Mind how you handle your student loans aspiring lawyers, or you could find your debt hurting more than your bank accounts. Loans could derail your career before it can start.
That is the message in a decision by a panel of five New York judges denying one would-be lawyer, Robert Bowman, admission to the bar because his debt approached half a million dollars.
“His application demonstrates a course of action amounting to neglect of financial responsibilities with respect to the student loans he has accumulated since 1983,” the judges wrote in a decision issued late last week. They went on to criticize his “dealing with the lenders.”
The decision, which comes as students borrow ever larger sums to cover the cost of higher education, blocked Mr. Bowman’s effort to have his bar application reconsidered after it was initially denied earlier this year. His long struggle to enter the legal profession was the subject of an article in The New York Times in July.
Without practicing law, Mr. Bowman said it would be difficult to earn enough to repay his debts which, because of fees, penalties and interest, were growing by about $10,000 monthly.
“This has destroyed my life,” Mr. Bowman said. “Everything I’ve worked for, every effort, every fight that I’ve taken to make this progress, has been for nothing.” He has appealed to New York’s highest court.
While student loans may be a factor in bar applications, it is unclear how often they result in denial of admission, said Deborah L. Rhode, a Stanford law professor. “This is an area that very few people pay attention to,” Professor Rhode said.
Once law school graduates are admitted to the bar, she said, they lose interest in the process.
In Mr. Bowman’s case, a subcommittee of the New York courts’ Committee on Character and Fitness, which reviews applications for admission to the bar, strongly recommended that he be admitted. A five-judge panel rejected that conclusion.
The clerk of the New York court that reviewed Mr. Bowman’s efforts, Michael J. Novack, said that the judges usually followed recommendations of the committee on character and fitness, but not always.
In the most recent decision, prompted by Mr. Bowman’s motion to void the earlier denial, the same five judges wrote that the process they followed in denying Mr. Bowman’s application was proper and cited a 1963 United States Supreme Court casethat specified steps that had to be taken.
Mr. Bowman’s experience may highlight a potential weakness in the process for reviewing lawyers’ bar applications, Professor Rhode said. “The key thing that the character process is designed to do, which my research says it doesn’t do very well, is predict based on past conduct what future conduct will be,” she said. “Just the fact that you’ve taken out large amounts of loans at a time that you have no income, is not predictive.”