Columbia Law School Unveils Series of New Initiatives to Enable Pursuit of Legal Careers in Public Interest

Loan Assistance Program Will Become Among the Most Generous in the Nation; New Public Interest Fellows Program to Begin in 2019

NEW YORK, Nov. 15, 2018—Columbia Law School today announced a series of new initiatives and enhancements designed to better enable students at one of the nation’s top law schools to pursue careers in public interest and public service immediately upon graduation. Over the next three years, Columbia Law School will be investing an additional $4.5 million to improve accessibility and public interest programming.

Long renowned for its ability to place graduates at the private sector’s most prominent firms, Columbia Law School will strengthen pipelines to the most impactful and rewarding public service positions. Developed under the leadership of Dean Gillian Lester, this unmatched combination of financial assistance and programmatic innovation will give Columbia Law School one of the most ambitious and multidimensional programs in the country for launching students into public interest and government careers.

Columbia Law’s Loan Repayment Assistance Program (LRAP) is one of just four institutionally funded loan forgiveness programs among the nation’s top law schools; the remainder rely on the federal Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program. Beginning this year, Columbia Law will substantially expand the generosity of the LRAP program, including an increase in the income threshold from $50,000 to $55,000, resulting in $1,725 more annually for LRAP participants, making it one of the most generous in the country. In a time of uncertainty about the future of federal loan forgiveness programs, the enhancements will fortify and entrench institutional support for students.

On the programmatic side, the school announced today that the 2019-20 academic year will mark the beginning of the new Public Interest/Public Service Fellows Program, which will be housed within the school’s office of Social Justice Initiatives.

“Columbia Law School has a strong tradition of educating and mentoring graduates who will go on to serve the community, and these enhancements now position us as the premier destination for law students eager to pursue public interest and government careers,” said Columbia Law School Dean Gillian Lester. “Making this work possible and emphasizing its importance is core to our mission and, perhaps today more than ever, critical for the health and vitality of our nation’s most important institutions.”

From John Jay to the Roosevelts, from pioneers in civil rights to legal trailblazers for same-sex marriage, from Ruth Bader Ginsburg to Eric Holder, Columbia Law School counts some of the most esteemed names in public service as distinguished community members.

“Columbia Law School students have a strong sense of civic engagement that, when paired with this new programming and greater accessibility, will produce the next generation of civic leaders,” said Eric Holder, former Attorney General of the United States and a graduate of the Law School’s Class of 1976.  “A coveted law degree can take graduates anywhere in the world, but true servants of the law use their skills to make the lives of other people better.”

Three specific enhancements will make Columbia Law’s LRAP program among the most generous in the country:

  • Public Service Bridge Loan:
    This unprecedented support will provide up to $10,000 in forgivable loans to assist recent graduates entering careers in public interest/public service with bar exam expenses over the summer following graduation. Columbia Law School is the only premier law school in the country to offer a forgivable institutional loan for this purpose. Public Service Bridge Loans and third-party bar examination loans will be qualified debt under Columbia's LRAP program and therefore also eligible for LRAP loan forgiveness.
  • Income threshold:
    The annual gross income threshold under which participants are not expected to contribute will be increased from its current level of $50,000 to $55,000. The $5,000 increase in the threshold will take effect as of February 1, 2019 and be available to current LRAP participants and future graduates. This change translates into $1,725 in additional annual LRAP assistance for most participants.
  • Dependent allowance:
    LRAP participants with dependent children will be eligible for a new dependent allowance of up to $10,000 per child to be deducted when calculating gross income. This allowance is the most generous among premier law schools and could mean up to $3,450 in additional annual LRAP assistance per dependent child.

Additionally, the School announced today a three-year, tiered increase in guaranteed summer funding. Students who pursue internships in public interest or government during the summer after 1L or 2L years are guaranteed to receive funding for summer jobs and internships in the public sector. The hourly wage will be raised to $22.50 over the next three years, an increase of 40% for 1Ls.

“Strengthening the financial commitment to the loan program lessens the burdens that influence career decisions,” said David Morales, a 2012 graduate of the Law School enrolled in LRAP who currently works as a legal aid attorney in Washington state. “The new programming creates a holistic approach to addressing student interests and needs and is vital to sparking the careers of public interest students. This, combined with the increase in financial assistance, will result in more students seeking public interest careers.” 

The programmatic innovations will be anchored by the new Public Interest/Public Service Fellows Program. This initiative will attract a diverse cohort of students interested in pursuing careers in the public and non-profit sectors to Columbia each year. Starting the day they arrive and continuing throughout their three years at Columbia, fellows will participate in special community-building events; learn from their peers, faculty members and practitioners in small-cohort mentoring sessions; receive substantive skills-based training; build peer-to-peer support networks; and have access to other special resources and opportunities. The Fellows Program will be administered by a new director, whose appointment will be announced shortly.

Several other new and recent efforts will help round out the Law School’s expanded focus on public service, including:

  • Quadrupling the resources dedicated to increasing the number of graduates obtaining prestigious judicial clerkships;
  • Four new clinics launched this year with a community service focus, as well as an expansion of the Immigrants’ Rights and Human Rights Clinics and the Washington D.C. externship to include opportunities at D.C.-based NGOs and government agencies. The expansion of clinics has been and will continue to be accompanied by hiring new faculty;
  • Ongoing expansion of the Greene Scholars program. Made possible by a transformative gift last year from the Jerome L. Greene Foundation, the program provides full-tuition scholarships to outstanding students with a demonstrated interest in pursuing careers in government, non-profit organizations, academia, social entrepreneurship, and community development. The first two scholars began their studies this year and the program is expected to grow over time as the endowment increases; and
  • New post-graduate fellowships like the Millstein Public Service Fellowship, which provides funding to recent graduates who have secured certain positions within the federal government.

Read more:

Above the Law, "Elite Law School Announces Exciting Expansion Of Support For Public Interest Work"

Bloomberg Law, Big Law Business, "Columbia Law Invests $4.5 Million in Public Interest Careers"

New York Law Journal, "Columbia Law Boosts Public Interest Support"

National Jurist, Columbia Law's $4.5 million investment makes school more attractive for students interested in public interest

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About Columbia Law School

Since its founding in 1858, Columbia Law School has been a driver of ideas, innovation, and impact that have shaped the legal community. Alumni have launched international law firms, advocated for civil and human rights, won precedent-setting cases, led multinational businesses, and shaped world affairs. Columbia Law School graduates occupy influential roles globally in law, finance, academia, human rights, the judiciary, international affairs, and technology.

Published on November 15, 2018