PILF Kicks Off Pledge Drive for Loan Repayment Assistance Program

PILF Kicks Off Pledge Drive for Loan Repayment Assistance Program

By JC Sheppard
President, Public Interest Law Foundation

One of the things that attracted me to USD is the fact that its programs offer a unique opportunity for exposure to the world of public interest law. These opportunities enable law students to learn substantive law while gaining real-world experience in many niche areas of public interest law—everything from domestic violence prevention to environmental law, from children’s advocacy to consumer rights.  I immersed myself in the courses and clinics offered by the Center for Public Interest Law and the Children’s Advocacy Institute, which have opened my eyes to how the government works (or doesn’t work) to advance the interests of consumers and children.

With Community Service Grant (CSG) funding provided by USD’s Financial Aid Office, I spent the summer after my 1L year working at a domestic violence clinic in a public courthouse, writing restraining orders for victims of domestic violence or civil harassment.  My experience at the clinic was fantastic:  I had a lot of one-on-one client contact, I improved my legal writing and analysis skills, and I went home each day feeling like I had improved someone’s life. During the summer after my 2L year (again, with CSG funding provided by USD), I worked at Advocacy Forum-Nepal, an organization of Nepali lawyers who work to assist victims of human rights abuses through Nepal’s legal system.

But what good will this exposure and training do if my student loan debt keeps me from working in public interest law after I graduate?  How can we encourage intelligent, hard-working young lawyers to take public interest jobs, like the director of a DV clinic, when the salary is not enough to pay off law school debt?

The Public Interest Law Foundation (PILF), a student organization, started USD’s Loan Repayment Assistance Program (LRAP) in 1993.  LRAP provides postgraduate assistance to USD law graduates who go into qualifying public interest jobs at nonprofit organizations.  To ensure adequate funding for this program in perpetuity, PILF and then-Dean Dan Rodriguez reached an agreement in 1998:  The Dean would expand and enlarge CSGs, and allow them to be used anywhere for summer nonprofit employment; PILF would conduct an annual pledge drive to raise funding for LRAP; and the Dean would match the funding raised by PILF up to $20,000 per year.  This plan has proven very successful: through the efforts of PILF and the support of three successive deans (Dan Rodriguez, Kevin Cole, and current Dean Stephen Ferruolo), LRAP is now endowed and is able to fund 4-6 grants per year at $7,000-$8,000 per award.  Since 1995, LRAP has funded 61 grants totaling over $350,000.  LRAP allows USD Law graduates to take (and keep) public interest jobs that they love but would otherwise have to forego because of outstanding law school debt.

Students who receive LRAP funds must work at a nonprofit organization, earn under $52,000 at the time of initial application, and have at least $80,000 in law school debt (undergraduate debt is not included). Recipients of LRAP funds in previous years have worked at nonprofits like the San Diego Volunteer Lawyer Program, USD’s Children’s Advocacy Institute, the Immigration and Refugee Rights Coalition, Legal Aid, the Utility Consumers’ Action Network, the Humane Society, San Diego Advocates for Social Change, Bet Tzedek Legal Services, Centro Legal Por Derechos Humanos, California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform, Asian Pacific Islander Legal Outreach, Public Law Center, and the Fair Housing Council of San Diego.

We need your help!  During the week of March 4-8, PILF will conduct the Fifteenth Annual LRAP Pledge Drive.  PILF members will be approaching USD Law faculty, administrators, alumni, and students for contributions which will be matched by Dean Ferruolo up to $20,000.  Every penny contributed will be used to assist USD law graduates working in public interest jobs in repaying their law school loans.  The practice of public interest law benefits everyone, so please, make a contribution.  Let’s make the Dean pay!

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