Numerous applicants to law school claim that they want to become lawyers in order to serve the public interest — and some of them are telling the truth. Alas, after burdening themselves with six figures of law school debt, they find it difficult to follow through on their public-interest dreams. The path of least resistance, or at least the path to the fastest repayment of loans, is working for a large law firm.

Working for a prominent law firm is great — lucrative, prestigious, honorable work — provided that it’s actually what you want to be doing (as opposed to, say, public interest work in Nepal). Unfortunately, many who toil in Biglaw do so primarily for the debt-dispelling powers of the paycheck.

Well, if you go to the University of Chicago Law School, you might be able to have your cake and eat it too — i.e., obtain an amazing legal education, work in the public interest, and not find yourself trying to invoke the “undue hardship” exception in bankruptcy.

Let’s learn about some changes that Chicago Law just announced to its LRAP, or Loan Repayment Assistance Program (those wonky Chicago types love their acronyms)….

A great loan repayment program, and a beautiful pool? What's not to like?

The changes are spelled out in a news release posted on the Chicago Law website:

The University of Chicago Law School today announced a complete redesign of its Loan Repayment Assistance Program (LRAP), making it the most generous program of its kind. The three most important changes to the program are that it now offers the opportunity for any graduate staying in public interest for ten years to go to law school for free, that all graduates who serve as judicial clerks will be eligible for the program, and that a generous $80,000 salary cap will make the program more inclusive than ever.

The inclusion of clerkships is major, given how many Chicago Law grads go on to clerk, as is the $80,000 cap. The full release, which contains additional details, appears below.

Chicago Law has been faring well in rankings lately. See, e.g., #1 law school for getting a Biglaw job; #1 best value law school; #1 law school by Malcolm Gladwell.

If someone does a ranking of top law schools by the generosity of their loan repayment assistance programs, we suspect that Chicago will once again be at or near the top.

UPDATE (4:10 PM): Here’s the reaction of one current Chicago Law student:

As an anonymous U of C law student going into Biglaw, I think it’s great that the school is so involved in helping public interest minded students. The school is definitely trying to play it both ways — meaning we will only stay in first in the National Law Journal ranking if we keep on sending people to Biglaw, and the LRAP program is definitely emphasizing a non- Biglaw path. But maybe the school is being smart and realizing that if only 115 out of 195 are landing the Biglaw positions — this is a great program for the remaining 80! Of course I do realize that that Biglaw and public interest law are not the only two paths, but it does appear that the school is realizing the need to provide quality job prospects for all its students. And that, in my opinion, is a win-win solution.

Dramatic New LRAP Offers Chicago Law Graduates in Public Interest Careers Unparalleled Support [University of Chicago Law School]

UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO LAW SCHOOL — PRESS RELEASE

Dramatic New LRAP Offers Chicago Law Graduates in Public Interest Careers Unparalleled Support

The University of Chicago Law School today announced a complete redesign of its Loan Repayment Assistance Program (LRAP), making it the most generous program of its kind. The three most important changes to the program are that it now offers the opportunity for any graduate staying in public interest for ten years to go to law school for free, that all graduates who serve as judicial clerks will be eligible for the program, and that a generous $80,000 salary cap will make the program more inclusive than ever.

“I am incredibly proud to announce that Chicago Law graduates who stay in public interest for ten years can now receive a free legal education,” said Michael Schill, the Law School’s Dean and the Harry N. Wyatt Professor of Law. “Combined with our other innovations, this unique and important aspect of our new program will provide the highest possible level of support to our students and alumni who dedicate their careers to public service.” The University of Chicago Law School is unique in offering an LRAP that covers all of a graduate’s loan payments so long as he or she meets the federal requirements and stays within the salary cap of $80,000.

“No LRAP program of this kind offers a higher salary cap,” said Karla Vargas, Director of Financial Aid, “but one aspect of this program that truly sets Chicago Law’s LRAP apart is that the salary cap does not take into account any spousal income or other assets the graduate may have. Many LRAPs base repayment on a ‘calculated income’ that is dependent not upon the actual drawn salary,” Vargas continued, “but upon a complicated calculation that includes dependents, spousal income, locality, debt, and assets. Our new LRAP not only keeps things simple, but makes many more of our students eligible than they would be at other schools.”

The Chicago Law LRAP has an additional aspect offered by no other top school: inclusion of all judicial clerkships as eligible positions. “Clerkships provide excellent training for our graduates, particularly those who enter jobs in government and public service,” said Schill, “and, as government service, there is no reason to exclude them.” Schill is proud to include all judicial clerks, even those not pursuing public interest careers, in the LRAP program, saying “The Law School has long been a leader in sending graduates to judicial clerkships. It is part of the DNA of our law school, and this will provide even more students with the opportunity to pursue clerking.”

The Law School is fortunate to have the generous support of Ambassador James C. Hormel, ’58, for many of its public service initiatives, including loan repayment assistance. The Hormel Public Interest Funds have been and continue to be crucial to the long-term success of this program.

These changes are just the latest in a series of new additions to the Law School’s public interest program. Beginning with the hiring of Susan Curry, Director of Public Interest Programs, in July 2010, the Law School has significantly increased both financial and programmatic support for students and alumni in public interest. Among the programs benefiting students at the Law School are guaranteed funding for summer public interest work in both the 1L and 2L summers, a new formal student pro bono program, growth of opportunities in the renowned Mandel Legal Aid Clinic and the Law School’s other exceptional clinics, additional substantive public interest curricular offerings, expanded assistance with fellowship applications and career counseling, increased support for student attendance at public interest job fairs, and expansion of international public service opportunities.

Just as current students have been the first to receive the benefits of increased emphasis on public interest at the Law School, they will also have the opportunity to use either the new or prior loan repayment programs. As always, the Offices of Financial Aid and Career Services will work extensively with students to determine which option will best fit their individual situations. The Class of 2013 will be the first to be entirely under the new program.

“The University of Chicago Law School’s support for students and alumni in the public sector is second to none,” said Curry. “With this extraordinary LRAP program, Chicago Law will provide graduates with the simplest, most inclusive, and most generous program available today, including the opportunity to experience a judicial clerkship and the chance to have the entirety of their debt erased. Any prospective student interested in public service should be interested in Chicago Law.”

Details about the new program are available here, together with explanations of some of the newest parts of the program.


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