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Undue Hardship and Student Loans

Imagine that a boy grows up watching lawyer shows like Perry Mason, L.A. Law, and Law and Order. He is intrigued by what lawyers do, especially trial lawyers. After years of watching, he is enamored. He has dreams of becoming a prosecutor or a defense attorney. He will appear before a judge and jury and making opening and closing statements; he will call witnesses to the stand and ask them questions; he will cross-examine witnesses in dramatic fashion by asking questions that trip them up and end with “no further questions”; he will enjoy some light moments in the judge’s chamber after a lengthy trial; his adrenaline will pump because he is a fantastic lawyer.

This boy is now a young man entering college. His parents suggested that he go to trade school because he is not academically inclined and has difficulty keeping up in school. The boy-turned-young adult is intent on becoming a lawyer, so college is a must. He was accepted to and chose a college that is not highly academic so he can make headway and eventually attend law school.

College is difficult. His test scores are very low, compelling the school to place him on academic probation. After three dismal semesters, the school dismisses him for poor academic performance. At the time, his parents strongly recommend trade school. The young man refuses, he has his sights set on law school.

After 10 years, this now grown-up has graduated college. He attended three colleges and had academic difficulty in them all. The last one allowed him to keep trying so he could pass and graduate, which he did.

His parents threw him a big party for graduating despite the difficulties. This man has one hurdle left: law school.

Going to Law School

He practiced for the Law School Aptitude Test, or LSAT, for over two years. Shortly before he graduated, he took the exam twice. He scored a decent 151 and was excited about the prospect of law school.

One law school in the Midwest accepted him. While the law school was ranked as a “fourth tier” school, he was going to law school. Some hard work and luck would land him in the right place, where he can try cases and live his dream.

Law School was very tough on this man. The work was intense and the concepts were over his head. At first, the school dismissed him for weak performance. Eventually, the school agreed to provide him with modified tests so he can graduate from law school. After five years of law school, he was awarded a Juris Doctor.

The Minnesota Bar

The dream was almost complete. However, before practicing law, he would need to pass the Minnesota bar. He submitted the paperwork to the bar committee and was assigned a seat for the Minnesota bar exam. He studied intensely so he could finally live his dream. The bar exam was two days on a warm and humid afternoon in Minnesota. He put in all his strength to pass.

A relieved man went for drinks after taking the bar exam. He drank a lot because this was the culmination of years of effort to live his childhood dream.

Three months later, a letter arrived in the mail addressed to him. The sender was the Minnesota state bar examiners. The letter stated that he passed the bar!

Nonetheless, he was never able to secure employment as a lawyer, his life’s dream.

Moving On

A disheartened man felt how tough it was to lose his childhood dream. He now had over $350,000 of student loan debt and no job. He was living in a trailer and found some part-time work as a painter. This is the story of Mark Jesperson.

To combat the debt, he filed for bankruptcy. As mentioned in a previous post, bankruptcy generally does not discharge student loan debt. However, a bankrupt debtor can discharge loans under the Bankruptcy Code when there is “undue” hardship in paying back the loan. Part of an undue hardship is demonstrating that there is almost no chance of paying back most of the loan when the debtor provides a good faith effort. Courts construe the undue hardship requirement as extremely high, making it almost impossible to satisfy.                                             

The ruling comes despite the fact that at the time (2009) Jesperson was 45 years old  and never made more than $48,000 in a year.

In debt? Bankruptcy may be right for you. Contact the law firm of Melanie Tavare, a Bay-area debt relief lawyer.               

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