When you need advice or help, who do you ask? Do you ask just anyone, or do you ask someone who has been in a similar situation or understands what may have led to the situation? You look for someone who could have been in your shoes and has the ability to give you good advice. Following that logic, if you need a lawyer, wouldn’t it make sense for someone with a similar background to yours to represent you? If so, it makes sense that lawyers should represent the population in terms of race and socioeconomic status. But that just isn’t the case. Minorities are the least likely to attend law school.
Minorities are often underrepresented in the public sphere. The 115th Congress is the most diverse in history, with a mere 19 percent made up of nonwhites. According to the Census Bureau, 39 percent of the U.S. population is nonwhite, nearly double those who are representing them. For true racial and class change to happen, we need lawyers who come from and deeply understand those groups.
Diversity in lawyers is important for democracy, but minorities are less likely to go to school for law. Law school costs a lot (according to Good Financial Cents, a three-year law school costs over $100,000 for the top 60 schools before adding in undergraduate costs). Additionally, minorities borrower more on average than non-minorities and get lower paying jobs — most often in government or the public sector — than whites who attend law school.
It’s a catch-22 that the disadvantaged people who avoid law school because of cost are the ones that would benefit society the most as lawyers. According to Aaron Taylor, Executive Director of the AccessLex Center for Legal Education Excellence, this transforms the student loan problem into a social justice issue. Since the Higher Education Act of 1965 was passed, college has been more accessible to those who would not have been able to afford it, but it comes at a cost.
For those disadvantaged students who more often end up in lower-paying government or public sector jobs, the risk of borrowing the full cost of higher education, especially for a law degree, is too high.
Taylor argues the solution to this is access to loan forgiveness, which is currently available in the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program. However, PSLF is slated to be eliminated by the Trump administration. Taylor advocates that programs like PSLF remain in effect for the benefit of society as a whole: “In order to ensure the preservation of our democracy, we should remain true to the social welfare origins of the federal student aid system. Loan forgiveness options must be fortified as a matter of social justice and equity, not restricted.”
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