If endurance were the measure of one’s fitness to practice law, then Robert Bowman would seem to be a solid candidate for the bar. As The New York Times recounts, all Bowman ever wanted to be was a lawyer, and it seems he’s spent a good part of his life trying to do just that—overcoming a difficult childhood, ten years of college, four years of law school, two debilitating accidents and three unsuccessful attempts to pass the New York State bar exam. Having finally passed on his fourth try, Bowman was interviewed and recommended for admission to the bar by the Committee on Character and Fitness—only to be deemed unfit by a panel of appellate judges based on the size of his student loan debt.
To be fair, the judges’ decision was not based solely on the extent of Bowman’s debt (some $430,000, including penalties), but also on the fact that, over the last two decades, he’s not made a single payment to reduce it.
Nevertheless, as Elie Mystal observes in an ATL post: “Bowman has racked up all of this debt in order to become an attorney; how does he have any chance of paying back the money if he is not allowed to become an attorney?” Apparently that’s not the court’s concern.
One might question the judgment of someone who’s so determined to become a lawyer that he sits through the bar exam four times and racks up hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt, but is that really a fair, or consistent, way to measure a person’s “character and general fitness requisite for an attorney and counselor-at-law”? After all, as the Times notes, “New York’s courts have overlooked misconduct like lawyers’ solicitation of minors for sex, efforts to deceive judges and possession of cocaine. Those instances have led merely to temporary suspensions from practice.”
Why not give Bowman the same shot to be a bad lawyer?
- posted by vera
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