Why Harvard Law School Needs Your Money, continued
Connecting to the Profession
As the practice of law has transformed itself over the past 30 years, Professor David Wilkins '80 says law schools have fallen out of touch. But the school's Program on the Legal Profession, which he heads, is working to change that.
The program supports research on the profession, like the initiative Wilkins and Professor John Coates are involved in, which looks at how corporations buy legal services, or the program's study of the role of in-house ethics advisers in law firms. Wilkins is also interested in new ways of teaching about the profession, such as introducing business school-style case studies on practice-related issues. Beyond focusing on the large law firm and the corporate sector, the program has also been working with Jeanne Charn ' 70, head of the Hale and Dorr Legal Services Center, on new approaches to delivering legal services.
The law school's newly implemented 40-hour pro bono requirement, and the program that supports it, is another product of the Strategic Plan. It's meant to encourage all students to think about how their careers can contribute to the public good. It also serves as another bridge between academic life and career choices on the other side.
Yet the amount of debt new graduates accrue also affects their choices. When alumni leave HLS with their diplomas, they now take with them on average a debt of nearly $79,000, over and above undergraduate loans. Salaries in private practice or the business world make such debt manageable. But those like Loren Washburn '02, who choose public service, rely on the school's Low Income Protection Plan, which pays off portions of their loans.
Washburn, who recently started working at the Justice Department in the criminal enforcement section of the tax division, is "phenomenally excited" about his new job. But he's also the father of three young children, including twins who were born last spring. Thanks to HLS's financial aid and loan forgiveness, he and his family manage on a DOJ salary.
At HLS, unlike at some schools, financial aid for J.D. students is completely need-based. Thirty-six percent of students get grants and loans (with another 40 percent getting just loans). But last year, because of reduced endowment payouts, the average grant declined by approximately $1,479, so the loan burden was that much higher. The Strategic Plan calls for more money for grants.
For Washburn, HLS's financial aid was all about choice. He spent his first two summers working in law firms, and it wasn't until the end of his law school career, after much course work and consideration, that he decided public service might be for him. "The financial aid program was there when I needed it. I didn't have to commit to it way in advance and be thinking public sector, public sector all through law school," he said.
When Amy Copperman '98 applied to law school, she knew she was headed toward a career in public service, and she's never looked back. She decided to go to HLS, she said, because "it offered the best loan-forgiveness program. I don't think I could have done the work that I do had I gone to some of the other choices I had." Today, she is an attorney at Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, where she first interned as a student and now focuses on housing. She says every time she makes a difference, it's a victory--and a credit to LIPP.
HLS also offers students opportunities to experience public service work before they graduate. In addition to a wide variety of clinical placements, Summer Public Interest Funding offers a noncredit option that literally pays the rent. Last summer, more than 300 students participated in the program, which provides a stipend to cover living expenses for students who work in public service positions.