Lesley Campbell graduated from Pace University School of Law in 2009, but she didn't pass the bar exam. According to the Wall Street Journal, her total student-loan debt is now nearly $300,000.
After obtaining her JD degree, Campbell took a secretarial job that paid $49,000 a year; and she filed for bankruptcy in 2014. Although she did not discharge her student loans, a bankruptcy judge did allow her to discharge a $15,000 loan she obtained from Citibank to pay for her bar review course.
A few brief comments on Ms. Campbell's case. First, people who take on $300,000 in student-loan debt to go to law school and don't pass the bar exam obviously suffer a financial catastrophe. Unless they obtain bankruptcy relief, most will never recover. In other words, for these people, going to law school destroyed their financial future instead of making it brighter.
Second, I was amazed by how much it costs just to take the bar-exam review course--$15,000! When I went to law school (a long time ago, I admit), the bar review course cost only $600, which I paid in installments with money I made working as a part-time law clerk. If I were graduating from law school today, I would be forced to take out a sizable loan just to prepare for my bar exam.
Finally, I was struck by the heartlessness of the online comments that followed the Wall Street Journal article about Ms. Campbell. One person commented that a person who would borrow $300,000 to attend law school obviously isn't smart enough to pass the bar.
As many commentators have written, a bleak job market and the skyrocketing cost of law-school tuition have combined to created a crisis in the legal profession.On average, people leave law school with $140,000 in student-loan debt only to enter an economy that only needs one lawyer for every two law-school graduates.
Greedy law schools and the American Bar Association created this crisis. The law schools set tuition levels far too high, and the ABA allowed law schools to admit far too many students. As a result, thousands of law-school graduates share Leslie Campbell's predicament-- an onerous level of student-loan debt and no law job.
The ABA and the law schools have a moral obligation to advocate for reforms in the Bankruptcy Code that will allow impoverished law-school graduates to discharge their student loans in bankruptcy. But we haven't heard a peep out of the law schools or the ABA regarding bankruptcy reform for student-loan debtors.
Katy Stech. Judge Says Bankrupt Law Grads Can Cancel Bar Loans. Wall Street Journal, March 25, 2016. Accessible at http://www.wsj.com/articles/judge-says-bankrupt-law-grads-can-cancel-bar-loans-1458941328