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Bar News - April 20, 2016

NH Bar Foundation: Board Updates Law School Loan Repayment Program

The NH Bar Foundation Board of Directors last month approved several changes in the operation of the Law School Loan Repayment Assistance Program (LRAP), established 17 years ago to help legal services programs attract and retain attorneys.

During that time, $1.1 million in IOLTA funds have been given to lawyers who work for IOLTA grantees including NH Legal Assistance, Legal Advice & Referral Center, Disability Rights Center, and the NH Pro Bono Referral Program. The purpose of LRAP is to enhance the ability of legal aid programs to offering a measure of financial assistance with the substantial education debt burdens many newer attorneys bear.

A subcommittee of Foundation board members, including Jaye Rancourt, Nina Gardner, Doug Hill and Chris Keating, began meeting last year to review the guidelines and limitations under which LRAP has operated with the goal of providing the maximum benefit for the dollars spent. They focused in particular on how the total amount provided each year – decided as part of the IOLTA grant process – is divided among applicants. The subcommittee also looked at eligibility, accounting processes, obligations of recipients, and the structure of the program, including annual limits per attorney.

The subcommittee also met with representatives of the grantee agencies to receive their input.

At the board’s March 23 meeting, the directors approved several changes designed to improve the functioning of the program at a time when IOLTA revenue is declining.

Among the changes approved were a reduction in the annual cap from $12,000 per recipient to $8,000 in any single year, and establishing a lifetime cap of no more than 80 percent of the outstanding debt. Applicants will be required to seek loan assistance from all available programs at their law schools and report that amount to the Foundation’s LRAP administrator. Another adjustment in policy clarifies that all LRAP assistance must be used to pay down outstanding law school loans and not for any other purpose, and that those payments are documented. These changes were endorsed by the program directors of the grantees.

The Foundation board, after some discussion, also approved the subcommittee’s recommendation to require that applicants report total household income as a means of screening the lawyers who are most in need of financial assistance.

“The availability of even modest loan assistance from LRAP can make all the difference, enabling staff attorneys to remain working at our organizations for the long-term and have adequate income to raise a family,” wrote the directors of NHLA, LARC and DRC in a memo to the subcommittee.

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