If you have ever been on financial aid, you know that many law schools require you to work over the summer and make financial contributions towards your debts based on your summer employment. Harvard Law School has such a requirement. Financial aid awards have been traditionally determined based on a ten-week, minimum summer work requirement.
That’s a fine policy during normal economic times, but these are anything but normal economic times. Many students — even Ivy-encrusted Harvard Law students — have seen firms reduce the length of their summer programs to less than ten weeks.
Earlier this month, it looked like HLS students in this situation would not only be losing income because their firms scaled back their summer programs, but they would also owe Harvard more money. A few students received this email from the HLS financial aid office earlier this month:
In processing your application for aid, we note that you have indicated you will be working less than 10 weeks this summer. The official policy of the law school is to impute a contribution in all circumstances (except medical) when students work less than 10 weeks in the summer. Work in a paid law-related position is not required; the only requirement is that you work in some capacity. You can volunteer or work in a non law-related job if circumstances require you do to so. The best way to ensure that you will not be assessed an imputed contribution for part of the summer is to secure a volunteer position or a second paid job in order to meet the 10 week work requirement.
We understand that for students whose employers have reduced their summer programs for economic reasons, it might be difficult to find additional employment or volunteer opportunities. However, at this point we are not able to promise that our policy will be more flexible. If you are not able to meet the 10-week requirement after making an effort to explore other options, you can submit an appeal at the end of the summer to have the imputed portion of your student contribution reduced or eliminated. We will ask you to explain the circumstances and the steps you took to try to meet the 10-week work requirement. In making appeals decisions, the Financial Aid Committee will consider how widespread summer employment reductions were, the timing of your first notification that your summer employment was reduced, and your demonstration of a sustained effort to meet the 10 week work requirement.
Is this policy fair? HLS officials change course, after the jump.
But many students didn’t learn that their summers would be cut short of ten weeks until relatively late in the game. It was not easy to find another job while you were also studying for finals — let alone the difficulty of finding a two week long “job.”
A tipster explains the perceived unfairness of this HLS policy:
I guess it would be “bad” for students to spend the summer slacking off poolside when they could be working and contributing toward their educations like other, more diligent students. But when the time off is the result of forces beyond my control, and I accepted an offer that complied with the policy, and I am informed in mid-June that I need to find another job for 2 weeks, I think the school has gone too far. I’ve lost $6,000 due to summer-program shrinking; now the financial aid office is penalizing me more. Basically, my shortened summer program is costing me ten grand.
Above the Law asked HLS officials about the school’s policy given the market constraints many of their students are facing.
Today, we’ve learned that Harvard Law School has changed course. Who says Harvard Law School is resistant to change? This isn’t your grandfather’s Harvard Law School.
According to a spokesperson for the HLS financial aid office, a change in policy has been made so that students will not be penalized just because firms have cut the length of their summer programs:
We decided earlier this week to reduce the summer work requirement to 8 weeks. … [W]e always send out an email about the summer employment policy to students who have told us they won’t be working 10 weeks. The idea is to make sure they understand the policy while they still have a chance to do something about it.
This year we added a paragraph describing an appeal process for those whose summer jobs were cut to 8 weeks. We didn’t initially promise to reduce our work requirement to 8 weeks because we weren’t sure our grant budget could absorb the cost without impacting other areas of our need-based aid program. So we wanted to reserve the option, if necessary, of determining through appeals which students were really placed in the most difficult bind and offering the most flexibility to them. However, now that we’ve reviewed enough aid applications to understand the scope of summer job reductions, we have decided we can move to a reduced 8 week requirement this summer. We’ll be notifying the affected students of that later this week.
Thank God for budget absorption.
How are other schools with similar requirements handling the situation? Money is tight all over, but I’m sure 2Ls are already feeling squeezed enough.
Earlier: Cravath Announcement Causes Immediate Reaction At Harvard Law School
Sorry About Your Little Crimson Diploma, Bro’