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Applicant Denied Bar Admission for Too Much Debt

Seems that University of California Hastings College of Law graduate Robert Bowman is in a bit of a catch-22, courtesy of the New York State bar. As The New York Times reports, Bowman owes roughly $400,000 in student loans. But Bowman doesn't stand a chance of ever repaying those loans now that he's been denied admission to the New York bar, because five appellate judges viewed Bowman's hefty debt and inability to repay it as evidence of a "lack of general character and fitness requisite for an attorney."

To be fair, the judges were more concerned with the fact that Bowman hadn't made any payments on his debt since 2000, when he graduated law school, rather than the size of the amount owed. But Bowman has had a difficult time along the way. He paid for college (he needed 10 years to graduate, for medical reasons), law school and a masters of law program in London through loans -- 32 in all. He then took the bar four times before he managed to pass. In the meantime, he experienced medical problems and duly sought deferrals from his lenders, who either failed to record his requests or improperly denied them. 

In his bar application, Bowman stated that he intended to make good on his debt once he began working as a lawyer. The bar admissions committee recommended Bowman's entry to the bar, finding his persistence admirable.

In a related story from Texas this April, The National Law Journal reports on the case of a Houston solo attorney who lost his law license over $67,000 in unpaid student debt. But he had the opportunity to practice for several years and try to make some payments before being punished for his failure to make a dent in the debt. Bowman is $400,000 in the hole in part for a law degree that he'll never be able to use, at least in the state of New York. That doesn't seem fair: As the Times story points out, "New York's courts have overlooked misconduct like lawyers' solicitation of minors for sex, efforts to deceive judges and possession of cocaine. Those instances have led merely to temporary suspensions from practice." But what do you think?

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on July 2, 2009 at 08:37 AM | Permalink | Comments (5)

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