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The High Price of Becoming a Lawyer and Moral Turpitude.

Posted By Cliff Tuttle | July 2, 2009

Posted by Cliff Tuttle (c) 2009

Eveyone knows that the cost of higher education is enormous, too often burdening students with crippling debt before they begin their careers. By the time you add graduate school or professional school, the total can reach the size of a home mortgage, but without the home. Repayment, for a full time student with no break in studies, is usually deferred until school is out. But many get into trouble when their education is interrupted or becomes part-time, starting the payment clock running early.

The New York Times contains a story of a law graduate who triumphed over obstacles that would have discouraged anyone without the highest level of dedication. However, at the end of the road, a panel of appellate judges denied him admission to the New York Bar, rejecting the recommendation of lawyers who investigated the case. In the judges’ opinion, his $400,000 plus student loan debt with no payments, declared delinquent by Sallie Mae, evidenced a lack of character necessary to be a member of the bar. The term usually used for such a character deficit is “moral turpitude.” This, despite a bona-fide dispute over Sallie Mae’s administration of the debt, increasing it from $270,000 in a very short period. Denial of bar admission for student debt, when there is no attempt to discharge it through bankruptcy, is quite unusual and there is a small chance that it could be overturned on appeal. Other candidates with delinquent debts have not been denied admission to the Bar. Exactly at what point does the debt-ridden law graduate, who hasn’t landed a job, cross the murky line into “moral turpitude.”

With the rising cost of tuition and other educational costs and uncertain prospects of immediate employment after graduation, this case should give pause to anyone contemplating a career in the law.



CLIFF TUTTLE has been a Pennsylvania lawyer for over 45 years and (inter alia) is a real estate litigator and legal writer. The posts in this blog are intended to provide general information about legal topics of interest to lawyers and consumers with a Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania focus. However, this information does not constitute legal advice and there is no lawyer-client relationship created when you read this blog. You are encouraged to leave comments but be aware that posted comments can be read by others. If you wish to contact me in privacy, please use the Contact Form located immediately below this message. I will reply promptly and in strict confidence.

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