New York Judges Deny Admission to Bar for Lawyer With $400,000 in Student Loans

200px-JMR-Memphis1The New York’s Committee on Character and Fitness has rendered a novel, if not unprecedented, ruling: barring Robert Bowman, 47, from becoming an attorney because of the size of his student loans. The Committee was unmoved by Bowman’s claim that he has suffered two debilitating injuries and was wrongly denied a deferment of his loans.

Many law students today leave law school with heavy debts. Indeed, that has been the common situation for law school for many decades. However, the Committee appears to have created a de facto line on excessive loans. Bowman is $400,000 in debt after putting himself through college and law school.

Bowman struggled to work through school and then struggled on the bar — taking the test four times before passing.

The initial review of the committee recommended approval and even commended his persistence. However, five state appellate judges found that he had made too little progress in paying the huge loans that he had accumulated. Of course, he might be able to make greater progress on loans if he could practice as a lawyer. Nevertheless, the judges treated the size of the remaining loans as undermining his claim that he had “the character and general fitness requisite for an attorney and counselor-at-law.”

Bowman insists that the reason that he made no payments on his loans was in large part due to his injuries. He also claims that Sallie Mae overcharged him and that he was entitled to deferment.

Sallie Mae said that Bowman took out 32 loans to make it through school. They said that they are reviewing the case.

If Bowman didn’t have bad luck, he would have no luck at all. It took 10 rather than 4 years for Bowman to complete his undergraduate degree. His education was interrupted by an accident when an all-terrain vehicle hit his motorcycle. He almost lost his left leg but learned to walk again and received his degree at SUNY Albany. He later enrolled in the University of California Hastings College of Law in San Francisco in 2000 and then started a masters in law program in London in his third year. He passed the bar in 2008, but was then hit by an out-of-control jet ski. That accident broke his leg in four places.

While this is a huge debt, I fail to see (given the circumstances of these accidents) why this denial is warranted. There should be some intermediate status to allow him to begin his practice while reviewed in a year on his payment of the loan. Frankly, while I am surprised that he was not recovered money on either of these accidents, the accidents should be treated as a mitigating circumstance. The judges had a finding by the reviewing lawyers, who found that Bowman’s “determination to pursue a postsecondary education remarkable.” I believe the lawyer’s panel was right and that this ruling is rather harsh under these circumstances. Two shattered legs is probably not going to trigger a line of limping copycat lawyers with unpaid loans. Moreover, if he does not make progress on his loans, he could be suspended or disbarred. No one can known how good of an attorney Bowman will prove, but he has proven a great determination to be an attorney. He deserves the chance, in my view.

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18 thoughts on “New York Judges Deny Admission to Bar for Lawyer With $400,000 in Student Loans

  1. “the character and general fitness requisite for an attorney and counselor-at-law.”

    You mean like those six guys on trial for war crimes in Spain?

  2. I think less of a man who is unwilling to pay his debts, but I despise those who refuse to grant him the opportunity, simply because he has debt.

  3. This is astoundingly unfair. They just deprived Mr. Bowman of his livelihood. Regarding self-support, this is analogous to those countries that sever the hands of a thief thereby ensuring that he will remain unemployable and a ward of the State or a beggar, at best.

  4. I’m surprised this guy was able to finish school and pass the bar at all considering the injuries he has had. $400,000 is definitely way more than anyone should go in debt for school, but with all this man has gone through it may have been necessary.

  5. I find this decision grossly unfair. This man has shown remarkable perseverance in pursuing his goals. If the bar had any legitimate concerns, the solution would have been a conditional admission, a procedure I know to be available in Florida. I am not familiar with New York requirements, but it certainly appears that the court in this instance abused its discretion.

  6. Clearly, on the face of it there was an unfair abuse committed against this man. What is puzzling to me is the why of it, in the face of seemingly exculpatory circumstances. I can’t help but thinking that there was something about this man that those on The New York Committee on Character and Fitness found but were loath to express, so they used the debt. I don’t mean to imply that there was something wrong with Mr. Bowman, but that the Committee was being more subjective than objective.

  7. I thought student loans were in some respect supposed to encourage the most expensive and education intensive professions toward a diverse meritocracy and away from high paying clubs for legacy admissions and the wealthy. Maybe I misunderstood.

  8. I’m thinking this man needs to hire a lawyer. If being in debt to the tune of $400,000 means you don’t meet the standard for being a righteous atty., then why isn’t the “Association” checking everyone’s debt level? Why is student loan debt (over $399,000?) immoral but every other kind of debt is O.K.? I hadn’t realized one must hand over one’s financial records to become an atty. or continue to practice law. If so, what are the standards, how are they applied and who enforces them? I agree with lottakatz. I also thought the US didn’t participate in debtors prison. May Xenu strike them harshly with his mighty lightening!

  9. Obviously idiotic decision for all the reasons above.
    Owing money alone is immoral turpitude? Is he late on payments?
    Was there ever a prior notice to aspiring attorneys that if you applied while owing a certain amount, you would be denied?
    I think, among the prior torts he had, he should have a due process violation issue with this panel, in federal court.

    It is unprecedented and stupid. Obviously some kind of subjective, prejudicial motivation.

    Plain wrong.

  10. I wonder how much of his debt is medical-related. Chalk another one up to our viciously greedy medical system.

  11. It is important to reserve elite professions such as that of lawyer for those from wealthy families who do not need to borrow to fund their education. The court decision is in agreement with traditional right wing political morality.

  12. I fully empathize with this man and find it very unfair. I too took a long time to get my degree and only totaled up $30,000 in debt (plus $20000 in interest and penalties due to disability). I suffered two serious medical problems that left me “permanently partially” disabled. Salle Mae also has charged me interest, penalties and denied me deferment or forbearance. They also took my last deferment when I declared bankruptcy from a persistent disability. It is almost impossible to clear it up without your Congress person getting involved.

    Too many things are stacked against anyone who has a disability or illness, and this is just piling on.

  13. Man teknikAL that is what I call kicking a man when he is down. With the currnt health care crisis, I just see more stories like yours and Mr. Bowman’s. We people who are healtly certainly take our health for granted. Did your congressperson help you?

    Good luck.

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  15. Probaby Republican judges who viewed this young upstart as thinking expected everything to be handed to him on a platter just like rich people, and should have gone through school the way they did, on Daddy’s money. Struggling is so pathetic. Poor people should know their places in the world and not dare to trespass into the sacred hallows of the gentlemens’ clubs.

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