Loan Repayment Assistance Program
HERBERT S. GARTEN LOAN REPAYMENT ASSISTANCE PROGRAM
LSC requests $2 million for the Herbert S. Garten Loan Repayment Assistance Program (LRAP) for FY 2021—the same amount LSC has requested for the past three years. Currently, the LRAP program is funded at $1.5 million.
In 2019, LSC received 170 new applications from attorneys at 82 grantee offices in 42 states and Puerto Rico. The average law school debt for first-year applicants was more than $167,000. LSC provided loan repayment assistance to a total of 210 recipients, including 109 new recipients.
LSC’s evaluation of the program shows that large law school loan debts, coupled with low salaries, constitute major barriers for grantees in hiring and retaining lawyers. The evaluation found that the availability of LRAP mitigates the economic hardships confronting grantee staff attorneys and increases their ability and willingness to stay with legal aid organizations. Overall, the tenure for LRAP participants was 4.29 years, whereas the tenure for non-participants was 3.58 years. Attorneys who participated in LRAP as currently structured remained with their funded programs on average an additional 8.5 months, or 20% longer, than those who did not participate.
LSC uses a lottery selection process to identify new participants for each annual cycle. Each year, qualified applicants are denied assistance because of insufficient LRAP funding. LSC has provided loan repayment assistance to an average of 70-80 new participants annually. LSC has had to turn away a total of 384 applicants, an average of 48 per year, since 2011. With the $500,000 increase in FY 2019, LSC was able to provide assistance to 125 applicants, 45 more than the previous year. Increased funding for FY 2021 will enable LSC to expand the program by extending the grant period, adopting a tiered payment structure to incentivize those remaining in the program, and/or increasing the total loan payment amounts.
Over the past seven years, there has been a dramatic increase in the average law school debt among participants. The average law school debt in 2011 was $104,000. Seven years later, the average debt increased to more than $165,000, a nearly a 60% increase.
According to the National Association for Law Placement (NALP), civil legal aid lawyers continue to be the lowest paid group in the legal profession, earning less than public defenders and other public interest lawyers. Entry-level legal aid attorneys at LSC-funded programs earned an average salary of $51,304 in 2017. With an average of more than $150,000 in law school debt, first-year attorneys participating in LSC’s LRAP need significant loan repayment assistance to supplement low salaries.