To The Readers Of The Metropolitan Corporate Counsel:
Times Like These
I am proud that the New York City Bar is among the organizations taking the lead in helping homeowners survive the worst economic crisis in generations. Times like these remind us why we went to law school in the first place. For many of us, it was to make a difference.
Since last spring, the City Bar Justice Center has been working with the Federal Reserve Bank of New York to provide homeowners facing foreclosure with volunteer attorneys. A recent grant from the New York State Housing Trust Fund has allowed the Justice Center to add another staff attorney to the project. Further assistance is available from the Justice Center's Consumer Bankruptcy Project, which has received a grant from the New York State Department of Banking to provide Chapter 13 help to homeowners. With increased support, the Justice Center hopes to mobilize more private attorneys to help.
As the following article on the Justice Center's foreclosure volunteers illustrates, there's never been a better time to get involved in pro bono work. The time to make a difference is now.
Patricia M. Hynes
Allen & Overy LLP
On The Front Lines Of Foreclosure
The Justice Center of the New York City Bar Association and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York is co-sponsoring a program - the Lawyers Foreclosure Intervention Network - that provides free legal services to homeowners facing foreclosure.
While most of the foreclosure project's volunteers are solos or from small firms, something interesting happens when they get together. As one volunteer, Joseph Parenteau, put it: "The great thing you have going here with this operation is that it's essentially like a big law firm." He was referring to the project's collaborative nature, bringing together attorneys with expertise in a variety of areas beneficial to foreclosure clients, such as banking law, construction and litigation. Even this brief roundtable became at times like a workshop, as participants offered advice on one another's cases, providing new insights and solutions to varied and often complicated issues. Also as in a large law firm, the project's lawyers are being offered ongoing training, including an upcoming civil procedure class with renowned NYU Law Professor Oscar Chase.
The volunteers were asked what motivated them to step up in the face of the foreclosure crisis and how the experience has affected them personally and professionally.
Howard Yaruss brings extensive experience working in the financial industry to the foreclosure project. Currently he is handling the case of a 69-year-old woman who owned her home free and clear before falling for an Internet scam. Mr. Yaruss was struck by how "disenfranchised" foreclosure clients seem. "I can see how a lack of financial education and available mortgage options, and the inability to afford an attorney, makes clients feel so helpless and frustrated," he said.
Joseph Parenteau was recruited to the foreclosure project by Michael Campbell of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, one of the project's co-sponsors. With a background in both finance and construction law, Mr. Parenteau brings a unique perspective and skill set to foreclosure cases, including one in which a contractor hired to repair a home allegedly went too far and tore it down to the foundation. "There's a certain amount of guilt and penance involved in the work," said Mr. Parenteau. "Any finance lawyer should be doing something. It's really time to step up."
Melissa Weinberg came to the foreclosure project with 13 years of litigation experience, and is currently defending a young woman who was the victim of a predatory lending scheme. "While all these cases garner sympathy, you know that without the volunteers, these people would not be getting the necessary legal representation," said Ms. Weinberg. She finds that her clients are "grateful someone's actually listening." She also noted, "I'm proud to tell my other clients that we are volunteering to help save homes, and they are happy to hear that we are doing something to address this issue."
Ed Reisner has volunteered to take on not one but three cases for the project, including one involving a client who did not even know his house had been foreclosed and sold because he was in prison while it happened. Mr. Reisner emphasized the satisfaction he has gotten from helping his clients avoid eviction, and also from doing something to help solve the country's larger economic crisis, saying, "It feels good to be promoting our new President's agenda."
Denise Quarles has represented healthcare professionals in disciplinary, licensing, employment and malpractice matters for eight years. She became interested in the foreclosure project when one of her healthcare clients came to her with a real estate case and she felt powerless to help. While her pro bono clients can require as much attention as her paying clients, she said it's worth it to know you're "making a difference."
Michael Campbell, Federal Reserve Bank of New York
The Justice Center is especially pleased to have Mike Campbell handling a case, because he was instrumental in the implementation of the Lawyers Foreclosure Intervention Network as a representative of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, a co-sponsor of the program. Mr. Campbell expressed how meaningful it has been for him to see these cases and the people involved in them up close, and said, "The clients light up when you call."
This text has been adapted from the April 2009 issue of 44th Street Notes, published by the New York City Bar Association