg up over 1Ls from higher-ranked schools when it comes to getting crim-law summer employment that first summer.
3) Many profs and students at USF are very supportive of students with your goals.  Join the Crim Law Society and get to know your Crim Law and Crim Procedure profs and they will help you.
4) Recent changes to the law have made debt repayment and debt forgiveness much easier for people who go on to do public service work.  These changes to the law are still too new to be reflected in many Law Career/Law School Survival books.  Check out recent news articles or just call up Jamal at the USF financial aid office to find out the details.  It might be as easy as working in the public sector for 10 years and your debt goes poof.
5)I'd be more worried about self-identifying as a party animal.  Dude, it's law school.  Get serious.  Get good grades.  You might get a scholarship for your last two years.
6) It's crazy to decline USF and go elsewhere with the intention of then transferring to USF.
7) It's cool that you are certain of your goals, but they might change.  In that case, see 1) above.

Good Luck!  Go Dons!   

Miss P

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Re: USF, Idaho: Public Defender?
« Reply #5 on: May 13, 2009, 04:43:48 PM »
OP, as someone who has lived in the Pacific Northwest and who plans to be a public defender, I agree with most of the responses above, particularly with Dashrashi. 

That said, the Federal Defenders of Eastern Washington and Idaho is a highly respected office, and I imagine they pull interns from local schools.  That office also has strong ties to the Federal Defenders of San Diego, one of the only federal public defenders that hires attorneys straight out of law school.  (The former executive director in San Diego, the legendary Judy Clarke, left to become the executive director in Eastern Washington, and I believe she is back working in San Diego.)  Obviously, these are rather tenuous connections -- you can't very well start law school expecting to get a job at FDSD because you live in a state where its former director used to work -- but Idaho is not as far out in the woods as some states.

FWIW, the Defender Association of Seattle is another reputable office that was a pioneer in the client-centered representation movement.  I don't know how easy it would be to get summer gigs there from Idaho, but it's worth asking the Idaho career center people about; they may have a relationship.


Idaho or retake.  $130k debt as a Socal PD would be miserable.

I don't think this response is based on any knowledge of the California PD market.  It is difficult to break into from out of state, and it will be much easier for the OP to get a good PD job from a California school, particularly one with a good local reputation like USF.  One reason for this is that California has specialized evidence, criminal procedure, and professional responsibility rules.  Obviously, you have to learn them for the bar anyway, but in my experience (having interviewed for three highly competitive California PD jobs from out of state), employers were very curious about whether I had studied California law in school.

Also, Southern California PD offices pay more than any state-level defenders in the country outside of San Francisco.  And with the new federal loan forgiveness program for public servants, the OP can expect to make income-based payments and have the majority of debt forgiven after ten years anyway.



That's cool how you referenced a case.

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Ninja1

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Re: USF, Idaho: Public Defender?
« Reply #6 on: May 13, 2009, 07:11:24 PM »
USF if you're SURE you want to be a public defender. You can get on the loan forgiveness program and get all of your remaining debt cleared after 10 years on the job. And, while doing that, you can get on the income (sensitive or based, I forget which) repayment program where you pay based on your income, not your debt.

So yeah, get the degree from the better school and pay about the same amount back.

http://www.finaid.org/loans/publicservice.phtml
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SwampFox

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Re: USF, Idaho: Public Defender?
« Reply #7 on: May 13, 2009, 10:23:17 PM »
Public defender jobs are actually very competitive?  That blows my mind.  Certainly, the ones around where I live aren't.  The local district attorney once joked that "there's a reason they're called the 'lawyers of last resort.'"
All that aside, I would say go to Idaho.  It's hard to justify 130k+ of debt for a job that pays, what, 45k/year out of the gate?  Even if you take 25 years to pay it off, you'll be paying over $900/month on it at 7% interest (almost $1200/month for only fifteen years).  At that kind of salary, you will lose half your take-home pay to debt service, leaving just about $1200 or so to pay rent, food, insurance, etc...in Southern California, of all places!  I wouldn't bank on the debt forgiveness program, either; a lot can happen in ten years.
Most people on this site will always tell you to go to the better-ranked school or the school located right next to where you want to live, but I think that's way overblown.  I've never seen the working world work that way for other professions.  Save yourself the years of misery and go to Idaho.

Miss P

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Re: USF, Idaho: Public Defender?
« Reply #8 on: May 13, 2009, 10:28:09 PM »
Public defender jobs are actually very competitive?  That blows my mind.  Certainly, the ones around where I live aren't.  The local district attorney once joked that "there's a reason they're called the 'lawyers of last resort.'"

Where do you live?  Public defender jobs in major cities are extremely competitive.
That's cool how you referenced a case.

Quote from: archival
I'm so far from the end of my tether right now that I reckon I could knit myself some socks with the slack.

SwampFox

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Re: USF, Idaho: Public Defender?
« Reply #9 on: May 13, 2009, 10:50:27 PM »
Public defender jobs are actually very competitive?  That blows my mind.  Certainly, the ones around where I live aren't.  The local district attorney once joked that "there's a reason they're called the 'lawyers of last resort.'"

Where do you live?  Public defender jobs in major cities are extremely competitive.
Mid-sized city in the Carolinas.  The two public defenders in the small town where I grew up (elsewhere) had awful reputations.  They both had degrees from "law schools of last resort," I think, too.
Again, I'm amazed to hear that it's different elsewhere, but you learn something every day, I guess.