Don’t be a Number

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Well, actually, I might just be able to …

In the areas of law I practice in (mostly foreclosure defense and credit card collection defense), the bulk of the cases are prosecuted by only a few law firms.

The majority of cases brought against Connecticut residents are brought by just a handful of firms and lawyers.

That’s all these lawyers do and they are very efficient and very quick at foreclosing on homes.  By my estimate, just two Connecticut firms handle about 9,000 foreclosure matters, employing a handful of lawyers.

By necessity, those firms operate by the numbers – A2nBWtzqjy-2a homeowner isn’t a person, just a number, a file, a target, a quota to fill. Homeowners who try to go it alone, use the Internet for help, or just plain wing it are shocked to find that their cases don’t receive personal attention.

Homeowners are constantly surprised to find that the person on the ‘other side’ doesn’t seem to care about helping them. I have to explain, over and over, that in defiance of logic and common sense, the lenders and their attorneys don’t treat individual homeowners like individuals.  There is no “treatment” at all because computers make the decisions and while sometimes a human interprets the data they are still a slave to the stats.  So when a homeowner goes it alone, the homeowner pretty much ends up hitting a brick wall more often than not.

I do a lot of this, I’ve become as quick and efficient at defending foreclosure matters as they have in disposing cases.  I have pretty much seen it all when it comes to homeowner hardship, procedural and computer error and dealing with the humans on the other end of those computers.  I, too, spend all day every day honing my foreclosure skills, but not for the banks.  I only represent homeowners.

So what do you get when you put one lawyer skilled at foreclosing and one lawyer skilled at defending a foreclosure in a court room or a mediation together?  You get a shot at saving your home.  You get a shot at having all the information so the process makes sense.  You get a voice.  And you get a fair fight.

Expectations, Part 2 (or so)

200px-Bleakhouse_serial_coverI  had a professor in law school who proclaimed loud and clear at least once a week that ‘your goal as lawyers should be to never be in a casebook,’ he would usually say it while brandishing said casebook.

He wasn’t referring to world shattering decisions like Brown v. Board of Education, he meant the contract cases that could have been settled amicably, tort cases where even a modicum of common sense would have kept them in the lower courts, property cases that mindlessly escalated . . .

Continue reading Expectations, Part 2 (or so)

Flow Charts, Decision Trees, Venn Diagrams, and Foreclosure Defense

decision-model-diagramI know someone who zipped through law school finals (usually the one and only grade for a class, so, hey, no pressure) by creating flow charts. Elaborate charts that, if used properly, would lead to a well organized, rational, factually-based answer. The trick for him – and anyone using it in lieu of an outline – was to properly identify the issue. Miss the issue and the flow chart was useless. Hit the issue, sit back and fill in the blanks.

Most options are, of course, at the beginning. Start with the basic issue(s) and it begins to narrow down, and down, and down to the logical end point – a logical, legally supportable result.

I thought of this last week when I was giving a short talk at the Connecticut Bar Association about foreclosure defense. I was talking about the process – always the process – and it aways came back to options. As in, what options are available to the client at what point in the process.

Like my friend’s flow charts, the options are very much front-loaded. The issue is not in doubt, but the way to a good result for the client is certainly not a straight line.

After I fielded a few questions it became pretty clear, pretty quickly, that my colleagues and I are seeing clients at the mid- to late stages of the process . . . the place where – under the flow chart scenario – the options narrow.

This is disturbing because this isn’t a legal exercise, it’s peoples’ lives. It’s their homes. It’s even more disturbing if the reason for this is because people who are going through foreclosure don’t think they have options . . . and by the time they realize they do, those options have been significantly reduced.

Either way, foreclosure defendants have a textbook worth of options at the start of the process, and need to take advantage – otherwise the flow chart looks like this:

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“They’re More Like Guidelines . . .”

I continue to get foreclosure clients at various stages of the ‘process’. Very rarely, these days, do I start with someone who just got served or, best case scenario, someone who knows they are about to go into foreclosure and wants to plan their response.

There are a lot of reasons for this, every one of which I understand. And will probably write about in the near future.

The ramifications of this trend have really hit home over the past month or so. Recently, I spent a morning in court for a “short-calendar” day – that’s a day devoted exclusively to motions concerned with various stages of foreclosure actions. There were a little over one hundred items on the docket. One hundred decisions that a judge had to make.

Besides myself, the judge, clerk, and marshal, there were eight other people in the room. For One hundred motions. Two plaintiff attorneys representing the banks (yes, they had every case) and six defendants there to speak up.

There are two sides to every argument, but only if two sides show up. On that day, out of one hundred plus motions, the judge heard seven arguments. Ninety-three plus motions were decided by default judgement.

Connecticut state courts are jammed with foreclosure cases. It’s a sad fact and it’s not going to change anytime soon.  When overwhelmed by work, it’s basic human nature to shortcut the workpile – especially the tedious.

Any fan of Pirates of the Caribbean can tell you what happens next:

The code becomes more like guidelines instead of rules‘. I can do a lot of good at any stage of the process, and I do – but when I come in after the rules becomes guidelines stage I come in with less ammunition that I would have earlier in the process.

Behind the Scenes in Foreclosure Defense . . . or Show Up Part II

In a blog post a week or so ago I wrote about the importance of showing up – a theme I’ll be writing more about in the next few days. With foreclosures it’s also important to show up – in some regard – at legislative hearings … for all the same reasons.

Eighty Percent of Life …

… is just showing up. I think someone in Annie Hall said that and I, woodyallencertainly, don’t dispute it, it makes sense in a number of ways.

Funny thing about showing up – things happen. Funny thing about not showing up – bad stuff happens.

The single most important thing I can, and do, tell anyone facing foreclosure, or small claims court, or student loan action, or … anything requiring action in a court of law is the simplest thing – Show Up.

See, with court actions what many, many people don’t get is this – you, and at some point hopefully your attorney – are the only people in the process there to protect your rights. That you have many rights in any action is indisputable, it’s just that the opposing party has no interest, no reason to protect them for you.

If you don’t show up the process becomes this – ‘how quickly can we clear the case?’ Say it’s a foreclosure, the plaintiff’s law firm wants it off their growing pile of cases as soon as possible for profit’s sake; the judge and clerk want the docket sheet cleared as they are graded on efficiency; the bank wants someone, anyone, paying something, as soon as possible. And it goes on.

So, then, here’s what happens when you don’t show up and you leave your matter entirely in the hands of the bank’s attorney and the court – imagine the court is the teller and the plaintiff is Ricky Gervais:

If this is an exaggeration it’s a slight one. The only way to stop this is to show up. It’s that simple.

Neat thing about showing up, by the way, it works at almost any point in the process. It’s almost never too late. Though, of course, the sooner you do, the more options left open.