Swayed by repayment programs

December 7, 2009
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Last week, two large law schools announced updates to their loan forgiveness programs. The Berkley School of Law at the University of California and Georgetown University Law Center will now cover all law school loan debt for graduates who work in public interest areas for at least 10 years, with some exceptions, of course.


The schools’ programs are working in tandem with the College Cost Reduction & Access Act, the federal program that will forgive loan balances after the borrower has made payments for 10 years. Participants in the federal program have their monthly loan payments capped at around 10 percent of the borrower’s income. The Berkley and Georgetown programs will pay those capped monthly payments until the debt is forgiven by the federal government.


The schools’ programs will pay all capped costs for graduates making up to a certain salary amount – those who exceed that limit will have their loans paid back on a sliding scale.


The announcement from Berkley and Georgetown comes on the heels of news from Harvard Law School that it’s ending its program designed to help students because of overwhelming interest. Harvard launched it in 2008 and it would waive 3L tuition for students that committed to public interest jobs for five years after graduation.


Indiana recently restarted its loan repayment program thanks to funds from the Indiana Supreme Court. Indiana’s loan program is for attorneys working at civil legal aid organizations. The Indiana Bar Foundation’s Loan Repayment Assistance Program had been suspended due to low funds.


The four law schools in Indiana also list information on their Web sites about their respective LRAP programs.


After reading about the Berkley and Georgetown programs, I couldn’t help but wonder if law school applicants interested in public interest jobs would be swayed to attend a school which had a great loan repayment or assistance program like these. A Georgetown law professor was quoted in a news article as saying the school hopes it will attract more applicants with the program.


With a new emphasis on helping graduates with public interest aspirations repay their loans, or have them repaid completely, how much will this impact students going to “Big Law” firms? We hear that some students go to large firms only because of the crushing amount of debt they face after graduation. Will these types of programs cause more to go into public interest jobs because they won’t have to worry as much about their student loans?

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