In a move that will further strengthen its commitment to public service, Harvard Law School is announcing that it will pay the third year of tuition for all future students who commit to work in public service for five years following graduation. Dean Elena Kagan ’86 announced the new program following a three-day “Celebration of Public Interest,” which brought more than 600 alumni back to the HLS campus.

The new initiative will operate in addition to the Law School’s current loan repayment program, which is—and will continue to be—the most generous in the nation.

“I want all of our students to have the ability to make public service their first choice after law school,” said Kagan. “We have tried in many ways to make this choice easier, particularly for students who have accumulated significant debt in college and law school. This initiative, which effectively provides a $40,000-plus grant to all our public service-oriented students, is the next big step toward giving our students greater career choices. There is no better time to announce it than now—following our first-ever Celebration of Public Interest.”

The Public Service Initiative is the first program of its kind in legal education. Over the course of its first five years, the initiative represents an additional annual investment of just over $3 million on the part of the Law School.

Students interested in participating in the initiative must demonstrate a commitment to public service during their time in law school. Students will earn eligibility “credits” by engaging in public service activities such as summer internships and relevant clinical programs. Students who pledge to work for five years in a qualifying public service job will receive a grant totaling the cost of their tuition for the third year. Tuition at Harvard Law School will be $41,500 next year.

The School’s office of Student Financial Services will administer the new program. Qualifying jobs would include a wide variety of work in government and nonprofit organizations. Although the program will go into full operation with J.D. students entering the school this fall—the class of 2011—current 2Ls and 1Ls will benefit from a phase-in period that makes them eligible to receive third-year tuition grants of $5,000 to $10,000 respectively.

The Public Service Initiative supplements a range of existing programs at Harvard designed to enable law students to choose public service careers. The Law School’s loan repayment program—which calculates a student’s debt and income to provide repayment of educational loans—is the most generous of its kind. That program—known as the Low Income Protection Plan—will continue unchanged, even as the Public Service Initiative ensures that participating students will carry less debt at graduation.

The School has recently increased funding for Summer Public Interest Fellowships, which allow any student to receive funding for low-paying or no-paying summer public interest jobs. The School also offers a series of fellowships that support students who go to work in specific public service sectors and into academia.