fwaam wrote:I'm wrestling with a similar choice.... and I'd add that the thing to remember about LIPP is that it's paying back loans for people who literally cannot afford to pay them for themselves. So yes, if you have $150,000 in debt and are making $40,000 a year, LIPP will pay your loans and that's great. If you truly want a $40,000/year job and you've gotten into HLS, you should probably go. But if you look at Harvard's statistics, you'll notice that surprisingly few people (given the size of the school and apparent generosity of the program) are enrolled in LIPP--probably because they realize that a $40,000 salary, once you take out taxes, just doesn't go that far in the major U.S. cities. And because, if you're making $60,000 or more, LIPP might help you some, but not a lot--I suspect for a lot of people it's not worth filling out the paperwork for $100/month in aid. In the end, people seek out higher-paying jobs, or they get raises, and so LIPP is no longer doing them so much good.
And it only makes sense if you think about it economically. HLS wouldn't offer this program if they wound up paying back the educational debt of 50% of the class; they wouldn't be able to afford it and they'd be better off just giving people full scholarships and not having to pay back the interest. (Witness their suspension of the program where they pay for the 3L year of students committed to 5 years in the public interest, even while they keep LIPP.) They offer LIPP because it enables those few students who really do qualify and really do stay in it to take public service jobs, and because it looks great to prospective students. But make no mistake, the vast majority of HLS grads will pay back the vast majority of their own debt. If you're dead-set on working in human rights or being a public defender, great, but if you're just vaguely considering PI along with a variety of other options (as I am) think carefully about taking on that much debt. It will make a difference.
And if you're at the income level where LIPP will make a substantial contribution to paying back your debt, then think carefully about whether you're really willing to keep that standard of living for 10 years out of law school--especially since that's when most people start families, want to buy houses, and so on. LIPP allows you to save $10,000/year, which is not going to get you very far with houses, and is going to make even cars, vacations, etc., difficult.
If you have a $70,000 salary and are ~$150,000 in debt, you will get LIPP benefits of over $500 per month. Retirement accounts are exempt from the $10,000 you're allowed to save each year. I've spoken to one LIPP participant who pays his loans himself and then deposits his LIPP checks into his retirement account.
That said, I agree with your broader sentiment -- that you have to think hard about whether you want to live on such a low salary. For example, the guy I just referenced lives in San Francisco working for a nonprofit, but he lives with roommates, isn't married, doesn't have kids, etc. He loves his job and his life, but I'm sure a lot of people wouldn't.
LIPP doesn't turn a $40,000 salary into a $60,000 one. It prevents a $40,000 salary from turning into an $8,0000 one. It's still $40,000, and that's not a lot of money for a lot of people (especially when your classmates are making four times that).