• What is NC LEAF?

In 1989, students and deans at North Carolina's law schools formed the North Carolina Legal Education Assistance Foundation (NC LEAF) as the nation's first statewide loan repayment assistance program for attorneys working in public service careers.

Since the first funding cycle in 1991, NC LEAF has provided $7,177,549 in loan repayment assistance to over 1,449 public service attorneys. NC LEAF helps North Carolina lawyers pursue careers in public service through educational loan repayment assistance for law school debt. Participating lawyers have accepted positions in which they aid the traditionally underserved populations of North Carolina. They do so at salaries which are often a fraction of those of their counterparts who work at private law firms. Yet they face the same educational debt as their colleagues who enter private practice.

A key component of NC LEAF is keeping well-trained attorneys in their jobs, which in turn helps the delivery of justice in the court system and ensures justice for the underrepresented citizens of our state. Retention is an ongoing problem with attorneys forced to seek higher paying positions in private firms. Staffing shortages result in overworked attorneys handling unmanageable caseloads, potentially affecting public safety and the administration of justice.

Barriers to Seeking Public Interest Legal Positions:

~Law school tuitions have increased dramatically, over 267% since 1990.

~Many students graduate from law school with debts ranging from $80,000 to $200,000. The average debt load in the NC LEAF program is $154,012.

~At Legal Aid of North Carolina (LANC), starting salaries are $40,100 - for entry-level attorneys with an average debt of $100,000.

~ The statutory minimum starting salary for Assistant District Attorneys and Assistant Public Defenders is $40,366.

  • Student loan debt is consistently cited as the overwhelming reason why attorneys decline or leave positions as prosecutors and public defenders.


Special Thanks to Supporters of NC LEAF:

NC State Bar provides no-cost office space

Chief Justice's Equal Access to Justice Commission Foundation

Conference of District Attorneys

Equal Justice Alliance

NC Association of Defense Attorneys

NC Association of Public Defenders

NC Bar Association

NC Conference of Clerks of Superior Court 

NC Courts Commission