Thursday, January 27, 2011

Debt a Bar to Admission? How?

I'm sure you all have read JJD's story about the New Hampshire Lawyer-never-to-be, who was barred from the bar because of "debt and a few criminal indiscretions"--but this story takes the cake and may affect every single last one of my readers.

Hassan Jonathan Griffin, a law school graduate, and a former stock broker with a mere $170K in school loans and $16,500 in credit card debt, was denied entry to the Ohio bar because of.... drumroll please....

...his debt!

No joke!
Since his second year of law school, he has worked part-time at a public defender’s office earning $12 per hour.  He has therefore been unable to make payments on his student loans or meet his obligations on his credit card debt.  Given his financial situation, Griffin apparently considered bankruptcy, which would discharge his credit card debt but leave his $170,000 in education loans, which are nondischargeable debts.
The Ohio Bar found and the Ohio Supreme Court agreed that Griffin’s lack of a plan or ability to pay his debts is grounds for denial of his application due to lack of character and fitness.

Wow.  Doesn't that hit everyone where it hurts!  He's not even working as a stripper or a drug dealer!  He's working at the only legal job he could find... a decent job by most unemployed law school graduates' standards, at the public defender's office.

What next?  Now, you can't get admitted because of the debt you incurred to become admitted?  What type of bullshit is this?  The author of the article, Brett Clark, had an interesting take that I need not attempt to re-word here because it is brilliant:

So let’s recap:
Law schools inflate their graduate employment data and thereby paint a false picture of post-law school job prospects.  Students then graduate with a couple hundred thousand dollars of debt to find that there is little prospect of finding meaningful legal employment.  Now, to throw a bit of salt in the wound, if a law graduate is unable to find a legal job with pay sufficient to cover said debt, his bar application can be denied on character and fitness grounds.
The Ohio Supreme Court apparently has no appreciation for the rancid state of the legal job market.  It actually faults Griffin for holding onto his part-time employment with the public defender’s office “in the hope that it will lead to a full-time position upon passage of the bar exam, rather than seeking full-time employment.”  But if public defender work is what Griffin actually wants to do with his life (recall that he was previously a successful stockbroker), then what grounds does the Ohio Supreme Court have to claim that he has an ethical obligation to go find some other kind of legal work?  Nevermind that finding full time employment is exceedingly difficult in today’s climate, especially without a license.  As the opinion notes, Griffin had taken the bar exam unsuccessfully three times.  His best prospects of landing full time employment upon successful passage are probably with the public defender officer that he’s been working with for the last four years.
Griffin’s inability to pay down his debts is not an issue of his character or fitness as a member of the bar.  The Ohio Supreme Court’s determination in this matter is not only incorrect and inconsiderate of the facts before it, but comes at the worst possible time for applicants to the state’s bar.
Mr. Griffin will surely be the first of many who will have these problems with being admitted to the Ohio Bar.


  1. Herein lies one of the major flaws with our legal system. We all know historically that only wealthy, influential people became lawyers, doctors, Indian chiefs, etc. In turn their heirs followed suit, and so on. Sort of a Victorian pseudo-nobility class carried through to the post-modern era.

    Once we “democratized” education, now anyone could theoretically become anything. However, just because we became more enlightened in some aspects doesn’t mean the old way of doing things was eliminated.

    The point is you have to pay to play to become a lawyer, simple as that. People who can’t do that don’t fit the mold, and, frankly, won’t survive for the most part. Those who hold the reins come from a network of connections, influence and money that maintains the old guard, and while there have been some slow changes over time it doesn’t eliminate this sort of good-old-boys-club fallout. The wealthy will simply never run afoul of this sort of “problem” that leads to this kind of sanction. They likely can’t even imagine it, which only increases the scorn.

    Clearly the “irresponsible” have no business being a lawyer. Only the “little” people will suffer who, in their mind, never should have been there in the first place. Best to sweep them back under the rug where they belong, you know.

    Classism at its best. Who’s for tea? Crumpets?

  2. "The point is you have to pay to play to become a lawyer, simple as that. People who can’t do that don’t fit the mold, and, frankly, won’t survive for the most part."

    That is the gist of the "profession." No connections? No family wealth? Then you better sell out and excel. Classism has never gone away, even if we in this toilet called America pretend that ANYONE can achieve ANYTHING. That is simply a way for the elite to give us hope. The $y$tem must at least look legitimate - or people may stop believing in it.

  3. You can count me as a disbeliever of the $y$tem. This is just another example of barriers to entry. You have to (1) take the LSAT; (2) apply to law schools; (3) get accepted to at least one law school; (4) enroll in a law school; (5) finance law school; (6) pass your courses and graduate from law school; (7) pay for application, study, take and pass the bar exam of at least one state; (8) find a job that allows you to pay back your loans; (9) if no job, start your own law firm; (10) jump through a million additional hoops starting your law practice; (11) be able to fund law practice for years 1-3 until it becomes profitable; (12) pay back outstanding debt obligations at outrageous rates of interest; (13) generate enough income to pay living expenses; (14) pay mandatory annual attorney dues,; (15) pay for and attend mandatory CLE (at least in my state); (16) try not to get sued for malpractice; and (17) hopefully have some semblance of a life. Once you can pass all these barriers to entry, you "might" be able to make it as an attorney in this day and age. Unless you have the time, intellect, funds and family support to jump through all these hoops without too many hitches, I would recommend that you attempt another career. There are just too many pitfalls that will leave you homeless and destitute.

  4. When I applied to take the Ohio bar, there was an interview, and the three lawyers asked me about my divorce, my student loan debt AND speeding tickets. Afterwards, I withdrew my application, because I could see where it was all heading, and I already had a useless license to practice in another jurisdiction.

  5. I dedicate this law school recruitment video to you and your blog. Keep preaching the truth!

  6. @ 4:22 Asking about your divorce was not only inappropriate, it was almost certainly illegal since it constitutes discrimination regarding marital status.

    If it's not too late you should get a civil rights lawyer and go after them.

  7. That's what makes the whole "system" completely MAD.

    I feel like a hamster running in his crazy little round treadmill.

    Take on the debt so as to get a better paying job.

    Can't get a job because of the debt.

    Credit gets destroyed after a while.

    Now no more good job---ever.

    And no Health Insurance unless you buy it.

    Fuck, I'll finally get to a DR. next week and get some antibiotics. I think I have Pneumonia, or something worse.

    But if I go for treatment now I will have a Pre-existing condition. I gotta make it for a few more days. My health insurance plan goes into effect Feb 1.

    GOD! GOD! I wish I never went to Law School!

  8. @Anon 10:53. You are an idiot.

  9. @Anon 4:23. You are an idiot.

  10. An interviewer can no more ask questions about being poor and divorced than they can ask about being poor and black, or poor and a woman. It is absolutely illegal.

  11. Hey, Angel, Hardknocks. I thought you might be interested in a follow-up to the William Mitchell donation post you did a while back. I shared with you how I abruptly stopped giving William Mitchell any more donations after the Dean sent an irritating letter begging for more money (after I had already given) and started his letter out with the question - "Would you be as far as you are today, if not for your law degree?"

    Well, yesterday, I received a new plea for money from two classmates who are volunteering to help with the Annual fund. Usually, such letters infuriate me but this time all I did was LMAO because they now sound completely desperate! I have shown the letter to my family and friends, and they all laughed and said the same thing - "They [meaning the administration at Mitchell] must be reading those scam blogs!!! Ba ha ha ha ha ha!!!"

    Anyway, here is a snippet of the letter - pay really CLOSE attention to the numbers and take note of the student loan reference, which I have NEVER seen in all 7 years of receiving these annoying letters:

    Now that the hectic holidays are behind us, we thought this would be a good time to send an update on our class participation in the William Mitchell Annual fund. Here's how the numbers look: Class goal (58 donors - 20 percent of our class), actual as of Dec. 31 (26 donors - 9.89 percent of our class). Overall, about 11 percent of Mitchell's alumni have made an annual gift this year. Our class is not too far behind but we have a long way to go to reach 20 percent! ... We realize that most members of our class are still paying off student loans - some of us are in the same boat. While we may not be able to make a large gift individually, collectively we can make a significant difference for some students at Mitchell. We need 32 people from [our class] to support the Annual fund. We need you! can we count you in?"

    It's pretty pathetic if you think about it. They only set a goal of 58 donors from my class of around 300 and they can't even get that! What's even more hilarious is that only 11 percent of ALL alumni donate - which means that 90% don't give anything. Gee, there's a reason why 90% aren't giving, but they're too oblivious to figure it out! Besides, with what they charge for tuition, why do they need donations anyway?!


    End topic?

  13. Assuming it gets pulled:

    $$ EARN EXTRA CASH $$$ (Midtown)
    Date: 2011-01-31, 4:17PM EST
    Reply to: [Errors when replying to ads?]



    * Compensation: $$$
    * Principals only. Recruiters, please don't contact this job poster.
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    PostingID: 2190429044

  14. Seems someone's been reading your blog, Angel. I commented on that in mine yesterday + how it would tick off state bar committees if you could franchise that idea. At least that guy's trying to solve the unemployed lawyer problem, unlike some sources I could name.

  15. Wow, I took the Ohio bar in 1996 with over $100K in debt from a T1 school. I was unemployed (with NO job prospects), in student loan and credit card debt. The only difference, I guess, is that I was able to make my minimum payments. I wish I remember what I was asked about. My vague memory was that the interview was a silly formality.

  16. Re Mr. Griffin -- Seems he was denied entry not because of his debt but because -- I'm guessing, in the absence of information -- he made no arrangements to pay it, defer it, or get that other thing with "bear" in it that I'm not sure how to spell -- bad me, but I've been up all night! I do sympathize with his dilemma, though, since I've had to beg money and housing from friends to keep my my own six-figure law school loans.

    One other thing, though: is there any possibility that they were hostile to him because his first name's Hassan? Maybe they think he's trying to destroy the infidel American economic system one school debt at a time. (And yes, that's me being sour and sarcastic, and yes, the sour sarc is aimed at his creditors, not Hassan.

    And now I'll try to think of a way to earn some money to pay my masters . . . er, creditors.

    And the next time some dewy-eyed kid tells you he or she is thinking about law school, please respond with this slightly modified version of the protestors' chant from the Vietnam War days: "Hell, no! PLEASE don't go!" and then explain to them that they're too young to destroy their lives.

  17. I was denied my law license in Illinois for 7 years because I was unable to pay even the minimum payment for my student loans. I eventually enlisted the help (because I certainly couldn't pay his fees) of a solo practitioner who suggested I consistently make a payment to the loan holders and keep a record of those payments. Every six months or so I kept petitioning the Illinois Character and Fitness Committee to reconsider my application. I sat - alone - before a literal tribunal of attorneys, all physically seated higher than the chair reserved for the applicant, and was insultingly told I would never receive my license unless I could get some "rich relative" to pay my loans. What rich relative? My parents' home is valued at less than 1/2 what my student loans have risen to be.

    After 7 years of rejection, 7 years of falling behind on the compound interest, of being hounded by a rotating rogue's gallery of debt collectors, of watching my law school classmates pass me by, gaining experience while I languished in a legal editorship, I finally broke through to some sypathetic someone on the committee and got my license. Now 11 years later, I've worked my way up through the associate ranks of a mid-sized Chicago firm. I had been groomed for the last year as the next potential partner. My boss was telling me for a year how wonderful my prospects looked and to expect an invitation to sign on as a partner come the December 2010 reviews.

    Long story short: the partnership was pulled out from under me at the last possible second, not for the quality of my work, not for my aptitude, but because my long-fought troubles with student loans had somehow rendered me "financially unfit" to handle the Firm's multi-million dollar lawsuits. In other words, if I couldn't handle my own money, why should they trust me with the Firm finances? (Somehow the 6 years of killing myself to prove that I was worthy enough to consider for partnership wasn't enough.) Just weeks before the partnership determination was to be made, I received the second of 2 garnishments on my wages for my defaulted student loans. The default came to the attention of the Firm ironically through the collection counsel that the Firm uses to collect fees from delinquent clients. So, even though I had spent years dutifully paying at least something on my student loans, my career, such as it is, was once again derailed by the student loan anvil that I will apparently drag around after me for the rest of my life.

    I, once again, have little hope for the future. I work in "limbo" at the moment, never sure whether I will be bounced out on my ass as one of the partnership candidates who just didn't pan out. My Firm has a small army of such underlings who are all routinely treated with disdain and shoveled shit cases/files to discourage their continuing at the Firm. I want to leave, but honestly probably won't be able to secure another job anywhere nearby that might pay me the meager salary that I already do collect. Stupidly, I went trolling sites online that compared the salaries of 1st year associates in the Chicagoland area. Six years into my job at this Firm, I still don't make the 1st year salaries of most of the top-rated, top tier firms.

    I just don't know what to do.

  18. Wowwww...what a slap in the face! Is this debt a hindrance from taking the Bar or other certifications as well? I ask because if it's just the Bar then perhaps this practice is someone's lewd way of placing a cap on the number of attorneys that exist presently. Something this unfair carries the tune of saying that there are already too many attorneys and the world needs less of them. Not what I believe, in fact, several of my closest friends are kick-butt attorneys and I support them completely. But still, I'm really curious to know just what cynic of a person thinks it's a good idea to stop someone mid-stride from getting their career off the ground after going through so much to launch it in the first place?!
    There could be no GOOD reason, so what gives??

    1. It's not a hindrance in the teaching profession. No state where I'd want to live has as a requisite, a credit check for "financial fitness evaluation." Every state KNOWS teacher licensing candidates are drowning in debt. Sign Language Interpreter certification, as well. Now as for Pharmacy Technician licensure - I think that some states that actually license pharmacy techs do have a credit check part of the process.

      Face it, there aren't too many professional licensures you can GET after your overpriced borrowed-into degree when you're drowning in debt from it. This is especially true if you wait for a while after you graduate - then the debts come due and you have no way to pay them because you still haven't found any job at all, let alone one in your field. That leads to delinquency, then to default, then to permanent unemployability in your field of study because you will never pass the "financial responsibility" part of the "character and morals" section because you're drowning further and further in debt. It's getting more and more the case that professional licensure is only for those who were born into enough money to pay for college without borrowing any of it. Now, to recap: what race/class of people might I be referring to, again? Hint: the ones who tend to make up the majority of the legal and medical professions in the first place.

  19. Does anyone have a clue as to WHICH states DON'T do this? Even Yale Law says that "most" states do this. What I hear when they say "most do" is that "some don't." So which ones don't? It would be a waste of yet MORE borrowed money to just go out on a limb and try applying at the states one would THINK have "no credit check standards for anyone" and then find out the hard way that your debt is all they care about even out in, say, NEW MEXICO. (Heads up, that's NOT one of the states that doesn't check your credit. Neither is Hawaii.)

    I mean, there's a chart of all the states with their bar admittance FEES but none with their stinking credit requirements to pass "financial fitness" or whether or not each state even CHECKS. Hell, I'm even OK with taking my law school transcripts and flying off to a third world COUNTRY and getting "licensed" there if need be.



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