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The Lowdown on LRAP: Magical Law School Debt Reliever?

Loan repayment assistance programs (LRAPs) are magic wands that make debt disappear for students who are good-hearted enough to enter public service. Sure, you’re earning a quarter of what your classmates are making, but you’re making the world a better place, and karma repays you for that. With your loan repayment, you get a unicorn to ride to work and a lifetime’s supply of free candy canes. Oh, and you officially get to celebrate your half-birthday, which means more presents!

There are many students who enter law school every year with dreams of entering public service after they graduate. The salaries aren’t nearly as high as those in the private sector; your loans, however, will be. So how do most students expect to cover the gap? With these mythical LRAPs, which are not nearly as magical as most pre-law students seem to believe.

So what is LRAP?

It’s a program that many law schools and state bars run where loans of students who go into the public sector and earn a certain (read: low) salary are subsidized so that they can continue in that beneficent position. But how can they afford to pay off the loans (or “forgive” them, which makes it sound so much nicer) for every student interested in such a position?

In short, they can’t.

LRAP isn’t a magical program that makes your loans go away. You’re not going to be laughing, eating caviar washed down with champagne, while saving the world for baby mink whales. It’s an assistance program, not a winning lottery ticket, and it’s important that you consider the amount of debt you’re taking out coupled with the amount of LRAP money available through your law school and state bar before deciding to take out a ton of loans to pay for your education.

Equal Justice Works has a list of links to law school LRAP programs. The ABA has a similar list for those administered by state bar associations. Spend time on these lists, and make the amount of money you can expect to get from the programs a part of your decision on where to apply and enroll. Call the program directors and talk to them about the application process. Ask questions about qualifications. Figure out exactly how much you can expect to get, and then figure out your repayment timeline based on a variety of realistic salaries (i.e. $35-$60K/year).

Most of all, make sure you want to do this. The public sector has this mythical aura of being all Birkenstocks and half-days. That’s not reality. Getting locked into the public sector can be as tough as working at a BigLaw firm if your heart’s not in it, and putting all your eggs in the LRAP basket can result in a daily slog that will make your life as miserable as if you had to just suck it up and repay those loans in full.

And if you do that and still look forward to a life of service, then go for it! LRAP programs will make doing so a little easier.