Md. lawyers volunteer to help homeowners avoid foreclosureProgram that hoped for 500 attorneys has nearly 1,000By Jamie Sm...
"If what youre doing is trying to help somebody but there really is no way out of this box, oryoure buying them an extra t...
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Md state bar association foreclosure project article


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This Article, published in the Baltimore Sun, Jan. 14, 2010, features the work of the Maryland State Bar Associatiation's Foreclosure Prevention Project. My work, as a volunteer attorney, is includ in the article. The article focuses on the efforts of volunteer attorney to assist MD homeowners who are facing foreclosure. My comments focus on the societal impact of mortgage crisis.

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Md state bar association foreclosure project article

  1. 1. Md. lawyers volunteer to help homeowners avoid foreclosureProgram that hoped for 500 attorneys has nearly 1,000By Jamie Smith Hopkins | jamie.smith.hopkins@baltsun.comJanuary 14, 2010Borrowers struggling to save their homes from foreclosure desperately need legal help, but thatsoften when theyre least able to afford it.In Maryland, though, nearly 1,000 attorneys are ready to assist for free.Lawyers began signing up to volunteer a year and a half ago, when Marylands chief judge -alarmed at skyrocketing foreclosures - urged the bar to join the new Foreclosure Prevention ProBono Project. Organizers, who had been hoping to recruit as many as 500, have trained 981attorneys so far in the finer points of foreclosure law and hooked up them up with borrowers orgroups helping borrowers.Its one of the largest pro bono foreclosure-prevention efforts in the nation, according to theAmerican Bar Association. Sharon E. Goldsmith, executive director of the Pro Bono ResourceCenter of Maryland, which is organizing volunteers, thinks the number is "pretty remarkable.""Its something everyone can relate to," she said, explaining how the nationwide foreclosurecrisis prompted lawyers to join the effort.The pro bono project has substantially widened the field of local attorneys with the backgroundto help homeowners in trouble. Before the program began, advocates say, only a handful oflawyers in Maryland were regularly representing borrowers in foreclosure situations.Job losses are aggravating the mortgage-delinquency problem, which began as an outgrowth ofthe housing bubble. Thats spurring more states to launch pro bono efforts, said Esther Lardent,president of the Pro Bono Institute in Washington.But the numbers are daunting. In Maryland alone, about 150,000 homeowners were behind ontheir mortgages at the end of September. Pro bono attorneys have worked with about 1,840homeowners so far, either by giving guidance at workshops or by taking on borrowers casesdirectly.Organizers say 83 percent of the resolved cases had positive outcomes - though that includes notonly lowered mortgage payments but also exit strategies that meant borrowers had to sell. Mostof the cases are still open.Lardent said its great that attorneys are offering their services for free, but she worries that thesystem theyre working within limits their ability to keep people in homes with payments theycan afford.
  2. 2. "If what youre doing is trying to help somebody but there really is no way out of this box, oryoure buying them an extra two weeks in this place, ... is that really meaningful?" she said. "Thequestion is how to really hone the system so that the legal assistance is substantial enough."Lardent said Philadelphias system of foreclosure mediation courts looks like a model. There,attorneys are having better results helping homeowners avoid foreclosure, she said.Gov. Martin OMalley plans to propose some form of required mediation in Maryland. A taskforce is sifting through possibilities and is expected to make a recommendation soon.Karl-Henri Gauvin, a Baltimore attorney who volunteers with the pro bono effort, said the waitfor a lenders decision on loan modification can be long, even when homeowners have a lawyeron their side.Still, Gauvin is an enthusiastic participant in the pro bono project. By his count, hes worked withmore than 100 homeowners, either by giving them advice at workshops or by representing them.So did Myra M. Frazier, an attorney in Gaithersburg. Frazier, who said about two-thirds ofclients shes helped are still in their homes, is passionate about the effort."Its really becoming the defining issue of our generation - to help people hold on to such a basicnecessity of life," she said.Some of the work is negotiation, but other cases end up in court. Stephen H. Sturgeon, anattorney in Rockville, is representing clients he believes are the victims of lender fraud. Hesfiled one case and is about to file another.Phillip R. Robinson, executive director of Civil Justice, a Baltimore nonprofit that is training thepro bono participants, said the effort does more than connect homeowners with attorneys. Its ablueprint for how to react "when the next crisis hits," he said