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Making Law School More Affordable—Philip Schrag ’67

The picture is eerily familiar.

With diploma in hand, a law school graduate embarks into the workplace with the strong desire to serve the public interest, to help those less fortunate perhaps by working with Legal Aid or at a public defender’s office—to make a difference. But all too often, those dreams go unfulfilled as the burden of thousands of dollars of law school debt forces graduates into more lucrative private sector jobs just to make ends meet and to avoid facing a lifetime of loan payments.

Philip Schrag ’67, professor of law and director of the Center for Applied Legal Studies and the Public Interest Law Scholars Program at Georgetown University Law Center, has spent years trying to help these graduates overcome the limitations that law school loans are placing on their career options.

“An important minority of law school applicants choose to obtain a legal education because they see it as a way to perform a lifetime of public service to those in need, or to work for social change,” Schrag says. “But too often, their debt forces them into large law firms that primarily serve wealthy individuals and corporations.”

Schrag’s tireless efforts have been realized in the College Cost Reduction and Access Act. Signed into law by President Bush, the law enables graduates to enter public service fields while forgiving tens of thousands of dollars of debt. Schrag advocated for a federal forgiveness program in his role as Vice-Chair of the Committee on Government Relations and Student Financial Aid of the American Bar Association’s Section of Legal Education, as well as in his 2002 book, Repay as You Earn.

A detailed explanation of how the program works can be found in Schrag’s Hofstra Law Review article at:

“The law caps a borrower’s annual repayment obligation at about 11 percent of gross income,” Schrag explained. “The unpaid interest is added to principal, but if a borrower works for ten years for a government or a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, the government will forgive all remaining principal and interest.”

The program will not only benefit lawyers, but also college graduates, doctors, teachers, nurses, social workers, members of the military, and others.

The average graduate of a private law school enters the workforce with more than $85,000 of debt. Many law schools have programs that help former students pay off loans if they take public-interest jobs.

Yale Law School pioneered a loan repayment assistance program that allows alumni to take relatively low-paying jobs in any sector, including nonprofit organizations, public interest, government, academia, and small firms. Established in 1989, COAP (Career Options Assistance Program) was one of the first loan forgiveness programs of its kind. Since its inception, it has served as a model for similar programs at law schools across the country.