Article Title

Law Student Debt + Public Interest Career = Character and Fitness Fail

Publication Title

Washington University Journal of Law & Policy


In 2011, the Ohio Supreme Court upheld the state bar’s decision to deny Hassan Jonathan Griffin admission to the bar on character and fitness grounds. Griffin had accrued $170,000 in student loan debt and $16,500 in consumer debt, and he had not made any payments on his loans post-graduation. The Griffin case reveals an increasingly common problem in today’s legal environment: how courts should balance the financial reliability and responsibility of future attorneys against the realities of high tuition levels, rising student debt, fewer legal jobs, and the need for public interest lawyers.

This Note proposes that the standards governing the character and fitness review process should be modified to (1) provide for more uniformity across jurisdictions; (2) explicitly require consideration of an applicant’s debt and repayment plan in the context of the current economic and legal employment climates; (3) reflect avowed policy interests in promoting public interest legal employment; and (4) diversify the membership of decision-makers to provide for review based on more culturally, professionally, and experientially diverse perspectives.