Thursday, July 2, 2009

Too Much Student Debt = No Law License?

This article from the New York Times is really alarming. New York judges have denied one man's admission to practice law in New York State because of his outstanding student loan debt. From the article:

All his life, Robert Bowman wanted to be a lawyer. He overcame a troubled
childhood, a tragic accident that nearly cost him a leg and a debilitating Jet
Ski collision.

He put himself through community college, worked and borrowed heavily to
help pay for college, graduate school and even law school. He took the New York
bar examination not once, not twice, not three times, but four, passing it last
year. Finally, he seemed to be on his way.

In January, the committee of New York lawyers that reviews applications for
admission to the bar interviewed Mr. Bowman, studied his history and the debt he
had amassed, and called his persistence remarkable. It recommended his

But a group of five state appellate judges decided this spring that his student loans were too big and his efforts to repay them
too meager for him to be a lawyer.

During Mr. Bowman's pusuit of higher education and struggles to pass the bar exam he unfortunately ignored his student loan obligations. Over the course of four years his outstanding debt went from a high (but not unheard of) $270,000 to $435,000 due to charges and fees from various collection agencies.

While I can see the argument that this man seemingly kept getting degree after degree without thinking of the consequences his mounting debt would have (he admits he has never made a single student loan payment) and then went four years without getting in touch with his lenders, I think the punishment of denying him admission to the bar is outrageous. How is he ever supposed to pay back his loans now if he can't even make a living?

I learned the hard way what happens to you if you try to run away from your student loan debt and wind up in default (granted for 1/20th of the amount that Mr. Bowman did) so I can definitely sympathize for what he must be going through. But to work so hard pulling himself out of homelessness and two life-threatening accidents to finally passing the bar exam just to be denied a chance at his dream of becoming a lawyer just doesn't seem fair to me at all.

Mr. Bowman is appealing his decision and I really hope things turn around for him.


Greg said...

Not giving him his license to practice is not punishment. They are basing it on his "character and fitness" to practice law in NY. And his record of just continuing to rack up debt without regard to the consequences and never making a single payment in the many years since that first bill came due show a clear pattern of recklessness. I can't say I blame the judges for denying his admission to the state bar.

ldub said...

i saw this this morning and completely thought of you! i think, given that the committee that actually interviewed this judge and went through the detailed records he presented recommended that he be admitted to the bar, it IS far overreaching for the judge to then deny that admission. additionally, there must always be some extenuating circumstances clause - i mean, if defense lawyers can use mitigating circumstances in courtrooms, why wouldn't they be able to use them in explaining their own financial situation (and plans to get it in order)? the guy's had a lot of demonstrable hard luck; sad to see that this just adds to the pile.

negative_net_worth said...

I feel like I can see both sides of this one, but in the end, I hope they decide to admit him to the bar. Can one be admitted provisionally? I think that by denying him a license to practice will severely limit his ability to make good on his debts. I hope this story will continue to be updated in the news!

Moneyapolis said...

I read this last week and agree that it's outrageous. Obviously the guy didn't make the best financial decisions and should have paid (or deferred) his debt. However, when the article pointed 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."

I felt like penalizing this guy for some unpaid student loan debt -- especially factoring in his life circumstances -- was absurd!