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For decades, law school administrators, faculty members, students and graduates have worried about the problem of the ever-increasing cost of attendance at the nation’s law schools, and the rapidly rising average debt of graduating law students. The problem was particularly acute for students who desired careers in public service, because starting salaries in the government and non-profit sectors failed to keep pace with the increase in educational debt of law school graduates. In response, many law schools created loan repayment assistance programs (LRAPs), through which they subsidized loan repayment for some or all of their graduates who undertook public service jobs or careers. Most of these programs are insufficiently funded to meet the needs of their graduates who desire to use them, and demand for financial assistance for lower-income graduates has particularly accelerated as the recession that began in 2008 caused private sector firms to reduce their hiring, prompting more student interest in public sector employment. In addition, many law schools had no LRAP programs at all. Fortunately, Congress has significantly alleviated this problem, passing four laws between 2005 and 2010 that collectively reduce the debt repayment burdens on graduates, particularly (though not exclusively) those in public service. The new legislation also makes it possible for law schools to create or restructure LRAP programs in a way that provides a great deal of debt relief to graduates in public service at the lowest possible cost to the law school. As of this writing (in the summer of 2010), at least seven law schools—the University of California at Berkeley, Georgetown, UCLA, Duke, Northwestern, Virginia, and Suffolk—have altered their LRAP programs to take maximum advantage of the federal legislation, and several others are currently considering modifications. This article, together with an associated web-based calculator, provides guidance for law school administrators and faculty members who desire to coordinate law school LRAP benefits with those provided by federal law, and for law students and alumni who might want to suggest LRAP improvements to their schools.

Publication Citation

50 J. of Legal Ed. 583-615 (2011)