In 2007, the DC Bar Foundation began the Loan Repayment Assistance Program (LRAP). Through this program, DCBF provides loan repayment assistance to qualified attorneys who work for an eligible DC employer. It gives interest-free forgivable loans of up to $12,000 to qualified attorneys.
We have all heard stories about attorneys who graduate and are saddled with the hefty debt they have to repay. Those who choose to work in legal aid earn a modest salary, making it difficult to pay back their loans and meet their basic living expenses.
Children’s Law Center (CLC), with a focus on improving the health, family stability, and education outcomes for DC children and families, is a current eligible employer and has participated in LRAP since the beginning. We interviewed Judith Sandalow, CLC’s executive director, who shared what LRAP has meant to her organization and attorneys. “One of our staff attorneys testified to the DC Council about the importance of this program.” During the testimony, that staff attorney revealed that “after paying for her expenses, including her law school loans, she was left with just $3 per day for food.”
DCBF’s recent Civil Legal Counsel Projects Program Biannual Progress Report highlighted the staggering cost of housing in DC. In the 2022 publication of the Out of Reach report, the National Low Income Housing Coalition ranked the District of Columbia as the fifth most expensive jurisdiction in the nation concerning rental housing wages. As the cost of housing and daily necessities continues to rise, legal aid organizations run the risk of attorneys leaving for private firms where they can make substantially more money. Organizations like CLC depend on LRAP to incentivize attorneys to stay on staff. When asked why LRAP is important to her organization Sandalow said, “Since we can’t pay people different salaries based on their financial needs, DCBF’s Loan Repayment Assistance Program ensures we’re able to attract and retain attorneys who come from a mix of life experiences and economic backgrounds.”
The impact of LRAP is widespread. It is not just a direct benefit to the organization or the attorney receiving the loan, but it helps legal service providers reach more DC residents who seek assistance. Sandalow emphasized how important LRAP is in sustaining CLC’s work, “Our organizations are only as good as the talent and diversity of our employees. LRAP helps ensure that staff from a mix of economic backgrounds can serve as attorneys for children and families who need our support.”
Senior Supervising Attorney Jessie Forsythe is one of a number of CLC staff members who have benefitted from LRAP. Jessie shared, “Without LRAP, I would not have been able to stay at Children’s Law Center and grow professionally and personally these past 11 years.”
Public interest jobs should not create an additional burden for those who want to serve in their communities once they graduate law school. Moreover, LRAP—and other loan forgiveness programs—cannot fix the rising cost of post-secondary education, which is why many graduates have exorbitant student loans. Making education accessible, affordable, and equitable is the ultimate goal, but until then, CLC hopes that DCBF can “keep adding money to the [LRAP] pot.”
LRAP is available to attorneys employed with a 501(c)(3) that provides direct civil legal services to DC residents with low incomes. To see the current list of eligible employers and to learn more about LRAP, visit the Loan Repayment Assistance Program page on the DCBF website.