Author: Chicago Bar Foundation
Last updated: June 2013
Attending law school requires not only a significant commitment of time, but also a substantial investment of financial resources. Even in the face of overwhelming financial challenges, many law school graduates successfully pursue careers in legal aid, public interest, government work, and private practice. Repayment and loan forgiveness programs are available to enable law school graduates to follow their desired career path. Understanding the opportunities open to you and planning in advance can ensure that you will be able to manage your educational debt while pursuing your career goals.
Nationally and in Illinois, several educational debt forgiveness and loan repayment assistance programs exist. Below, several important programs are identified. However, the loan forgiveness and repayment landscape is complex and often changing. Students and graduates should take advantage of the free information that is available on this topic including: the University of Michigan Law School's Debt Wizard, Heather Jarvis, Equal Justice Works, and resources at your school.
- Federal Public Service Loan Forgiveness. In 2007, Congress passed the College Cost Reduction and Access Act (CCRAA). This law helps lawyers on a variety of career paths by lowering monthly student loan payments on federal loans through a new repayment program (Income Based Repayment) and canceling the remaining debt after ten years while working in a qualifying public interest career. Heather Jarvis, the U.S. Department of Education and Equal Justice Works provide detailed information about this program.
- Law School Loan Repayment Assistance Programs (LRAP). Many law schools have loan repayment assistance programs for public interest lawyers. The American Bar Association and Equal Justice Works maintain directories of law school LRAP programs. Check those websites or visit your school’s career services or financial aid office to find out whether your school has an LRAP program and how to qualify.
- Illinois Programs. The John R. Justice Student Loan Repayment Program (JRJ) is a federal program administered by the Illinois Student Assistance Commission and provides loan repayment assistance for state and federal public defenders and state prosecutors who agree to remain employed as public defenders and prosecutors for at least three years. In 2009, Illinois also passed the Public Interest Attorney Assistance Act (PIAAA), but funding has not yet been appropriated for this program. Visit the Chicago Bar Foundation’s website for updates on these and other programs.
- The Chicago Bar Foundation Fellowships. Each year, The Chicago Bar Foundation awards six annual loan repayment assistance fellowships of up to $50,000 per fellowship to individual legal aid or public interest law attorneys. Learn more about the CBF Kimball R. Anderson and Karen Gatsis Anderson Public Interest Law Fellowship and the CBF Sun-Times Public Interest Law Fellowship Program on the CBF’s website.
In addition to these loan repayment and assistance programs, scholarships exist for public interest law students and provide great opportunities for new lawyers getting started in their public interest careers.
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