Bad Ideas, Bankruptcy, Bar Exams, Law Schools, Old People, Rank Stupidity, Student Loans

Discharging Law School Debt in Bankruptcy Doesn’t Get Any Easier When You Are Old

Crushing Debt Obligations.jpgI spent all day yesterday trying to summon the rage, trying to figure out a way to trumpet the cause of a sixty-something, recent law school graduate who is still having trouble discharging her student loans in a bankruptcy proceeding. The National Law Journal has the tear-jerking story:

When she graduated four years ago with a law degree at the age of 61, Denise Megan Bronsdon likely did not foresee bankruptcy court in her future. But that’s where she ended up — as a debtor.

The former farmer’s wife, who operated a tractor before going to Southern New England School of Law in 2002, convinced a Massachusetts bankruptcy court in January that repaying the more than $82,000 she owed in student debt would create an undue hardship. However, the U.S. District Court in Massachusetts, considering an appeal by the lender, Educational Credit Management Corp., found on Nov. 20 that Bronsdon’s decision not to participate in a loan repayment assistance program should be part of the bankruptcy court’s undue hardship analysis.

If I was half the man I used to be, I’d take a flamethrower to this place. Hoo-Ha!
But the problem with my flamethrower is that I do not know where to point it. I could get angry at the entire system that makes student loans so difficult to discharge through bankruptcy. Or I could get mad at the law school that essentially stole this woman’s money. Or I could get angry at the woman herself — who failed the Wisconsin bar three times.
Oh, I know, let’s get pissy at all of them.

First, let’s deal with the bankruptcy thing. Denise Bronsdon was actually very close to getting out of her debts. But the district court wanted the bankruptcy court to add one more issue to its undue hardship analysis:

The district court determined that the bankruptcy court was correct in finding that she was unlikely to obtain paid employment in the foreseeable future, which would make repaying her debt unduly burdensome. However, the district court also found that the bankruptcy court was incorrect in reaching that conclusion without considering her decision not to participate in the William D. Ford Direct Loan Program’s Income Contingent Repayment plan available to law school graduates.

Specifically, the district court found that the bankruptcy court erred when it concluded that the loan assistance program was not part of the analysis because it would have resulted in a tax liability that “could leave her in a financial state much more desperate than the one she was currently enduring.”

The district court vacated the bankruptcy court’s decision and directed it to consider the repayment program in its undue hardship analysis.

Honestly, if this isn’t undue hardship, I don’t know what is. She’s currently 64 in her mid-sixties. She’s failed the bar multiple times. Her skills include tractor driving. Obviously law school was a horrible mistake for her — what does the court want her to do, sell a future interest in her bones? Enter the geriatric prostitution market? The woman made a mistake and is now crying uncle, why isn’t this enough? Do we really need to know if there is still yet one more way she can pay back her unreasonable debts to the law school that stole money from her?
And yes, the law school basically stole her money. Bronsdon owes $82,000 to Southern New England Law School. Does that name ring a bell? It should. Southern New England is the unaccredited law school that is trying to hook up with U. Mass. to become the only “public” law school in Massachusetts. Over the objections of some of Massachusetts’s private law schools, Southern New England and U. Mass. are running around claiming that the citizens of Massachusetts deserve a reasonably priced law school option.
Could the state of Massachusetts please ask Denise Bronsdon whether or not she feels Southern New England is reasonably priced for the services it offers? The last two times I wrote about Southern New England, I said this:

I mean no offense by this, but isn’t the Southern New England School of Law not a very good law school? There’s a reason the school isn’t accredited, right? I just don’t see how raising the profile of bad law schools is the right way to go.

Again, no offense, but Southern New England let in a woman who (at the time) was 61 in her late fifties and (apparently) had tractor-based legal skills. Did they prepare this woman to pass a state bar exam? No. Oh, and it’s not like Bronsdon was a terrible student. The NLJ says that she finished in the top half of her class.
But that didn’t help her pass the bar. In fact, she stopped trying to pass the bar because she couldn’t afford test prep materials a fourth time. That was after spending $82,000 on what should have been test prep.
Which of course brings us back to the set of incomprehensible decisions that led a 61-year-old woman to waste three years at an unaccredited, apparently out-of-state law school in the first place. I know nothing about Bronsdon’s life or personal story. But at some point, people have to take personal responsibility for deciding to put themselves $82,000 in debt because being a lawyer sounds like a good job.
I’m not saying that she deserves to be saddled with this debt into her afterlife. But come on, people. A market economy cannot work without rational self-interest — emphasis on “rational,” not self-interest based on the belief that Matlock had a cool job.
But like I said, it’s a little hard to get too worked up about this. No person or institution here has clean hands. People need to get a clue; what more is there to say?
Mixed decision for law grad on expunging student debt [National Law Journal]
Earlier: Southern New England School of Law Prepares to Fight

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