March 19, 2008

Harvard's Move--Why Don't More Graduates Choose Public Interest Jobs?

Jonathan Glater reports in the New York Times that Harvard Law School has offered to eliminate third-year tuition if a student promises to work five years in the public interest (clerkships included):
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.
Glater reports that only 10% of current graduates from Harvard Law go into nonprofit organizations or the government:
From 2003 to 2006, as many as 67 and as few as 54 of the 550 students graduating from Harvard Law went to work for a nonprofit organization or the government. That translates to 9.8 to 12.1 percent of the graduating class. A vast majority of students have chosen to join law firms, where they can earn well over $100,000 a year immediately after getting their degree.

Dean Kagan rightly worries that many may be choosing lucrative law firm careers because of the debt load they carry. And this move is certainly clear and helpful in reducing debt .

There are, of course, concerns other than finances that might motivate graduates to choose private law careers, at least in the first few years, over public interest careers, even if they might prefer to work in the public interest:

(1) Training--public interest and government careers may not offer adequate training because they may lack the resources--and the economies of scale--available to large law firms.

(2) Lack of jobs--for every job in the public interest, there are a score of private sector opportunities; there simply are not enough public interest jobs for everyone interested in taking on such jobs.

(3) Long term livelihood--public interest jobs may not provide sufficient income to enable one to support a family, especially so in major metropolitan centers of the country.

Many schools, including Harvard, already have in place loan forgiveness programs by which the institution repays your debt for the years you spend in public service after school. UC Davis and Yale have particularly generous programs in this regard, and I'm sure Harvard's loan forgiveness program would equal them.

I wonder if this move would actually save Harvard money by reducing interest repayment charges for graduates choosing public interest careers.

Stanford Dean Larry Kramer offers this comment:

“This is an interesting move,” Larry Kramer, dean of the law school at Stanford, said of the Harvard initiative. Compared with other loan repayment assistance programs, Mr. Kramer said, “It’s unclear whether it is more generous.” It may be, he said, that loan forgiveness over a longer period of time may encourage more students to go into public service and stay there. He added that it would take time to see how students reacted to the program.
Anupam Chander

March 19, 2008 in Money. money, money | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

January 18, 2008

Urging students (and law schools?) to do something innovative with summer $$$$

At a time when all the media talk is about an economy in trouble, law students will surely be happy to see this new article from The Recorder headlined "Summer Associate Forecast Brighter in '08."  The article reports that  the majority of large law firms interviewed for the story "said their summer programs will be slightly bigger than last year."  But what really caught my eye was the article's report that the standard weekly salary for a BIGLAW summer associate in 2008 is going to be over $3000.

Given my own (now dated) experience that a BIGLAW summer involved a lot of benefits in addition to the weekly salary (e.g., free food, tickets to events), I wonder if any students or law schools have thought about innovate ways to capitalize on BIGLAW largess.  Imagine if, for example, a student group (or a Dean) encouraged BIGLAW summers to pledge, say, five percent of their summer salary to a public interest lawyering fund? 

If we run the numbers on the assumption that, say, 100 students will donate this (tax-deductible?) five percent amount after working 10 weeks during their 2L summer, we end up with $150,000 plowed back into public interest lawyering thanks to the increasing salary scale for BIGLAW summer associate fun work.

Of course, such "found" BIGLAW $$$ could be used by student groups (or a Dean) for purposes other than for public interest lawyering: this fund could be used to help students deal with law school debt or to hire counsel to sue troublesome alums or to create a retirement program for poor underpaid federal judges or to try to convince people not to go to law school or to help needy former prosecutors or for any number of other possible noble pursuits.

Posted by DAB

January 18, 2008 in Money. money, money | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack