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Harvard to Waive 3L Tuition For Students in Public Interest Law for Five Years:
The New York Times reports:
  Concerned by the low numbers of law students choosing careers in public service, Harvard Law School plans to waive tuition for third-year students who pledge to spend five years working either for nonprofit organizations or the government.
  The program, to be announced Tuesday, would save students more than $40,000 in tuition and follows by scant months the announcement of a sharp increase in financial aid to Harvard's undergraduates. The law school, which already has a loan forgiveness program for students choosing public service, said it knew of no other law school offering such a tuition incentive.
  "We know that debt is a big issue," said Elena Kagan, dean of the law school. "We have tried to address that over the years with a very generous loan forgiveness program, but we started to think that we could do better."
This is a wonderful idea, I think. I'm very glad Harvard both is willing to do this and can afford it.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Could 3L Tuition Waiver Have Unintended Consequences?
  2. Harvard to Waive 3L Tuition For Students in Public Interest Law for Five Years:
Glenn W. Bowen (mail):
I'm on the fence- sounds about as kosher as Hilary Clinton's "Civil Service Training Program"; I'm wary of inducing people into the government.

...on the first blush, anyway.
3.18.2008 5:39pm
Thoughtful (mail):
Granting that there are more than pure financial considerations in making this decision, it seems that to be motivated by this offer, one is being swayed by $8000/yr differential, post-tax. I would have thought the difference between income-generation in "public interest law" and other potential income-generating uses of a Harvard Law degree would be significantly greater than that amount. I wonder how many Harvard L3s are at the margin where this would impact on their decision?
3.18.2008 5:40pm
OrinKerr:
Glenn,

Harvard is a private actor, and it is effectively putting its product on "sale" for a particular audience. Isn't that pretty far from establishing a big government program?
3.18.2008 5:42pm
PGofHSM (mail) (www):
It's nitpicky, but I wish the NYTimes didn't put the news so much in the context of the increase in financial aid to undergrads. These are very different kinds of programs. The undergrad program is to make Harvard more easily affordable for upper-middle-class families. The law program is to a) attract more applicants who already have committed to public interest and are looking for the best package; and b) make public interest more attractive to the droves of English majors who entered law school not knowing whether they're public interest inclined or not.

And if it's OK to toot alma mater's horn, Columbia also has upgraded its financial aid package for the 2008 and after grads: Benefits don't start to phase out until you're making more than $50; loans will be forgiven more quickly -- beginning five years after graduation; in calculating household income, there's an adjustment for the spouse's educational debt; parental leave benefits for up to six months; and benefits will be available to graduates working part-time to care for children.
3.18.2008 5:45pm
Anonymous121:
As nice as this is, it is actually fairly redundant with their existing public interest loan repayment - essentially, anyone who stayed in their loan repayment plan long enough would have the additional educational loans paid in full by Harvard anyway.
3.18.2008 5:47pm
PGofHSM (mail) (www):
That of course should be $50k.

And Glenn seems to be saying that he doesn't like the idea of people's being encouraged into government service, whether the encouragement be private-sector or public in origin. I mean, if Harvard's program actually works, we might have more and better public defenders, and then we'd have more criminals on the streets, and it would be all Harvard's fault.
3.18.2008 5:48pm
CEB:
I have a better idea: eliminate the third year of law school. I'd love to hear why a legal education cannot be completed in two years. (I suspect that scheduling might be an issue)
3.18.2008 5:51pm
ummm:
yes, this sounds like a nice idea. But, to be a little cynical, the concession may be either cheap or unwise. HLS's current loan repayment program is based on a "pay what you can afford model" -- if you make less than about 80k, HLS calculates an affordable debt load for you to carry based on your salary and forgives the rest as long as you qualify for the program. This leads to one of two scenarios. If student has a high debt load and makes a low salary (say, 50k), waiving that student's third year tuition probably won't affect the students monthly loan payment. That is, the student will only be paying off the first 40-60k worth of debt anyway (just picking round numbers here). On the other hand, some students may graduate without much debt, either because they or their family paid for law school up front (a dumb move given the interest rates for federal student loans) or got substantial grants from HLS. Either way, though, if the student has minimal debt, I'm not sure the tuition waiver is necessary...
3.18.2008 5:51pm
Glenn W. Bowen (mail):

Harvard is a private actor, and it is effectively putting its product on "sale" for a particular audience. Isn't that pretty far from establishing a big government program?


you are correct- as I said, "first blush"; I do have a problem with the incentive angle, any kind from the public sector, really: mortgages for teachers, art grants, etc, as they are not available to all- in this case, it's nobody's business, as Harvard is a private entity, as you point out.

I'm here to learn:)
3.18.2008 5:52pm
David Smith:
Are we SURE that Harvard can afford this?

Its endowment is only $34 Billion.

Given its ultra liberal agenda, why is it charging *anything* for people it is incentivizing?
3.18.2008 5:57pm
Glenn W. Bowen (mail):

And Glenn seems to be saying that he doesn't like the idea of people's being encouraged into government service, whether the encouragement be private-sector or public in origin.


there's some truth in this:)


Are we SURE that Harvard can afford this?

Its endowment is only $34 Billion.



are the forgiven funds taken from the endowment?
3.18.2008 6:01pm
Hans Bader (mail):
Bad idea.

As someone who worked for public interest law firms for more than a decade, I can tell you that most "public interest" law firms are harmful to the public interest, stirring up useless and costly litigation that often does little for its purported "beneficiaries," and that working for them should be discouraged.

I wrote about this subject and legal aid societies at OpenMarket.org, in a post linked to by Overlawyered or PointofLaw.
3.18.2008 6:37pm
David Smith:
I think the most valuable public contributions are made by law firms that do class actions. I've lost count of the money I've made, $15 here, hundreds of dollars off my next car purchase there, $50 there, when the law firm is only getting a few hundred thousand to millions for representing plaintiff, who I believe also gets the same as me (correct me if I'm wrong).
3.18.2008 7:06pm
bla bla:
This strikes me as extraordinarily inefficient. If a person were to work for only one year at a big law firm, the difference between what they would make at the law firm and what they would make at their public interest job would pay for that third year of law school and then some. Is it that unreasonable to require people who want to go into public interest to work at a big firm for one year?

(Top law firms pay about $195K for first years. Take taxes out of that and you're still siting on $110K or so, which is probably $70K more than you would make after-tax at a public interest law firm. Tuition for one year is around $40K at Harvard, and if you spend the rest of the $30K on room, board, etc., then you have problems.)
3.18.2008 7:07pm
Thorley Winston (mail) (www):
Harvard is a private actor, and it is effectively putting its product on "sale" for a particular audience. Isn't that pretty far from establishing a big government program?


That depends on whether HLS students are receiving taxpayer funded loans and grants to attend school there. If they are and this selective "forgiveness" is passed on to other students in the form of higher tuition which is ultimately subsidized by the taxpayer through federal financial aid programs, then yes it is a bad thing. If you're smart enough to get into law school (not just Harvard), then you ought to be smart enough to figure out how to pay for it without going to the federal government to take the hard earned money of the rest of us.
3.18.2008 7:10pm
erics (mail):
Who determines what qualifies as working for "the government?" Surely someone working for the DOJ would not get such a waiver?
3.18.2008 7:11pm
TGGP (mail) (www):
Sounds horrible to me. More footsoldiers of the Polygon.
3.18.2008 7:17pm
NickW:
Hans: You should be glad to learn that public interest law firms are not included in the eligible employers.

Erics: All governmental units, including the DOJ, are.

Government jobs (including military), jobs with 501(c)(3) organizations, and political campaigns are the qualifying employment options.

Program guidelines
3.18.2008 7:28pm
bornyesterday (mail) (www):
A friend of mine recently mentioned to me that for anyone who gets out of college and enters work at a non-profit and stays there for 3 (or maybe 5) years is forgiven any school loans assuming they've made payments on the loans at a certain level over that period of time. If that is true, I think it is a wonderful idea of Harvard as well.


This strikes me as extraordinarily inefficient. If a person were to work for only one year at a big law firm, the difference between what they would make at the law firm and what they would make at their public interest job would pay for that third year of law school and then some. Is it that unreasonable to require people who want to go into public interest to work at a big firm for one year?


Because everyone who is going to law school (even the ones at Harvard) is going to get hired at a big law firm. Especially those who aren't interested in being a lawyer for the money. I have several friends who would love to go to law school and go directly into working for a non-profit. Why should they be forced into working for some corporate/big name law firm when it is something they have no interest in?
3.18.2008 7:34pm
Cold Warrior:
NickW, thanks for the program guidelines link.

Those of us who graduated from ordinary law schools shouldn't be so thrilled to see this. I went to law school hoping to work for the federal government (o.k., I was young and idealistic), and managed to get selected for a couple highly-competitive summer clerkships while in law school. The economy turned bad fast toward the end of my 2L year, forcing a much higher percentage of the Top 10 school types into the federal government market ... and pushing my job prospects downward. By the way, I kept checking on what happened to some of the people who got the jobs I was after; they were all out of government service when the economy rebounded a few years later.

Did this make the federal government better during that 2-4 year period? I know I'm biased, but I can't really see any argument that it did ...
3.18.2008 7:47pm
Cato (mail):
They did it to compete with NYU Root-Tilden program.

I hate when liberals up the ante.
3.18.2008 7:55pm
Hans Bader (mail):
It's a bad idea even if "public interest" law firms are excluded, leaving only government jobs, as a commenter above says that the program does.

Government jobs aren't that bad paying, have decent working conditions, and thus don't require a subsidy.
3.18.2008 8:01pm
ObeliskToucher:
Sounds like a sweet deal: A student makes the "pledge" and thereby avoids paying tuition... then private law firms offer a "pledge buy-out" as a signing perk for the best candidates. They might even be inclined to offer a pro-rated deal for "second-class" grads who don't merit the original signing perk but manage to build a good record during their initial years of "forced" government labor...

(Assuming that any buy-out is necessary -- the comment by Ms. Kagen about repayment ("If a student tried to switch to a high-paying job on the sly, then we're going to ask for the money back.") gives the impression that this pledge may be nearly as binding as the one you make to PBS...)
3.18.2008 8:22pm
John (mail):
What non-profits count as "public interest"? Cato? AEI? Heritage?
3.18.2008 8:31pm
spider:
Obelisk - If the $40,000 of free tuition is structured as a loan that will be cancelled after the 5 years of public-interest work, then Harvard has no problem with enforcement.

As a side note, I've always thought "public interest" law is a rather euphemistic way of putting it. You're still helping specific class of people, just not the class that you would be helping at a corporate firm. How about "countermajoritarian law"? Would that fit on a resume?
3.18.2008 8:58pm
The General:
Or Harvard could just lower tuition overall....but that wouldn't subsidize liberal do-gooder groups that style themselves as "public interest" when they really serve narrow special interests and further clog the court system with frivolous lawsuits on behalf of trees and rocks and insects and atheists.
3.18.2008 9:15pm
Alan Gunn (mail):
Adam Smith showed in 1776 that people trying to make profits can serve the public interest. Hasn't Harvard noticed that yet?
3.18.2008 9:49pm
Public_Defender (mail):
we might have more and better public defenders, and then we'd have more criminals on the streets, and it would be all Harvard's fault.

You'd also have better prosecutors, so it would balance out, except that the results would be less dependent on chance and more dependent on how the law applies to the facts of each case.
3.18.2008 10:06pm
PGofHSM (mail) (www):
Given that lawyers don't really create much value, I don't see how Adam Smith's words apply here. Yes, the man who builds the better mousetrap and thereby profits also serves all of society's interests (except that part made up of mice). But lawyers' jobs are quite different. They aren't really making a better mousetrap. For example, the guy who came up with the poison pill did so simply to thwart hostile takeovers made possible by another bit of corporate law. These effectively cancel each other out. At least what is called "public interest law" generally is intended to assist in the administration of justice (prosecutors, public defenders) and the extension of legal expertise to those who otherwise couldn't afford it (military and low-income families).
3.18.2008 10:14pm
Bob from Ohio (mail):
34 billion dollars! How much income does that create per year? $1 billion?

It is crime they charge anyone tuition.

By the way, this is not going to create any new jobs since it does not provide a subsidy to the government or 501(c)(3). It is merely going to have Harvard grads displace other young lawyers from "lesser" schools.
3.19.2008 1:54am