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Law School Group Calls on Dean to Improve Loan Repayment Program

A student center at Harvard Law School.
UPDATED: March 29, 2018 at 9:12 p.m.

A group of Harvard Law students and alumni are urging Law School Dean John F. Manning ’82 to make a number of changes to the school’s Low Income Protection Plan, which helps graduates who go into public service and other low-paying legal careers repay their loans.

The group, called the Coalition to Improve LIPP, published an open letter to Manning in the Harvard Law Record Monday proposing five changes to the program in order to “empower HLS graduates of all backgrounds to pursue the careers of their choosing.”

The coalition’s open letter Monday outlines five specific policies the coalition has asked the Law School to review, including “improving the participant contribution scale,” increasing transition time for students moving between jobs, improving family leave and dependent care policies, doing away with the cap for undergraduate borrowing, and removing the cap for retirement asset protections.

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The Coalition to Improve LIPP has been working since the fall semester to address grievances they identified with the program based on conversations with alumni, research into loan repayment programs at other schools, and a survey of law students.

LIPP aims to assist eligible students in repaying loans by asking students to repay a portion of their student loans based on their income. The Law School then pays the remaining amount. Around 700 graduates are currently enrolled in the program, according to Kenneth Lafler, the school’s Assistant Dean for Student Financial Services.

The Law School’s public interest programs have generated debate at the school in recent months. Many of the concerns the Coalition to Improve LIPP raises in the letter were first voiced in a separate letter sent to Manning last October. More than 175 Harvard Law students and alumni signed onto that letter, which claimed the program is not on par with loan repayment programs at other law schools like Yale and Stanford.

In a statement, Lafler wrote LIPP offers more benefits and flexibility in career choice to Harvard Law graduates than comparable programs offer.

“Compared to similar programs at many schools, LIPP covers a broader range of jobs and provides benefits that are not contingent on a long-term commitment to a specific type of work,” Lafler wrote.

The coalition attached a document to the Monday letter that explains each of their proposals, outlining alternative contribution scales and allowances graduates receive for having a child, among other details.

“We are committed to making Harvard Law School more financially accessible... making it possible for students to pursue the careers that they want to pursue,” Rachel J. Sandalow-Ash ’15, president of the Coalition to Improve LIPP, said in an interview Wednesday.

Sara R. Fitzpatrick, a first-year Law student who serves as policy director for the coalition, said it’s important that graduates from underprivileged backgrounds are able to pursue careers that serve people in their communities.

“What we see as a problem [is] where people aren’t able to go back into the communities that they come from and the only people that are able to do public interest are often people who came from privileged backgrounds and may not understand as well the issues that those communities face," she said.

Coalition members met with Manning on March 9 to discuss their proposals. After that meeting, members drafted the letter and approached other student groups in order to gauge interest in their recommendations.

Several student organizations, including the Law School’s student government, the Women’s Law Association, and the Black Law Students Association, signed onto the letter.

Paavani Garg, a third-year Law student and president of the Harvard Women’s Law Association, wrote in an emailed statement that changes to LIPP would advance gender equality.

“Women tend to go into public interest jobs more so than private sector and therefore are largely influenced by LIPP,” Garg wrote. “The current program implicates matters such as maternity leave, transition time, career choices, retirement savings—all topics that are implicated in conversations about gender equity.”

The Student Government for Harvard Law School also signed the letter. Amanda M. Lee, president of the Student Government, wrote in an emailed statement that the organization voted “unanimously” to sign the letter in support of the policy changes.

“After hearing about the Coalition to Improve LIPP's efforts to improve the program, our Student Government council members present voted unanimously to sign on to the letter,” Lee said. “We are proud to support the Coalition's student advocacy, especially as it was done in conjunction with and informed by alumnae who have been living on LIPP and have brainstormed many ways in which LIPP can be improved.”

Lafler wrote in a statement that he has met with the coalition several times and that the Law School’s Financial Aid Committee is considering the issues they have raised.

“LIPP is the cornerstone of the Law School’s commitment to career choice,” Lafler wrote. “I have had many constructive meetings over the past several months with the students in the Coalition to Improve LIPP. The issues they raise are important and deserve careful consideration, and the Financial Aid Committee is engaged in that process right now.”

—Staff writer Aidan F. Ryan can be reached at aidan.ryan@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @AidanRyanNH.

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