Legal Aid Attorneys Who Face Crushing Student Debt Benefit from LSC’s Loan Forgiveness Assistance Program
WASHINGTON – The Legal Services Corporation (LSC) is providing legal aid attorneys up to $8,000 per year in loan repayment assistance, the highest amount LSC has ever allocated in its Herbert S. Garten Loan Repayment Assistance Program (LRAP).
Law school debt is a crushing problem for many attorneys. A 2020 survey by the American Bar Association's Young Lawyers Division found that legal education costs are skyrocketing. Attorneys reported carrying a median cumulative student debt of $160,000. Among recipients of LSC’s LRAP, law school debt increased 91.6% from 2006 to 2020.
The problem is particularly severe for legal aid attorneys who also face comparatively low salaries. According to a National Association for Law Placement survey, these attorneys are the lowest paid group in the legal profession, earning less than public defenders and other public interest lawyers. The median entry-level salary for a legal services attorney was $48,000.
This situation has serious implications for access-to-justice efforts. Evaluations by LSC have consistently found that large law school loan debts, coupled with low salaries, present significant barriers for legal aid organizations hiring and retaining lawyers. LSC’s LRAP mitigates the economic hardships facing legal aid attorneys and increases their ability to remain employed with LSC-funded organizations. Recognizing the effectiveness of LSC’s LRAP, Congress has increased its appropriation in recent years, from $1 million to $1.5 million in 2019 and then to $2 million in 2021.
Last year, LSC awarded a total of 223 loans to legal aid attorneys. This year, attorneys who are selected to participate in the program will receive loans of up to $8,000 per year for up to three years if they remain eligible and if funding is available. The loan principal distribution, plus interest, will be forgiven if the attorney remains in good standing with the eligible legal services organization throughout the loan term. Participating attorneys are expected to remain with their LSC-funded organizations for three years.