Many of today's law graduates are faced with law school debt of more than $100,000 upon graduation. With their undergraduate student loans, their total educational debt often averages far more than $100,000. With a median starting public interest salary in civil legal aid in the low $40,000's and only somewhat higher for public defenders and prosecutors, these mortgage-size debts bar many graduates from pursuing public service legal jobs. Among those graduates who do take such positions, many – when faced with major life decisions such as starting a family – are forced to leave after two to three years of employment.
Loan repayment assistance programs ("LRAPs") have emerged as a solution for relieving the debt burden of some law graduates. LRAPs provide loan repayment or forgiveness or lower loan payments to graduates entering specific types of employment, usually law-related public interest jobs. Most LRAPs contain limits on the amount of income a recipient can earn while participating in such a program. There are various types of LRAPs, administered by law schools, state bar associations and foundations and federal and state governments, providing debt relief to some law graduates. The number of these programs has begun to increase recently, but still do not meet most of the need of many attorneys who would like to work in public interest.
An evaluation of an LRAP for civil legal aid attorneys Making a Critical Difference: Ohio Legal Assistance Foundation's Loan Repayment Assistance Program, found that the $6,000 in assistance given annually to the attorneys has made a positive difference in the financial lives of the attorneys while helping them to afford taking and keeping jobs in legal aid organizations in Ohio. These findings can be used by others who are working to begin, maintain or improve an LRAP, whether it is a law school, employer or statewide program. A copy of the report is available here.
This Report provides an analysis of the educational debt problem, discusses the impact of the problem on the legal profession and society, summarizes strategies that have been developed to help address the problem and highlights some success stories using these methods. The Report includes ten conclusions about the debt burden issue and its impact on the profession and presents 19 detailed recommendations which, taken together, constitute a comprehensive package designed to provide relief for and incentives to lawyers who want to serve their communities through public service careers. Note that some of the recommendations were addressed in the College Cost Reduction and Access Act of 2007. More information about this can be found here.
The Tool Kit contains a wealth of information about creating statewide, as opposed to law school-specific, loan repayment assistance or forgiveness programs for lawyers pursuing public service legal jobs. When the Toolkit was published in 2003, there were eight statewide LRAPs; today there are 24. The Tool Kit is designed to encourage the creation of additional programs. The Tool Kit includes information about the eight programs existing in 2003, sample LRAP legislation with an analysis, guidance on creating an independent nonprofit organization to administer a program and other resources to assist bar leaders, law deans and other stakeholders in creating these state programs. Please note that descriptions of specific statewide loan repayment assistance programs may be out of date. Click here or contact for updated information about specific LRAPs.
For additional information, after reviewing these web pages, please contact the Committee's staff.