Sep 17, 2008 — Thousands of law school graduates mired in considerable educational debt are shunning jobs in public service law because these jobs pay considerably less than those in the private sector. Indeed, a 2006 report from Equal Justice Works confirms that the double burden of high debt and low salaries affects recruitment and retention in the government and non-profit workforce and threatens to strike “a debilitating blow to the future of full-time public service.”
To help reverse this alarming trend, prominent philanthropist Laurie M. Tisch has made a $5 million gift, through the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund, to Yeshiva University’s Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law to endow a Loan Repayment Assistance Program. The Laurie M. Tisch Loan Repayment Assistance Program (LRAP) will benefit Cardozo graduates who have chosen to pursue careers in public-interest or public-service law by providing “forgivable loans” to assist them in overcoming their debt.
“This is a transformative gift,” said Cardozo Dean David Rudenstine. “It completely changes the face of our current loan repayment assistance program and ensures that our graduates can continue to work for the public good. Such work is a sterling affirmation of our commitment to equality, social justice and humanistic and intellectual values.”
Tisch, whose daughter, Emily Tisch Sussman, is a 2008 alumna of Cardozo, noted that she comes from a family in which “public service was immensely important; it was instilled in all of us from the time we were children. This gift to Cardozo builds on that family legacy.”
Indeed, she stressed that the public sector – whether it be legal assistance services, the District Attorney’s office, government, human rights groups, or not-for-profit organizations – should not be deprived of some of the best and brightest legal minds coming out of law school.
“The goal of my gift,” Tisch said, “is to provide access and opportunity for these top graduates to pursue such jobs and work for the common good, while not having to worry about being able to meet their outstanding financial obligations.”
Sixty-four of the 342 graduates of Cardozo’s class of 2007 are working in either government or public service. Of them, 56 took out student loans collectively totaling nearly $6 million; 30 of the 56 borrowed in excess of $100,000 each.
The Laurie M. Tisch LRAP will annually benefit some 60 Cardozo graduates who hold JD degrees, have full-time public service law-related jobs, and incomes of less than $60,000.
Recipients will receive an average annual grant of $4,500 and a total of $22,500 over five years. For graduates who owe $100,000, this will result in an approximate 23 percent reduction of that debt.
Today, legal education is extremely expensive. The average tuition for private New York City law schools is over $40,000 per year, and when coupled with housing and other costs, a student can expect to spend about $70,000 a year, or $210,000 to complete a three-year course of study.
About 80 percent of the 2008 Cardozo graduates have law school education debt, with an average debt of $105,000. Conversely, the average public service salary for a 2008 graduate is expected to remain at the same level as 2007, some $40,000.
The Laurie N. Tisch Illumination Fund was established in 2007 to enable more New Yorkers to take advantage of the rich opportunities that New York City has to offer. It plays an active role in supporting strong leaders and organizations that have a positive and lasting effect on individual well-being and community life.