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Harvard Law School Increases Loan Repayment Program Benefits

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Harvard Law School announced in a May 17 email that it plans to boost support for graduates in low-paying and public sector careers, marking the highest increase in the 45-year history of its Low Income Protection Plan.

Launched by the Law School in 1978, the LIPP program aims to “reduce the loan repayment burden for graduates in government, public sector, and academic jobs, or in law related jobs in the private sector.” The program subsidizes annual loan repayment obligations based on the income of graduates in low-paying industries.

An email inviting previous program participants to reapply mentioned a roughly 14.5 percent increase in the contribution scale used to calculate the amount of subsidy offered to participants.

“This means the new floor under which a participant will contribute $0 towards their eligible loan payments is $55,000, increased from $48,000,” the email reads.

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HLS spokesperson Jeff Neal wrote in an emailed statement that the school chose to increase the contribution scale as the result of a review during the school’s annual budget process.

“Harvard Law School will continue to work with students and graduates to help them thrive in law school and to pursue career options of their choice,” Neal wrote.

The change follows a letter sent to Law School Dean John F. Manning ’82 on April 8, demanding inflation-adjusted support for LIPP participants. Alumni have long called for improvements to the LIPP program, especially in light of the Covid-19 pandemic and record-high inflation levels.

Some beneficiaries of the program view the change as an improvement, calling the increase “a good first start.” But others say the move still does not provide adequate support to students and alumni.

“This kind of seems like the bare minimum that they needed to do to address the most rampant inflation we’ve seen in 40 years. But to say that this is a dramatic reform of the LIPP program — that doesn’t pass the laugh test,” Brendan Schneiderman, a 2021 graduate of the Law School said.

Alumni and student organizers advocating for structural changes to the program said the change falls short of drastically easing the financial strain faced by public interest litigators.

“They’re essentially not even acknowledging the fact that we are basically having to resort to finding support for ourselves and making ends meet and literally qualifying for the same benefits programs that our clients that we provide free legal aid to qualify for,” Juan Espinoza, a 2021 graduate of HLS said. “So it’s a double-edged sword, and it’s a bittersweet feeling of some relief.”

The organizers behind the April letter are calling for the school to automatically tie the contribution scale to inflation rates, factor in adjustments to asset caps, and integrate the voices of low income students and alumni to the program’s decision making body.

Espinoza said the LIPP program fails to support public interest work and impacts salaries across the sector.

“The repayment scale also creates a floor and a threshold that sets a metric for the broader profession to feel okay with paying public interest lawyers such low salaries,” he said.

“So, Harvard Law School is keeping salaries low in the public interest profession by keeping the repayment program so tight and low and not actually reflective of what students need,” Espinoza added.

—Staff writer Sara Dahiya can be reached at sara.dahiya@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @Sara_castically.

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