The 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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