Q. When my business failed, I fled to law school while leaving unhappy creditors and a mess of unpaid bills behind. Now I owe an extra $60,000 in student loans. Do credit scores count?
A. No, the bar examiners do not require a credit score of 700 or above.
The score itself doesn't matter. The reasons for your poor credit may.
As lawyers, we are expected to demonstrate respect for the law and for our obligations under it. Those who disregard their legal obligations in their personal or professional lives are more likely to ignore their duties as members of the bar.
Bar examiners have also increased their scrutiny of applicants with significant debts out of concern for the temptation that may arise for those in financial crisis. In theory at least, those under financial distress are more likely to steal from their clients than those who are not.
In your case, bar examiners may raise concerns about your decision to flee to law school and incur additional debt while failing to address the needs of existing creditors. This is particularly troubling if you have ignored their payment demands or failed to make any arrangements for meeting your obligations at a later time.
When investigating these concerns, bar examiners must be careful to avoid the impression that they are applying a "means test" for admission to the bar. For many Americans, debt is a fact of life and enrolling in law school only adds to that problem. Furthermore, businesses do fail, honest people do go bankrupt, and some debts may never be repaid no matter how well-intentioned the debtor may be.
If your debts are even remotely within reach, one way to address the issue is to approach your creditors with proposed payment plans. If you are able to make any ongoing contribution toward your balances, this can certainly counter the impression that you lack regard for your legal obligations to them. It may also open the door to the argument that, as a practical matter, the income you will earn as an attorney will enable you to discharge your debts even faster and amount to a "win-win" situation for you and your creditors.
Even if your creditors are unwilling to compromise, showing proof of your good faith efforts to arrange payment plans may assist in showing your respect for the obligations incurred and in proving that you are fit to admit.