Pursuing a law degree at Harvard Law School is an extraordinarily expensive undertaking. For the 2018-2019 term, tuition is set at $63,800. It is no surprise, then, that 73 percent of last year’s Law School class graduated in debt, or that those debts averaged $162,672. Debts of this magnitude are more than just worrisome; they can disincentivize careers in the public sector, where average salaries are often substantially smaller. In the 1970s, Harvard was the first law school in the nation to establish a “Low Income Protection Plan” for graduates who work full-time in government, the public sector, or academia.
LIPP helps Law School graduates manage their financial obligations. Enrollees pay a percentage of their salary toward their loan payments, and the program covers the rest. This is commendable, but there is room for improvement yet. While we commend the Law School for instituting LIPP, the program needs to be expanded to meet the needs of today’s graduates. A broader, more comprehensive LIPP would help low-income undergraduate students resist the pressure to enter a lucrative field directly out of school and instead consider a career serving the public interest.
A recent open letter, published in The Harvard Law Record and supported by 37 Law School student groups, outlines a set of reasonable strategies for expanding LIPP. These include changing the amount participants in the program give from their salaries by altering the participant contribution scale, increasing transition time in order to eliminate risk of losing coverage when Law School alumni are moving between jobs, and improving family and dependent leave programs. Additionally, the student groups recommended that LIPP lift caps on eligible undergraduate borrowing and retirement asset protections to enable more working class individuals to utilize the program and allow more graduates to save for their futures, respectively. We hope the Law School takes the letter seriously, and that the school communicates any reforms to potential applicants, who might otherwise be unaware of LIPP and other sources of financial aid.
The Law School is, of course, not responsible for pay gap between the public and private sectors. Money aside, some students simply find the public sector uninteresting, unappealing, or unrelated to their skills. There is nothing wrong with this. However, the Law School has a responsibility to our national and global societies to empower students who care about positively affecting the world and the people who live in it. If financial issues are preventing students from pursuing their dreams of helping others, the Law School should strenuously work to alleviate them.
The Low Income Protection Plan is, in some sense, a statement of intent. It represents the Law School’s commitment to legal study in the public interest. The current program, however, is not enough. LIPP, at present, stands to more adequately protect students engaged in the selfless pursuit of the public good. A protected and expanded LIPP would help the Law School break down the financial obstacles that prevent students from pursuing careers in the public sector.
This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.