While it might be standard for graduating law students to struggle with a large amount of student debt, those pursuing law related work in the lower paying public interest fields won’t have to face the daunting task of loan repayments.
Instead, UC Davis’ newly expanded Loan Repayment Assistance Program, LRAP, has offered to shoulder the fees, starting Jan. 1.
Implemented in 1990 and established as the first loan repayment assistance program by a California public law school, the LRAP provides interest-free loans to recently graduated law students planning to pursue careers with public interest organizations.
“One of the biggest impediments for people following their goal of working in public interest is the financial aspect,” said first-year law student Matt Kane. “I’m on loans, and coming out of law school. I’ll be in a huge amount of debt. The loan program definitely heightens the incentive to work in the public interest field.”
Parissa Ebrahimzabeh, first-year law student at UC Davis, also saw the benefit of a program like LRAP.
After interning as a law clerk for the AIDS Legal Referral Panel in San Francisco, an institution providing free and low cost legal assistance to those afflicted with HIV/AIDS, Ebrahimzabeh developed her interest in providing legal assistance for those who cannot easily access the representation they need.
“What attracts me to the public interest field is the people,” she said. “The public interest field works for people who would typically not have access to legal aid otherwise. They need information, resources and access to legal education and answers. Everyone deserves access to that information and to representation for situations they cannot undertake on their own.”
Ebrahimzabeh has accumulated $50,000 in student loans in her first year alone – an amount that could not be reasonably paid off with the type of wages earned in the public interest field, where the median entry salary is about $40,000. The LRAP, however, provides the financial assistance needed for students like Ebrahimzabeh, where escalating student fees have required most to rely on hefty student loans.
“The LRAP makes it possible to pay back loans that would otherwise require a much more significant income to pay back,” Ebrahimzabeh said. “It played a large role in my decision to come to Davis for law school; King Hall has among the best repayment programs and makes it possible to pursue public interest law.”
Recent changes made to the program make an increasing number of students eligible for the LRAP.
The program accommodates graduates who earn up to $60,000 in their field of work, as opposed to the prior salary cap at $53,000. Annual loan forgiveness has also been implemented into the program for those earning $40,000 or less, and partial loan forgiveness for those earning between $40,000 and $60,000.
Program officials verify salaries through a comprehensive application process, wherein applicants provide documentation of their employment and yearly earnings.
“In revamping the program, the main goal was to create a shorter period for loan forgiveness and make salary eligibility requirements realistic,” said Hollis Kulwin, Dean of Student Affairs at King Hall.
“With loan debt increasing, it’s not feasibly possible for students to repay the student loans they need to attend law school while working for relatively low salaries offered by public interest organizations. In making these changes, we want to make as many students eligible as possible and have more consider public interest work,” Kulwin said.*
By making these changes, which will come into effect after Jan. 1, 2010, King Hall hopes to provide an incentive for graduates to not only enter the field of public interest law, but to make it possible for them to remain in their positions.
“Our law school has been the lead in California in encouraging students to pursue careers in the public interest,” Dean Kevin R. Johnson said in a news release. “The expansion comes at a critical time as low-income people struggle for access to justice. We hope that it will encourage more students to pursue their dreams of a public interest career.”
REBECCA SHRAGGE can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.