Financing Your Public Interest and Public Service Career

Columbia Law School is committed to supporting our students’ dreams of pursuing careers in public interest and government work.

Social Justice Initiatives (SJI) works with students and graduates to manage the financial realities of pursuing a public interest career. For example, the Law School’s Loan Repayment Assistance Program (LRAP) is among the most generous in the country for ensuring that school debt does not prevent graduates from entering the public interest sector. In addition to providing individualized guidance, SJI hosts a series of programs with staff and alumni to discuss salaries, LRAP, cost of living, and financial planning aspects of public interest careers.

Columbia provides financial support for students and graduates to work in public interest and public service through several programs. Examples include:

To learn more about how to include finances in your long-term career planning, make an appointment with Tory Messina via Symplicity or email. To learn more about LRAP, contact Ms. Seandell James by email or phone: 212-854-1245.

Explore options to help you finance your public interest career below.

  • The CLS Public Sector Salary Survey (updated for 2019) includes data from more than 110 graduates willing to share their personal salary information in the public sectors (please contact Tory Messina [email protected] for access).
  • Interested in historical data? View previous Public Sector Salary Surveys (please contact Tory Messina [email protected] for access).
  • Sample monthly budgets from two recent graduates in public interest (please contact Tory Messina [email protected] for access).
  • Financing a Public Interest Career (video tutorial).

Columbia Law School’s Loan Repayment Assistance Program (LRAP) reduces the burden of Law School debt to make a career in public service financially possible for graduates.  


J.D. graduates who need help repaying their educational loans and secure qualifying legal employment


  • Participants are not expected to contribute to annual loan payments if their calculated loan income is less than $55,000.
  • Graduates may join the program up to seven years after graduating.
  • LRAP loans are partially forgiven from years three to five and fully forgiven on an annual basis from years five to 10.
  • Spousal educational debt service up to $10,000 may be included in the repayment formula.
  • LRAP participants with dependent children are eligible for a new dependent allowance of up to $10,000 per child.

Learn More

Enhanced LRAP Fellowships are awarded to graduating students and qualifying clerks who have demonstrated dedication to and exceptional promise for careers in public interest law. These fellowships cover all loans up to the cost of law school tuition for fellows whose annual income does not exceed $100,000. The schedule of forgiveness is accelerated beyond that of the typical LRAP arrangement. 

In 2020, Columbia Law School is offering the Berger Fellowship and the Lowenstein Fellowship. Applications are due on June 23. 


Columbia Law School J.D. graduates can receive assistance with the financial costs of state bar registration, bar preparation courses, and living expenses through the Public Service Bridge Loan, which provides an LRAP-eligible loan of up to $10,000.

To be eligible, applicants must be in their 3L year and have demonstrated a commitment to public interest/public service during their time at the Law School.

How to Apply

Submit the Bridge Loan application along with your full LRAP application by May 15, 2020.


You must provide documentation of an offer to work in LRAP-qualifying employment (reviewed by the CLS Financial Aid Office), or, if unemployed, must demonstrate the intent to be employed in a full-time LRAP eligible paid position (as determined by SJI). Qualifying LRAP employment is full-time work that makes direct use of your legal education in the public interest or public service sectors, or in legal services for the poor.