Bar admission trouble due to student loan debt

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Bar admission trouble due to student loan debt

Postby Anonymous User » Thu Mar 31, 2016 12:28 am

I have about $500,000 in outstanding student loan debt. I was enrolled in another professional program when I decided to make a career change, finished that program, and then went straight into law school (I'm purposely being vague here, but that's the gist). Between paying sticker for law school, having received only partial scholarships for undergrad and grad school, and having been in school for the past decade (which adds several years of living expenses and ten years of daily compounding interest to the tuition expenses), my debt is through the roof. I didn't realize the enormity of the situation until about a year and a half ago.

Fortunately, I have a biglaw job in a major market lined up, and my educational background pretty much guarantees I'll never have trouble finding employment. But now I'm worried about whether having this amount of debt will preclude me from getting admitted to the bar and whether my firm will revoke my offer when my debt situation is uncovered during my background check. Aside from BEING HALF A MILLION DOLLARS IN DEBT, my credit score is pretty good—around 750—and I have no derogatory marks in my report except for three 60-day late marks (one on each of three accounts) from about six years ago (which was what caused me to finally decide to take out loans to cover living expenses). No defaults or bankruptcies. All my loans are federal loans, and I'm eligible for IBR and REPAYE, so I should have no problem affording the minimum payments and then some. (I'm still trying to work out whether it makes more sense financially to try to pay my loans down aggressively or pay the minimum for 25 years and then pay the tax on whatever is forgiven at that point. I know a lot of people think it's scummy to use forgiveness options, but I have to be realistic at this point.) I've tried to make payments here and there over the years, but it's hard to do much without having a real paycheck. I've managed to pay off about $15,000 over the last year and a half.

I doubt anyone here has been in this situation, but does anyone have any thoughts about whether I'm likely to have problems with either C&F or revocation of my offer as a result of my debt situation? Ideas for what I can do to mitigate the damage?

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Re: Bar admission trouble due to student loan debt

Postby Nekrowizard » Thu Mar 31, 2016 12:39 am

This is likely to be of no help to you, but I remember a particular tidbit from the mandatory ethics class I took last year. Unfortunately, I no longer have the book, and my note on the case consists of seven words. The gist was that the applicant failed C&F because of substantial debt (in fact, from what I remember, it was less than yours). The Committee didn't like neglect of personal financial obligations and viewed taking out an amount that could not reasonably be repaid as a character flaw. Critically, I don't think the applicant had actually failed to pay anything--it was the obligation itself that was irresponsible. The guy subsequently sued, but the court held upheld the original determination. I don't think it was in NY, for what it's worth.

As I said, this is from memory. I could be wrong!

In general though, I'm sure this will vary state-by-state, and you should talk to a lawyer who specializes in this for the state in which you're applying.

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Re: Bar admission trouble due to student loan debt

Postby lavarman84 » Thu Mar 31, 2016 12:51 am

Nekrowizard wrote:This is likely to be of no help to you, but I remember a particular tidbit from the mandatory ethics class I took last year. Unfortunately, I no longer have the book, and my note on the case consists of seven words. The gist was that the applicant failed C&F because of substantial debt (in fact, from what I remember, it was less than yours). The Committee didn't like neglect of personal financial obligations and viewed taking out an amount that could not reasonably be repaid as a character flaw. Critically, I don't think the applicant had actually failed to pay anything--it was the obligation itself that was irresponsible. The guy subsequently sued, but the court held upheld the original determination. I don't think it was in NY, for what it's worth.

As I said, this is from memory. I could be wrong!

In general though, I'm sure this will vary state-by-state, and you should talk to a lawyer who specializes in this for the state in which you're applying.


That's just wrong. You're going to let this person go into $200,000 to $300,000 debt in order to become a lawyer and then deny them the opportunity to repay that debt? Sickening.

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Re: Bar admission trouble due to student loan debt

Postby Anonymous User » Thu Mar 31, 2016 12:54 am

Nekrowizard wrote:This is likely to be of no help to you, but I remember a particular tidbit from the mandatory ethics class I took last year. Unfortunately, I no longer have the book, and my note on the case consists of seven words. The gist was that the applicant failed C&F because of substantial debt (in fact, from what I remember, it was less than yours). The Committee didn't like neglect of personal financial obligations and viewed taking out an amount that could not reasonably be repaid as a character flaw. Critically, I don't think the applicant had actually failed to pay anything--it was the obligation itself that was irresponsible. The guy subsequently sued, but the court held upheld the original determination. I don't think it was in NY, for what it's worth.

As I said, this is from memory. I could be wrong!

In general though, I'm sure this will vary state-by-state, and you should talk to a lawyer who specializes in this for the state in which you're applying.


OP here. Thanks for your reply. I'm aware of that case, and that's what originally made me worried about my own situation. I feel really bad for the guy, of course, but, as I recall, he had accumulated the loans over a 20-year period and had not made a single "substantial" payment in that time. The loans were delinquent, it had taken him three or four tries to pass the bar, and there wasn't much to indicate that he was likely to attempt to pay them off in the future. Still, this case is mostly what's freaking me out.

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Re: Bar admission trouble due to student loan debt

Postby MKC » Thu Mar 31, 2016 12:54 am

I'm guessing the case was this guy:

Can loan debt stop a graduate from practicing law? That’s what’s facing Hassan Jonathan Griffin, who graduated from Ohio State’s Moritz College of Law in 2008 with $170,000 in loans.

On Jan. 11, the Ohio Supreme Court denied his application for admission to the bar, filed when he registered to take the bar exam after failing previously. What upset the court was a report from the Commission on Character and Fitness focusing on Griffin’s loans and what commissioners said was “lack of a plan to pay them off.” Commissioners said Griffin “has not proved that he possesses the requisite character, fitness and moral qualifications for admission to the practice of law,” and the court agreed.

Court filings say that Griffin, now in his 40s, left law school with about $170,000 in student loans — $20,000 for undergraduate studies at Arizona State and $150,000 for law school. He also owed $16,500 on credit cards. After law school, he began working 24 to 32 hours a week at the Franklin County Public Defender’s Office earning $12 an hour. He made no payments on student loans and failed to pay his credit cards.

Loveland said a major problem was that Griffin had said he was going to file for bankruptcy to get time to pass the bar and find full-time work. But he never filed the bankruptcy petition as promised. Although bankruptcy would not have eliminated his law loans, it might have reduced the size of his payments.


http://www.nationaljurist.com/content/b ... ssion-debt

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Re: Bar admission trouble due to student loan debt

Postby Anonymous User » Thu Mar 31, 2016 12:55 am

lawman84 wrote:That's just wrong. You're going to let this person go into $200,000 to $300,000 debt in order to become a lawyer and then deny them the opportunity to repay that debt? Sickening.


Yeah, really messed up.

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Re: Bar admission trouble due to student loan debt

Postby MKC » Thu Mar 31, 2016 12:57 am

Or this guy with 400k of student loan debt in New York:

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/02/busin ... .html?_r=0

He had had student loans for 26 years though and never made a payment.

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Re: Bar admission trouble due to student loan debt

Postby Nekrowizard » Thu Mar 31, 2016 12:58 am

Anonymous User wrote:
Nekrowizard wrote:This is likely to be of no help to you, but I remember a particular tidbit from the mandatory ethics class I took last year. Unfortunately, I no longer have the book, and my note on the case consists of seven words. The gist was that the applicant failed C&F because of substantial debt (in fact, from what I remember, it was less than yours). The Committee didn't like neglect of personal financial obligations and viewed taking out an amount that could not reasonably be repaid as a character flaw. Critically, I don't think the applicant had actually failed to pay anything--it was the obligation itself that was irresponsible. The guy subsequently sued, but the court held upheld the original determination. I don't think it was in NY, for what it's worth.

As I said, this is from memory. I could be wrong!

In general though, I'm sure this will vary state-by-state, and you should talk to a lawyer who specializes in this for the state in which you're applying.


OP here. Thanks for your reply. I'm aware of that case, and that's what originally made me worried about my own situation. I feel really bad for the guy, of course, but, as I recall, he had accumulated the loans over a 20-year period and had not made a single "substantial" payment in that time. The loans were delinquent, it had taken him three or four tries to pass the bar, and there wasn't much to indicate that he was likely to attempt to pay them off in the future. Still, this case is mostly what's freaking me out.


Ah, that does seem vaguely familiar now that you mention it. That's definitely in your favor, then. Sorry for the misinformation. Regardless, good luck, OP!

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Re: Bar admission trouble due to student loan debt

Postby MKC » Thu Mar 31, 2016 12:59 am

lawman84 wrote:That's just wrong. You're going to let this person go into $200,000 to $300,000 debt in order to become a lawyer and then deny them the opportunity to repay that debt? Sickening.


Generally speaking, I completely agree, but the two cases that showed up on Google of this happening seem like they were less about the amount of the debt and more about how the grad was handling it.

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Re: Bar admission trouble due to student loan debt

Postby Nekrowizard » Thu Mar 31, 2016 1:00 am

MarkinKansasCity wrote:I'm guessing the case was this guy:

Can loan debt stop a graduate from practicing law? That’s what’s facing Hassan Jonathan Griffin, who graduated from Ohio State’s Moritz College of Law in 2008 with $170,000 in loans.

On Jan. 11, the Ohio Supreme Court denied his application for admission to the bar, filed when he registered to take the bar exam after failing previously. What upset the court was a report from the Commission on Character and Fitness focusing on Griffin’s loans and what commissioners said was “lack of a plan to pay them off.” Commissioners said Griffin “has not proved that he possesses the requisite character, fitness and moral qualifications for admission to the practice of law,” and the court agreed.

Court filings say that Griffin, now in his 40s, left law school with about $170,000 in student loans — $20,000 for undergraduate studies at Arizona State and $150,000 for law school. He also owed $16,500 on credit cards. After law school, he began working 24 to 32 hours a week at the Franklin County Public Defender’s Office earning $12 an hour. He made no payments on student loans and failed to pay his credit cards.

Loveland said a major problem was that Griffin had said he was going to file for bankruptcy to get time to pass the bar and find full-time work. But he never filed the bankruptcy petition as promised. Although bankruptcy would not have eliminated his law loans, it might have reduced the size of his payments.


http://www.nationaljurist.com/content/b ... ssion-debt


This was the exact case. I totally forgot half of the facts.

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Re: Bar admission trouble due to student loan debt

Postby lavarman84 » Thu Mar 31, 2016 1:02 am

MarkinKansasCity wrote:
lawman84 wrote:That's just wrong. You're going to let this person go into $200,000 to $300,000 debt in order to become a lawyer and then deny them the opportunity to repay that debt? Sickening.


Generally speaking, I completely agree, but the two cases that showed up on Google of this happening seem like they were less about the amount of the debt and more about how the grad was handling it.


Yea, that's a bit of a different story reading it over. Kind of understandable.

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Re: Bar admission trouble due to student loan debt

Postby Anonymous User » Thu Mar 31, 2016 1:05 am

Nekrowizard wrote:Ah, that does seem vaguely familiar now that you mention it. That's definitely in your favor, then. Sorry for the misinformation. Regardless, good luck, OP!


Definitely not your misinformation—the opinion was disturbingly devoid of any meaningful explanation for the denial. Anyway, thanks for the good luck wish!

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Re: Bar admission trouble due to student loan debt

Postby bowser » Thu Mar 31, 2016 1:07 am

Not on topic exactly, but I gotta think PAYE or something is better for your situation than actually paying off half a million.

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Re: Bar admission trouble due to student loan debt

Postby MKC » Thu Mar 31, 2016 1:12 am

bowser wrote:Not on topic exactly, but I gotta think PAYE or something is better for your situation than actually paying off half a million.


I probably wouldn't lead with that on the bar application though.

Just ran that number through studentloans.gov at 6.8%. $5,700 a month for ten years? I'd say PAYE.

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Re: Bar admission trouble due to student loan debt

Postby Anonymous User » Thu Mar 31, 2016 1:19 am

MarkinKansasCity wrote:
bowser wrote:Not on topic exactly, but I gotta think PAYE or something is better for your situation than actually paying off half a million.


I probably wouldn't lead with that on the bar application though.

Just ran that number through studentloans.gov at 6.8%. $5,700 a month for ten years? I'd say PAYE.


Wish I could. Unfortunately, I had one loan taken out in 2007 for around $1800 to help with books and board during undergrad and that makes me ineligible for PAYE.

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Re: Bar admission trouble due to student loan debt

Postby Monochromatic Oeuvre » Thu Mar 31, 2016 9:20 am

Anonymous User wrote:
MarkinKansasCity wrote:
bowser wrote:Not on topic exactly, but I gotta think PAYE or something is better for your situation than actually paying off half a million.


I probably wouldn't lead with that on the bar application though.

Just ran that number through studentloans.gov at 6.8%. $5,700 a month for ten years? I'd say PAYE.


Wish I could. Unfortunately, I had one loan taken out in 2007 for around $1800 to help with books and board during undergrad and that makes me ineligible for PAYE.


Honestly, you should you leave the country. Start a new life somewhere else.

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Re: Bar admission trouble due to student loan debt

Postby encore1101 » Thu Mar 31, 2016 9:28 am

Sticking with just C&F, I'd address the elephant in the room head-on and include an addendum in your bar application that explains why the debt, and that you've been making regular payments over the lifetime of your loan. Maybe even include a credit report and/or your loan account summary to be extra cautious.

TBH, I don't think a debt, by itself, would be grounds for barring admittance. A house mortgage is a loan (one that comes with physical goods in the event of non-payment, but still), and I'm sure people with significant loans apply all the time. It seems unfair to me to deny someone the means to repay a loan, because of the loan.

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Re: Bar admission trouble due to student loan debt

Postby RaceJudicata » Thu Mar 31, 2016 9:50 am

bowser wrote:Not on topic exactly, but I gotta think PAYE or something is better for your situation than actually paying off half a million.


Even then, the tax hit will be out of control.

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Re: Bar admission trouble due to student loan debt

Postby Anonymous User » Fri Apr 01, 2016 4:54 pm

OP here. Bumping because I'd really appreciate more input about (a) whether this is likely to be an issue in the first place; (b) whether there's anything I can do in the coming months to mitigate it; and (c) whether I need to look into getting a C&F attorney.

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Re: Bar admission trouble due to student loan debt

Postby Anonymous User » Fri Apr 01, 2016 8:05 pm

I recently dealt w/ C&F on account of alcohol and drug problems. I hired an attorney and was admitted after a short delay (I also applied very late). Based on my understanding of the system, I don't believe student loan debt, in and of itself, will be a problem provided you can explain in a rational manner what brought you to this point. I actually don't recall a spot on the form that would require you to disclose it. There isn't a do you have insane amount of debt question, if I recall correctly. You will be asked things like are you subject of any debt collection proceedings, or are you a party to a civil lawsuit etc. So, in my opinion, unless you have a lot of credit card debt or something to couple with the your concededly eye popping student loan debt, you shouldn't have a problem. Consult with your school's ethics counsel.

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Re: Bar admission trouble due to student loan debt

Postby Anonymous User » Fri Apr 01, 2016 8:24 pm

He didn't have any plan on how he wouldn't default. Based on what I read he had failed the bar 3 times, was currently disputing a debt and presumably wasn't current on payments. It was also a heavily criticized decision. It was upheld on appeal, but the standard to reverse a judgment is steep. Doesn't mean the judges agreed with it.

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Re: Bar admission trouble due to student loan debt

Postby Anonymous User » Fri Apr 01, 2016 10:10 pm

I was in the situation and was worried, but no one from the bar association ever asked me about my student loan debt.

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Re: Bar admission trouble due to student loan debt

Postby whysoseriousbiglaw » Fri Apr 01, 2016 10:23 pm

At that amount, it might be better for you to get a PI job that qualifies for PLSF. With PAYE and biglaw, your tax bomb is going to be insane.

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Re: Bar admission trouble due to student loan debt

Postby Anonymous User » Sat Apr 02, 2016 2:01 pm

OP here. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, everyone. I'm really anxious about not only the enormity of my debt but the possibility that it might affect my career prospects when I've worked so hard to get to this point. It really helps to hear your perspectives. I've already talked to my school's C&F counsel and he thinks it most likely won't be an issue . . . but that there's a small possibility that it will be an issue. I'm going to keep doing what I've been doing: making extra payments each month. I'm not going to bring it up with my employer or the C&F committee unless they raise the issue first (because it's not clear that there really is anything to disclose), but my spouse and I have made arrangements to meet with a CFP with expertise in student loans to develop a formal plan for managing them, so I'll have that in my pocket if any questions are asked. I'll be sure to update with any developments. Wish me luck . . . .

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Re: Bar admission trouble due to student loan debt

Postby MKC » Sat Apr 02, 2016 2:05 pm

Anonymous User wrote:I recently dealt w/ C&F on account of alcohol and drug problems. I hired an attorney and was admitted after a short delay (I also applied very late). Based on my understanding of the system, I don't believe student loan debt, in and of itself, will be a problem provided you can explain in a rational manner what brought you to this point. I actually don't recall a spot on the form that would require you to disclose it. There isn't a do you have insane amount of debt question, if I recall correctly. You will be asked things like are you subject of any debt collection proceedings, or are you a party to a civil lawsuit etc. So, in my opinion, unless you have a lot of credit card debt or something to couple with the your concededly eye popping student loan debt, you shouldn't have a problem. Consult with your school's ethics counsel.


I know of at least one state that asks if you have more than $150,000 in total debt, including student loan debt, but not including residential real estate debt.



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