Harvard Program Waiving Third-Year Tuition for Students Committing to Five-Year Public Interest Careers

Posted on Categories Legal Education

From Clinicians with Not Enough to Do, this post discusses a new program at Harvard Law School, reported in the Harvard Crimson.  The graduating class of 2011 will be eligible for the program, and over 100 students expressed initial interest.  Students who commit to working for five years in the public interest would be eligible for tuition waivers for the last year of law school.  In addition, forty-eight third-year students signed commitments to five-year public interest careers, and they will receive in exchange $5,000 towards their current tuition.  

The average student graduating from Harvard leaves with $109,000 of educational debt, the Crimson article reports, so the waiver seems like a real help for students who want to take a lower-paying public interest job but otherwise could not afford to do so because of their debt burdens.  

The idea is interesting, reducing the debt load at the outset for those committed to public interest work, rather than providing assistance with loan repayments to those students after graduation.  Loan Repayment Assistance Programs are in place at many law schools; Marquette, for instance, has had one for several years. I have never heard of a program like the Harvard tuition waiver, though, and I would be interested to hear what students think about the idea.

4 thoughts on “Harvard Program Waiving Third-Year Tuition for Students Committing to Five-Year Public Interest Careers”

  1. See, now I wish I had gone to Harvard (well, provided I could somehow magically get the grades and scores to GET INTO Harvard, but that’s a whole other story . . . 🙂 )

    In all seriousness, I would strongly support a program like that being implemented here. I know that I, for one, would sign up in a heartbeat for that. Between the federal loan forgiveness legislation and a program like this, I would suggest that the net pay disparity (and by that I mean the pay one receives after having to account for the average student loan payment) between public interest work and private firm work in all but the biggest of firms would be effectively negated. My only concern, however, would be this: what happens if — fanciful dream this may be — the number of students who choose to do this outnumbers the number of positions available? As I’m starting to find, the number of available public-interest lawyer positions in this area isn’t too high due to the tightening of the belts budget-wise for most firms. Would we really want to turn students away from a program like this?

  2. Andrew, that is one of the first questions I had. I would imagine they’d have to condition acceptance into the waiver program on student’s securing a qualified job. I didn’t see, in the article, any way to access such specifics about the program, but I would be interested to see them.

  3. The waiver sounds like a great idea.
    I have read just a bit about MULS’ LRAP and the ongoing controls: the committee recommendations approved (or not) by the Dean, the annual re-application review, etc.

    I wonder if similar ongoing controls could work in a waiver program. In a waiver system, what would happen if a graduate breaks his or her pledge to work the 5 years (e.g., he or she works, say, 4 years, gets really burned out, and then takes a job at a private firm; or for mental health reasons, just takes a year off from the law)? Must the 5 years be completely successive? (The Harvard Crimson article did not specify.)

    Or what if, before 5 years passes, the young attorney loses his or her public interest job and honestly cannot find another full-time p.i. position elsewhere (except, perhaps, by having to relocate at significant expense and burden, etc.)?

    Would the law school then sue for breach of contract and try to collect the entire 3L tuition (even with interest? and if so, at what %?) Does a law school have the staff to run a collections business? Good for PR? Also, would not a young and likely not wealthy public interest lawyer effectively be judgment proof, especially against a lump claim of $30K?

    Of course I am not in any way advocating for breaking one’s pledge! As good as the program sounds, I just see some real risks for both parties.

  4. These are really good points, Peter. I was wondering, like you, about what happens if the new attorney’s employment situation changes, voluntarily or involuntarily, during the five-year commitment period. It would be interesting to see the provisions of Harvard’s program.

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