Open Letter from HLS Alumni: Harvard Law School Must Improve Loan Assistance Program

Dear Dean Manning, Assistant Dean Lafler, and Assistant Dean Shabecoff:

We are a group of Harvard Law School alumni dedicated to careers in public interest law. We work across the fields of public interest law, including as public defenders, prosecutors, legal services lawyers, civil rights attorneys, environmental litigators, and policy advocates. We are writing to express some significant concerns regarding LIPP and to begin a dialogue about how Harvard can more effectively support its public interest alumni community.

We are extremely grateful for the foundation Harvard Law School gave us for our public interest law careers. We developed critical lawyering skills as students in HLS’s clinics, benefited from SPIF summer funding that allowed us to pursue public interest internships, and gained useful research, writing, and substantive law training through doctrinal courses. Many of us began our careers in public interest through generous funding from the Public Service Venture Fund or other similar HLS fellowships. For all of that, we express our sincerest gratitude. Still, we believe that Harvard, like every institution, has room to grow, particularly in the area of post-graduate loan repayment support for public interest attorneys.

Admitted law students frequently reach out to us and other HLS alumni who work in public interest fields to hear our opinions about whether to attend HLS or one of HLS’s “peer” schools. Faced with the prospect of taking on hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt, admitted students commonly ask us about the financial consequences of choosing HLS over other schools. While HLS has much to offer in terms of preparation, training, and support for students who intend to pursue public interest law, we are disappointed to report that LIPP leaves much to be desired when prospective students are weighing their options from a financial perspective.

LIPP’s participant contribution levels are significantly higher than those of the loan repayment programs at Yale, Stanford, and NYU. While each school’s program uses a different formula for the baseline calculation of participant contribution, HLS’s formula leads to higher contributions for its alums across virtually all income levels. Using the example of an attorney who earns $70,000 per year, that attorney’s annual loan repayment would be $8,000 if she went to HLS, $4,750 if she went to Stanford, $3,750 if she went to Yale, and $0 if she went to NYU. An attorney earning $50,000 per year would pay $600 annually if she went to HLS, but $0 if she went to Yale, Stanford, or NYU. For an attorney earning $90,000 annually, HLS’s program requires payment of $16,000 annually, as compared to $15,750 under Stanford’s program, $12,750 under Yale’s, and $4,000 under NYU’s. To illustrate the discrepancy in a starker fashion, assuming an average income of $70,000 per year for ten years of public interest employment post-graduation, the amount of time necessary to complete full repayment under all of the schools’ programs, the HLS alum will have paid $70,000, as compared to $37,500 for the Yale alum, $28,500 for the Stanford alum, and $0 for the NYU alum (assuming, in the latter instance, that she never earned over $80,000).[1] These differences are substantial, amounting to what could be a comfortable amount of savings or a down payment on a home. For those of us with less of a cushion, it means being able to pay our bills and stay out of additional personal debt.

It further bears mentioning that LIPP also includes far less generous credits for alumni with dependent children as compared to its peer schools. LIPP offers a credit of $6,000 for the first dependent child and $3,600 for each additional dependent. Yale and Stanford both offer a dependent care credit of $8,000 per child.

We recognize that LIPP may be more generous than peer schools’ programs in other dimensions, such as the flexibility afforded to alumni who wish to go in and out of public interest jobs, who wish to transition into public interest later in their careers, or for those who pursue non-traditional public interest jobs. Such alumni would not reap as much benefit from a loan repayment program such as NYU’s, which for full benefits requires integration with the federal loan repayment program (i.e., concurrent participation in the federal public service loan forgiveness program, which requires ten years of employment in qualifying public interest jobs).[2] For HLS alumni who dedicate their careers to public service, however, the ability to go in and out of LIPP provides no benefit at all.

Accordingly, and for the reasons set forth above, when conversing with these prospective students who enter law school with the sound foresight and expectation of being career public interest attorneys, we cannot, in good faith, promote LIPP over the financial assistance programs of our peer schools such as Yale, Stanford, and NYU. Indeed, we find ourselves encouraging such prospective students to actively consider attending another law school that will be more financially generous with loan forgiveness over the course of their public interest career.

As HLS alumni, we are proud that our school is well represented in all ranks of the public interest law field. We are concerned, however, that due to its failure to keep pace with other schools’ loan repayment programs, HLS will no longer have this strong presence in public interest law, or that if it does, it will be only through students privileged enough to attend HLS without taking on debt. If fewer students who are interested in pursuing dedicated careers in public interest law choose to attend HLS, it will affect all aspects of campus life, from the strength of the extracurricular life on campus to the diversity of debate in the classroom.

We strongly urge HLS to reconsider the terms of its loan repayment program and more closely align the program with those of its peer schools. We request that a committee be formed with alumni currently participating in LIPP to engage with the administration about potential reform. We hope that reforms will be instituted by Spring 2018, in advance of the acceptance deadline for admitted students to the HLS class of 2021. We look forward to working together on these challenging questions with the shared goal of preserving HLS’s reputation as a leader in the public interest law field. We thank you for your attention.

Sincerely,

Michael Admirand ‘10

William Ahe ‘17

Conor Ahern ‘15

Katherine Aizpuru ‘14

Kendra Albert ‘16

Charlotte Alvarez ‘12

Micaela Alvarez ‘17

Mihal Ansik ‘16

Evelyn Atkinson ‘12

Torie Atkinson ‘15

Sima Atri ‘15

Lily S. Axelrod ‘15

Aysha Bagchi ‘17

Chad Baker ‘15

Ona Balkus ‘13

Sara Bartel ‘13

Lauren Bateman ‘15

Daniel Brasil Becker ‘14

Lara Berlin ‘14

Nate Bishop ‘17

Tara Boghosian ‘20*

Hannah Bolt ‘13

Tess Borden ‘14

Kathleen Borschow ‘15

Cade Carmichael ‘17

Marco Roberto Castanos ‘18*

Stephen Cha-Kim ‘11

Ben Chida ‘13

Jon Cioschi ‘14

Afton Cissell ‘15

Alexander J. Clayborne ‘16

Jenna Collins ‘11

Madison Condon ‘14

Alice Cullina ‘15

Alicia Daniel ‘18*

Shelmun Dashan ‘13

Justin A. Dews ‘15

James DiGiovanni ‘17

Gina Di Giusto ‘13

Sam Dinning ‘16

Alexandra Villamia Drimal ‘15

Antonia Domingo ‘15

Michelle Dowst ‘13

Valerie Duchesneau ‘14

Benjamin Elga ‘14

Sophie Elsner ‘16

Amanda Epstein ‘21*

Morgan Everhart ‘15

Eliza Finley ‘14

Sara Fitzpatrick ‘20*

Melissa Friedman ‘14

Jessica Frisina ‘14

John Froggatt ‘18*

Ceilidh Gao ‘13

Zack Greenamyre ‘16

Patrick Grubel ‘17

Julina Guo ‘15

Avery Halfon ‘15

C. Carter Hall ‘15

Michele Hall ‘17

Caitlin Halpern ‘14

David Hanyok ‘15

Donna Harati ‘15

Jessica Harris ‘14

Conor Hartnett ‘18*

Julianne Hill ‘15

Scott Hochberg ‘15

Benjamin Hoffman ‘11

Margaret Holden ‘14

Scott Hugo ‘15

David Husband ‘13

Erika Johnson ‘17

Alexandra Jordan ‘16

Rachel Judge ‘13

Evelyn Kachaje ‘15

Rena Karefa-Johnson ‘16

Simratpal Kaur ‘17*

James R. Kingman ‘12

Elizabeth Knox ‘16

Akhila Kolisetty ‘15

Mary Kosman ‘13

Lerae Kroon ‘14

Anna Kurtz ‘17

Lisa M. Lana ‘14

Jake Laperruque ‘13

Rachael Lauter ‘11

Annie Lee ‘14

Geehyun Sussan Lee ‘15

Juhyung Harold Lee ‘16

Andrew Lending ‘18*

Jim Lewis ‘14

Fan Li ‘15

Lauren Almquist Lively ‘12

Clara Long ‘12

Lisa Sullivan Lopata ‘13

Courtney Lynch ‘16

Kellie MacDonald ‘15

Kate MacMullin ‘18*

Faye Maison ‘16

Jane Manners ‘09

Megan Marks ‘16

Amreeta Mathai ‘12

Andrea Matthews ‘15

Philip Mayor ‘11

Katie McCarthy ‘17

Megan McDermott ‘13

Adam Meyers ‘13

Joseph Michalakes ‘16

Brein Millea ‘15

Arpeeta Shams Mizan ‘15

Amanda Morejon ‘16

Josh Morrison ‘10

Lindsay Mullett ‘16

Marie Ndiaye ‘12

Marie Nelson ‘14

Kimberly Newberry ‘14

Matthew Nickell ‘14

H. Nanjala Nyabola ‘14

Oded Oren ‘15

K-Sue Park ‘15

Sean Henry Parys ‘17

Katherine Pecore ‘13

Ari Peskoe ‘11

Matthew Peterson ‘14

Brian Pilchik ‘17

Joseph Pileri ‘10

Ben Polk ‘12

Catherine Taylor Poor ‘16

Hallie Jay Pope ‘14

Derecka Purnell ‘17

Josh Purtle ‘13

Sei Young Pyo ‘15

Shakeer Rahman ‘15

Roxana Rahmani ‘13

Courtney Razner ‘14

Elizabeth Reese ‘16

Renuka Rege ‘16

Jacob Reisberg ‘15

Aisha Rich ‘15

Jevhon Rivers ‘17

Katherine Robinson ‘18*

Irina Rodina ‘14

Rachel Rosenberg ‘12

Caroline Sacerdote ‘15

Viktoria Safarian ‘17

Rachel Sandalow-Ash ‘20*

Hanne Sandison ‘16

Kali Schellenberg ‘15

Marisa Schnaith ‘15

Caroline Schneider ‘13

Sarah Schoettle ‘15

Jeanne Segil ‘14

Kendra Sena ‘12

Sasha Shapiro ‘08

Esther Silberstein ‘15

Lena Silver ‘13

Sejal Singh ‘20*

Matthew Skurnik ‘16

Katherine Soltis ‘15

Elizabeth A. Nehrling Sotiriou ‘15

Renee Spence ‘13

Pedro Spivakovsky-Gonzalez ‘17

Matthew Spurlock ‘12

Alexandra St. Pierre ‘13

Peter Nash Stavros ‘16

Jean Strout ‘14

Nicole Summers ‘14

N. Allan Swisher ‘13

Mark Thomson ‘16

Elizabeth Tuttle ‘16

Claire Valentin ‘11

Tanika Vigil ‘14

Katherine Walecka ‘15

Alexis Wanzenberg ‘15

Samuel Weiss ‘14

Emily Werth ‘11

Sarah Wheaton ‘14

Julie Wimmer ‘11

Karl Worsham ‘17

*Current students were not recruited to sign this letter; nevertheless, we included those who did.

[1] These figures account for the longevity allowances in HLS’s and Stanford’s respective programs. LIPP provides a $5,000 longevity allowance beginning in the fifth year of program participation, and the allowance increases by $1,000 in each successive year of participation. Stanford’s “seniority allowance” starts at $1,000 in the second year of program participation, and increases by $1,000 in each successive year of participation.

[2] Neither Stanford Law School nor Yale Law School requires concurrent participation in the federal public interest loan forgiveness program.

Sent on October 11, 2017 to:
John F. Manning, Dean, Harvard Law School
Kenneth Lafler, Assistant Dean for Student Financial Services, Harvard Law School
Alexa Shabecoff, Assistant Dean for Public Service, Harvard Law School

See the press release here