Northwest Justice Project’s Foreclosure Prevention Unit
Thomas McKay is returning to work this summer at Northwest Justice Project’s Foreclosure Prevention Unit (FPU). FPU continues to expand to serve the increasing numbers of low and moderate income clients facing foreclosure throughout the State of Washington. In addition to pairing volunteer attorneys to represent low- to moderate income clients who face foreclosure, the project also employs staff attorneys to negotiate and litigate with banks and servicers on behalf of clients, including representing clients at mediation under the evolving state foreclosure mediation law. Under the supervision of a staff attorney, Thomas will handle a caseload of clients to advise them throughout the foreclosure process. This will include negotiating with trustees and servicers to postpone foreclosure sales and to secure home loan modifications, to assist with foreclosure litigation, and to employ other means to ensure that clients have control during the foreclosure process and have every chance to avoid unnecessary foreclosure. Thomas will address the long-term interests of clients as they navigate the foreclosure process. This will complement his experience as a paralegal at a legal services clinic, where he was only able to address each client’s short-term goals. This summer at FPU, Thomas hopes to cultivate strong client advocacy skills that will serve him well in his legal career.
July 3, 2012
My goal this summer is to continue to get solid experience working with clients to address their needs over the long term. This is in contrast to the work I did before law school, which was at a court-based legal clinic for pro se litigants. There, the results had to be quick but with the drawback that the results were often short-term solutions to larger issues facing the client. In foreclosure, often the immediate result must be quick as well, but always with considerations that look far into the client’s future. So far this summer, the Foreclosure Prevention Unit (FPU) has already provided me with some valuable experiences in addressing the broad range of long-term needs that clients facing foreclosure have.
This week I had a satisfying resolution to a case that I began with a client last summer. FPU had referred a client facing foreclosure to foreclosure mediation under Washington’s Foreclosure Fairness Act, which had the immediate effect of temporarily postponing the trustee’s sale of the client’s home. After a series of postponements to the mediation, some strategic and others accidental, I re-assessed the case with the client and my supervising attorney. The client decided that, given the options and likely outcomes at mediation, that mediation wouldn't address the client’s needs. Instead, the client opted to “walk away” from the underwater home, but without debt to the lender due to Washington’s anti-deficiency statutes. The client was able to find more affordable living arrangements, and I was able to negotiate with the bank to get a significant sum to help the client to pay for relocation. In this client’s case, foreclosure prevention turned out not to be an option, but nonetheless I was able to help the client to take control over the situation and to buy time to make rational and informed choices about the client’s future. It is this type of experience that cannot easily be taught in the classroom but which will be valuable to my work as an attorney.
Although as a paralegal I had written many declarations for restraining orders and supporting family court orders before, I had not had the experience that I did with the client who I spoke with a few weeks ago. This client has limited mobility, and will not likely appear in court at all unless it is absolutely necessary. For me, this meant that the client’s declaration had to not only give the important legal facts, but also had to tell the court who the client was, what the client’s emotional state was, and to express the client’s presence in a way that the client wouldn't have a realistic opportunity to do in court. Fortunately for me, the client’s case was sympathetic—the elderly client had an adverse emotional reaction to the foreclosure process, which was understandable since the client was living in the family home, but was the sole surviving member of the family. I had the pleasure of working with a client to help them tell their story, using their own words. Writing a simple declaration really brought home how important it is to blend legal strategy with effective storytelling in order to best advocate for a client.
I am enjoying my summer at FPU, and I am grateful to work with people who are dedicated to their work in foreclosure prevention and who work hard every day for their clients. At FPU I am fortunate to work alongside many of the foremost experts on foreclosure defense in the state. Everyone that I work with is genuinely happy with the work they do, which contributes to an extremely positive and collaborative working environment that I am lucky to be a part of. I am looking forward to a productive summer as I work toward many more positive outcomes for clients who are facing foreclosure.
July 30, 2012
The summer has gone by quickly, and I am savoring my last couple of weeks at the Foreclosure Prevention Unit (“FPU”). Throughout the summer, my supervising attorney has allowed me the time necessary to properly investigate clients’ claims; because of this I have had the opportunity to research increasing detail about the laws affecting homeowners who face foreclosure. This time has enabled me to engage in different types of client interactions than I have had with clients before, including in-depth investigation and analysis of cases similar to those that the Foreclosure Prevention Unit attorneys do.
I am currently investigating a client’s situation to establish whether the client has loan origination claims against her mortgage originator. The client’s mortgage company issued a mortgage which left the client with only a few hundred dollars each month to pay the remaining household bills, food and other expenses. The mortgage company apparently relied upon representations from another mortgage industry employee to justify issuing this loan. Further, the client signed the documents under the stress of having lost a close family member a few weeks before. The mortgage company stands to potentially gain from the transaction because of the significant equity that the client has in the property. Washington’s Consumer Loan Act allows consumers to sue for damages based upon such violations as failing to state the true cost of the loan, or engaging in fraudulent or misleading practices. Here, the client stands to lose significant equity, so the potential damages are quite high. It is still too early to tell whether the FPU will pursue this case, the case is exemplary of the type of case that the FPU regularly pursues on behalf of Washington homeowners.
Washington’s Foreclosure Fairness Act allows homeowners who are facing foreclosure to mediate with their lenders in an attempt to resolve overdue loans outside of the foreclosure process. Homeowners can be represented by advocates at foreclosure mediation. For homeowners who request mediation, the law allows homeowners to slow down the mediation process so that they can examine their options thoroughly. Because of the volatility of clients and of the process, I have prepared for several mediations which have eventually fallen through, either because the client opted out of the process, or because the client reached a resolution such that mediation was no longer necessary.
I am currently preparing for two upcoming mediations. In one, I will represent a client at an upcoming mediation. He just needs to cobble together a few hundred dollars more income in order to support a loan modification. Without the income, the client may well lose the home and equity. Right now, the client is still trying to pursue additional income by getting a renter in the home. Because the client has engaged with the mediation process, there is still time, and therefore hope, to make the income and save the home. I am assisting with another case involving an ugly divorce. The client needs a divorce decree to finalize a mortgage loan modification, but is ambivalent about finalizing it because the divorce settlement seems unfair. Both of these situations are precarious. They are the type of situation where advocates really help to clarify the issues for the client, and they require a combination of sensitivity to a client’s needs and the skills of a tough negotiator. I have had the pleasure of being able to tap into the wisdom of several thoughtful FPU advocates who are adept at both. It is this skill that will help to ensure that both of these clients have the best possible opportunity to save their homes.
This summer, I have been able to work with clients over a longer time frame. I have been working with some of these clients for over a year. This sustained contact allows me to see the nuances of the law and how it affects clients’ lives over time. My goal this summer was to work with clients as a lawyer does, using the law to find the best long-term outcome for clients. This approach sometimes employs a quick-fix, but there is always more to be done to ensure that clients are on a good footing in the long-term with what, for most clients, is the biggest investment of their lives. I have had an opportunity this summer to work alongside hard-working, enthusiastic advocates to help clients through foreclosure and help them to make sound decisions for their futures. These advocates have taught me valuable skills that I will take with me into practice.