Legal Ethics

Unpaid Student Loans Derail Law Grad’s Quest for NY Bar Admission

Robert Bowman managed to pass the New York bar exam after the fourth try, but there is one more obstacle keeping him from getting a license to practice law: about $430,000 in student debt and penalties.

A New York appeals court ruled (PDF) in March that Bowman had not established his character and fitness to practice law because of his failure to make substantial payments on the debt and his inflexibility in discussions with loan servicers. The opinion doesn’t name the lawyer; the New York Times reveals he is Bowman, a persistent individual who overcame a troubled childhood and bounced back from two debilitating accidents, one on a motorcycle and the other on a Jet Ski.

“New York’s courts have overlooked misconduct like lawyers’ solicitation of minors for sex, efforts to deceive judges and possession of cocaine,” the Times writes. “Those instances have led merely to temporary suspensions from practice.” Stanford law professor Deborah Rhode told the Times that denying bar admission on the basis of unpaid debt, absent a bankruptcy filing, is unusual.

“It usually takes a pretty significant record of some underlying misconduct to keep you out permanently,” Rhode told the newspaper.

Bowman claims Sallie Mae improperly tacked on unjustified fees and was itself inflexible when he sought a payment deferral to which he was entitled. His detailed records claim a Sallie Mae representative went so far as to threaten him, the story says.

“If you default, your license will be taken from you,” the representative reportedly said. “Do you understand that?”

Related coverage:

Houston Lawyer Loses License Because of Failure to Pay Debts

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