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What Law School Students Need to Know About LRAPs
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LRAPs Can Help Minimize Student Debt

LRAPs Can Help Minimize Student Debt

Long ago, most law school applicants only worried about whether or not they had the necessary intellectual gifts and emotional stamina to complete challenging J. D. programs. Yet today, it’s much more common for people to simply worry about whether they’ll ever be able to pay off their student loans due to schools constantly raising their tuition and fees.

While everyone should still give serious thought to whether or not they can cope with the first-year law school grind clearly depicted in Scott Turow’s “One L,” it’s easy to understand why students now just want to avoid becoming another unemployed law grad struggling to cope with insurmountable debt.


LRAPs and Other Programs Can Help Some Law Grads Keep Their School Debts Low

Fortunately, a great many law schools now offer their own unique versions of Loan Repayment Assistance Programs (LRAPs). The chief goal of these programs is to make it possible for students to choose lower-paying legal careers in public service areas while still being able to keep up with their monthly student loans payments.

Perhaps the most important, combined goal for many prospective law school applicants is to gain admission to an ABA-approved law program  that offers an LRAP-type program that may either cover part or all of their law student loans. No one should wait until after graduation to learn more about their school’s LRAP program since it may be too late to qualify for it on several different grounds.

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Harvard Law School’s website provides excellent materials that can help students compare different schools’ LRAP programs. One of the key things people must learn is that all law school loans may not be eligible for possible loan repayment assistance (or partial/total forgiveness of the loans at any point). Be sure to learn all you can about LRAPs (or their equivalents) early on during the application process.

Also Inquire About All Federal Student & Private Loan Sources in Advance

  • Federal student loan forgiveness/assistance. The website just provided explains which general types of federal student loans can be partially or entirely paid off by the government – based upon the work you’ve chosen to do and how much salary you’re earning. Be aware that many of these programs will not “forgive” the balance of your loans until you have been paying them back, on a regular monthly basis, for 10 years. You can also find additional information regarding federal student loans on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) website that includes a blog on this topic.

Keep in mind that some older types of loans are currently being discontinued while newer ones like PAYE loans actually “cap” your monthly debt payments at “10 percent of your discretionary income;”

  • Learn all you can about applicable interest rates, deferred payments, etc.

Life is full of all kinds of unexpected events. Make sure you’re obtaining the least expensive yet most flexible loans available so that unexpected medical crises and other dire events won’t destroy your chances of obtaining help. Remember, you’re likely to experience greater problems with private student loan sources in this regard;

  • Find out if the loans that interest you are covered by the IBR program. This loan repayment approach allows students to pay back certain loans based upon their incomes – that’s why they involve income-based repayment (IBR) terms;

Always keep in mind that to qualify for an LRAP (or any other type of loan repayment or forgiveness program), you must obtain a full-time job that involves helping some type of underserved public sector – while directly using your law school skills.  One of the best websites for learning how many LRAPs work is the one run by UCLA Law School.

Topics Covered by the UCLA Law School LRAP Program

  • Types of qualifying employment;
  • Allowable personal annual income – that makes it possible for you to receive significant loan repayment assistance;
  • Types of eligible loans;
  • Loan repayment terms, etc.

Remember, while your own school’s LRAP program may differ from this UCLA one, the UCLA LRAP description is quite useful because it contains many terms commonly covered in all or most law school LRAPs. Of course, program names may differ – Harvard calls its loan repayment assistance program “LIPP” for Low Income Protection Plan. Harvard’s LIPP is also somewhat unique because it often offers loan repayment assistance to lower-earning law grads working in both the public sector and a limited number of private sector positions.

Consider also visiting the Yale Law School’s website to learn more about its Career Options Assistance Program (COAP) – it operates like an LRAP. As Yale Law School notes, “COAP was one of the first loan forgiveness programs of its kind.

How Students Who Pursue LRAP Programs Can Obtain the Best of “Both Worlds”

1. By gaining broad legal experience while still quite young.

When you’re young and eager to get all your student loans paid off quickly, you may fail to realize that there really are many career goals just as important as money.  Once you become a bit older, you’ll probably start wanting your professional life to make a real difference in this world – apart from just making yourself or wealthy corporations even richer.

Law grads who start out doing public sector work – say at their local legal aid offices – can gain highly valuable career experiences during the first 10 years of their careers. They may wind up helping needy clients fight eviction notices, break free of domestic violence through obtaining divorces or help secure critical medical or educational resources for adults or children.

2. By later making career transitions – if they still want to put money first.

Should these individuals want to later switch over into higher paying, private sector jobs, chances are they will have made enough critical legal contacts to make this type of transition possible. Most private sector attorneys hold those who practice public service law in high regard.

While it’s natural to sometime envy attorneys earning much more money than you do – you have to remember that a number of them will eventually leave their legal jobs because they no longer consider them very rewarding.

Try thinking about pursuing an LRAP as your secret weapon to gaining broad legal experience – while also helping you conquer your student loan debts in a very meaningful way.

Elizabeth Smith, J.D., M.A., is a freelance writer who has written about general business, legal, medical, and consumer topics for over twenty years. She has also served as the author and co-author of two professional legal texts.



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