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More than 175 Harvard Law School students and alumni penned an open letter to Law School Dean John F. Manning Wednesday asking the school to improve a program meant to provide financial stability to alumni who pursue careers in public service.
The Low Income Protection Plan, which the letter claims falls short of similar programs at peer institutions like Yale and Stanford, obligates students to pay a portion of their income each year toward their law school debt, while the Law School commits to covering the remainder.
Programs at various schools differ in the percentage of monthly loan payments alumni must cover themselves, as well as what kind of jobs are considered public service employment.
Madison E. Condon, who helped draft the letter, said the Law School emphasized the superiority of their program to those of peer institutions when she was a prospective student.
“I remember I talked to a lot of the administration at the time when I was considered which school to go to, and I feel like they convinced me,” Condon said. “They really build their program as the best of their peer institutions, and they did it in a really convincing way.”
Nicole A. Summers, who wrote and solicited signatures for the letter, said that speaking to students from other law schools about their repayment plans made her feel worse off about Harvard’s program.
“HLS has fallen behind its peer schools in terms of supporting alums who go into public interest. I feel like the loan repayment levels that HLS requires are quite high,” Summers said. “That was not what I was expecting, given the way that HLS promoted LIPP when I was an incoming student and while I was a current student considering going into public interest.”
Kenneth Lafler, the school’s Assistant Dean for Student Financial Services, wrote in a statement that the school has been in contact with some of the students who signed the letter over the past year to discuss their thoughts about LIPP. He said that many students benefit from the flexibility of Harvard’s program.
“There are many career-path scenarios in which LIPP participants fare much better than they would under programs offered elsewhere. LIPP’s advantage is that it accommodates the kinds of job changes that young lawyers frequently make, and it doesn’t penalize them for changing jobs,” Lafler wrote.
According to Lafler, Harvard Law School alumni can qualify for LIPP while working in a wide range of jobs.
“No loan repayment assistance program can justifiably make the claim to provide the highest benefit in every case. LIPP strikes a balance between generosity and flexibility, and avoids the financial risks that participation in other programs often entails,” he wrote.
Alexa Shabecoff, the school’s Assistant Dean for Public Service, wrote in a statement that LIPP’s growing enrollment numbers proves its popularity.
“LIPP's steadily growing enrollment, and the diverse and interesting career paths of those who participate in it, show that the program is supporting its participants,” Shabecoff wrote. “I am always eager to hear suggestions for making this great program even greater, and I look forward to exploring with our wonderful alumni how we can do so together.”
—Staff writer Jamie D. Halper can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @jamiedhalper.
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