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Cornell Law School Sets New Standard for Public Interest Loan Assistance
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Cornell Law School will implement a groundbreaking expansion of its Loan Repayment Assistance Program (LRAP) starting in June, providing full federal loan repayments for graduates in public interest jobs earning up to $120,000 annually. This represents a significant increase from the previous cap of $80,000 and sets a new benchmark among U.S. law schools.

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Raising the Bar for Loan Repayment Assistance

Cornell Law School’s updated LRAP sets a new precedent by increasing the salary cap for full loan repayment assistance to $120,000, surpassing previous leaders such as Harvard Law School and New York University School of Law, which had caps at $110,000. This change is designed to make public interest careers more accessible and sustainable for graduates by easing their financial burdens.

  
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Expanded Coverage for Higher Salaries

In addition to raising the cap for full loan repayment, Cornell will also extend partial loan repayment benefits to graduates in public interest positions earning between $120,000 and $150,000 annually, for up to ten years. This tiered support aims to help alumni stay in the LRAP longer as they advance in their careers, providing ongoing financial assistance as their incomes grow.

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Addressing Salary Disparities in Legal Careers

The enhanced LRAP at Cornell responds to the significant salary disparities between public interest roles and private sector jobs. According to the National Association for Law Placement (NALP), the median starting salary for civil legal services lawyers in 2023 was $64,200, while new public defenders earned a median of $69,600. In contrast, the median base salary for new law firm associates was $200,000.

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Unique Among Top Law Schools

Cornell’s new LRAP structure stands out among the top 14 law schools, most of which have salary caps for full loan repayment between $55,000 and $85,000. By setting higher caps, Cornell, along with Harvard and NYU, leads the way in providing more robust support for graduates in public interest law.

Integration with Federal Loan Forgiveness Programs

Cornell’s LRAP works in conjunction with the federal Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program, where monthly payments are based on income, and loan balances are forgiven after ten years of qualifying public service employment. This integration ensures that graduates receive comprehensive support in managing their loan repayments.

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Modest but Impactful Participation

Although Cornell Law did not disclose the exact number of alumni currently participating in its LRAP, it described the number as “modest.” The school also did not specify its annual expenditure on the program. However, the impact of these enhancements is expected to be significant, encouraging more graduates to pursue and sustain careers in public interest law.

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Commitment to Public Interest Careers

Despite a relatively small number of its graduates entering public interest roles—19 out of 174 juris doctor graduates last year, with an additional three taking government jobs—Cornell Law School’s commitment to supporting these career paths remains strong. The expanded LRAP underscores the school’s dedication to making public service careers financially viable for its alumni.

Cornell Law School’s decision to significantly enhance its Loan Repayment Assistance Program sets a new standard in supporting graduates committed to public interest law. By addressing financial barriers, the school aims to encourage more students to pursue careers that serve the public good, ultimately contributing to a more equitable legal system.



 

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