Calling All Lawyers to 5,000,000 Crime Scenes
It’s time for me to have an adult conversation with the experienced practicing attorneys in this country. Other grown-ups are welcome to sit in as well, but it’s time for children to be in bed or occupied elsewhere, okay?
Well, today we have a mammoth size foreclosure problem in this country, and it’s being talked about like it’s damn near an unsolvable problem… as if solving it would require determining the chemical origins of life, or figuring out whether black holes really do exist in space.
The foreclosure crisis, thank goodness, is not a black hole-type problem as many would have us believe. It is a problem that, political constraints notwithstanding, exists at the juncture of economics and the rule of law. In other words… it’s an oil spill… perhaps the worst oil spill of which the world has ever conceived… the Exxon Valdez meets Deepwater Horizon x 100, if you will… but it’s still just an oil spill.
It’s also important to note that as an economics problem alone, the foreclosure crisis is not a particularly challenging one to solve. Some would rush to remind me that any proposed solution would be rife with “moral hazard,” and while that may be true, it doesn’t make the problem insoluble, by any means.
The elephant in the room is that what we’re facing in this country today is not just a foreclosure crisis, what we’re dealing with with is much better described as a FRAUDclosure crisis.
A couple of years ago, many would have said that my use of the word “fraud” before “closure,” is just hyperbole. Today, however, anyone voicing that sort of opinion is selling something. Even a cursory review of last year’s scathing “consent orders,” that federal regulators issued after months spent investigating mortgage servicers… or a quick perusal of the complaints filed against the servicers by attorneys general in Massachusetts, Nevada, Maryland, or Arizona… or by reading any number of published court decisions favoring homeowners… and one can only conclude that use of the word “fraud” is, if anything, understatement.
Additionally, this past year has been a turning point for the general public as far as FRAUDclosures are concerned. Television’s most venerable news magazine, “60 Minutes,” along with newspaper-of-record, “The New York Times,” joined a long list of others documenting the many ways that banks and mortgage servicers are routinely breaking numerous laws in order to take advantage of homeowners in foreclosure. It’s now widely understood to be something that’s occurring all over the country, and even though the banking industry continues to try to dismiss publicized instances as insignificant dalliances or “isolated incidents,” their sheer number has made such attempts laughable. And the levels of wholesale anger and dissatisfaction with government felt among the populace are both palpable and rising fast.
Today, even forecasts from the likes of Goldman Sachs and Amherst Securities peg the number of foreclosures between 10.4 and 14 million by year-end 2014, and those numbers could easily go higher should home prices continue to fall… which they invariably will. Add those numbers to the millions of foreclosures already water under the bridge, and were talking about a crisis that results in ONE IN FOUR Americans with mortgages losing their homes to foreclosure in the next handful of years.
What I’m describing will unquestionably devastate any hope for recovery in our broader economy for any number of reasons. For one thing, as banks are forced to recognize their losses incurred on the mortgage-backed securities and CDOs that capitalize their balance sheets, they will become insolvent… and this time many will be forced to fail. For another, home prices will continue falling pushing more and more homeowners underwater and consumer spending will continue to decline and that will lead to rising unemployment, which will in turn fuel further foreclosures. And those hopelessly underwater will begin walking away en masse, which will further exacerbate the decline in prices and become impossible to combat.
All of these factors and more will combine to reduce future demand for residential real estate dramatically… perhaps by half, but in addition, with no secondary mortgage market… no ability to securitize debt… even those wanting to buy homes going forward will find credit to be tight and tighter, destroying any potential for recovery in the housing market.
And I’m no longer in a small group of people writing about this deteriorating situation as was the case three plus years ago. Every day others are waking up to the fact that what we’ve been told about foreclosures to-date by our government and the financial services and related industries, has proven itself to be at best mistaken… at worst misdirection… or, not to put too fine a point on it, outright folderol.
As conservative columnist, Peggy Noonan, has pointed out recently, it’s simply impossible to imagine this sort of future without also seeing social unrest on a scale not seen in this country since at least the 1930s. Writing recently about the Occupy Wall Street (“OWS”) movement, Noonan echoes my sentiments on the situation to a tee…
“OWS is an expression of American discontent, and others will follow. Protests and social unrest are particularly likely if people feel they are unfairly losing their homes to support irresponsible, law-breaking institutions that have successfully disregarded the fundamental rules of capitalism and good citizenship.”
There should be no question in anyone’s mind… there are only two paths ahead from which to choose. Both involve fighting a war… but on one path the battle is fought by lawyers in our courts… on the other, by citizens in our streets.
Make no mistake about it… if we are to mitigate any of the damage being caused, uphold the rule of law, and protect the rights of millions of homeowners… it should be obvious to anyone that WE NEED TENS OF THOUSANDS OF LAWYERS trained in foreclosure defense, loss mitigation and bankruptcy. And yet, more than four years into the FRAUDclosure crisis, we don’t have anywhere near the number of trained, ethical attorneys required to meet the demand.
We’re all adults here, so let’s not kid ourselves about why that’s the case.
We all know why we don’t have the lawyers we need to marshall a more effective defense of homeowners engulfed by the FRAUDclosure crisis… it’s because THERE’S NO MONEY IN IT. Or, at least that’s what lawyers have been told they are supposed to believe. Not only that, but the message has been that there shouldn’t be any money in representing homeowners at risk of FRAUDclosure. It’s as if attorneys profiting from representing homeowners at risk of FRAUDclosure is somehow a bad thing.
AND THAT’S JUST 100% BANKER-INSPIRED B.S.
Don’t you see what’s happened here? We’ve allowed the banks, and the government that’s been bailing them out, to essentially criminalize the profit potential in representing homeowners at risk of foreclosure… and wonder of wonders, miracles of miracles… here we sit with what appears to be an unsolvable problem.
Consider this… bankers say that they’ve been overwhelmed by the millions of homeowners unexpectedly seeking loan modifications and that’s why applying for a loan modification has been such a nightmare. But, what about the number of foreclosures occurring in the same time frame? Haven’t there been an unprecedented and unexpected number of foreclosures too? So,why is it that the banks have no problems accommodating the millions of unexpected foreclosures, but the millions of unexpected loan modifications represent an unsolvable problem?
It’s simple… because on the foreclosure side of the equation, banks allow lawyers to be profitably compensated for handling foreclosures, and sure enough those law firms have figured out how to handle any number of foreclosures that come down the pike… in fact, the more the merrier, as they say. On the loan modification side of the house, however, profits are a dirty word… and wouldn’t you know it, the problem is unsolvable. Why am I not surprised?
Over the TWO YEARS following the Deepwater Horizon disaster, BP spent $21 billion to clean up the Gulf of Mexico. In the FOUR YEARS since the tsunami of foreclosures began, we’ve spent roughly ten percent of what BP spent cleaning up the Gulf… $2.4 billion… and the vast majority of that amount paid to mortgage servicers… and we’re wondering why the problem can’t be solved?
A MESSAGE TO OUR NATION’S LAWYERS…
It’s the biggest financial opportunity for the legal profession
SINCE THE REAR END COLLISION.
The fact is… there is a HUGE OPPORTUNITY today to build a very profitable legal practice based on the ethical and effective representation of homeowners caught in the FRAUDclosure crisis.
From the very beginning of the mortgage meltdown, banks have tried to make sure that homeowners were not represented by attorneys when trying to save their homes from FRAUDclosure. The reason is now apparent: Banks knew it was a FRAUDclosure crisis before the rest of us did because they’re the ones who put the FRAUD into FRAUDclosure. From the earliest days of the crisis, the banks and the Obama Administration have been reinforcing TWO LIES:
- Homeowners at risk of foreclosure don’t need lawyers… they can just call their bank directly. That’s like the police telling someone under arrest that he or she doesn’t need a lawyer because any questions can be answered by the District Attorney. It’s a damn lie… homeowners DO NEED LAWYERS to help them save their homes because it’s not just a foreclosure crisis, it’s a FRAUDclosure crisis.
- A lawyer who charges a homeowner at risk of foreclosure up front… is a “SCAMMER.” That is not only a LIE, but it’s a lie to achieve two key bank objectives. One – It stopped many homeowners from seeking legal representation, thus allowing the banks to do whatever they wanted as related to foreclosing on their homes. Two – It stopped countless attorneys from building a profitable practice based on representing homeowners at risk of foreclosure.
The California Example…
In California, the efforts to stop lawyers from representing homeowners have been more extreme than in any other state. Here the campaign to malign the legal profession has been driven by legislative committees and supported by the California State Bar Association. In October 2009, California’s SB 94 created a law that has effectively prevented lawyers from offering to represent homeowners who are seeking to avoid foreclosure through modification of their loans. Under the guise of “charging up front makes you a scammer,” SB 94 has made it illegal for a lawyer to charge a homeowner an upfront retainer for legal fees.
Quite predictably, the law has made it difficult or even impossible for California homeowners to find quality legal representation related to seeking loan modifications, forcing those at risk of foreclosure who want to be represented by an attorney into either litigation or bankruptcy. Writing for The New York Times in December 2010, David Streitfeld’s article titled, “Homes at Risk, and No Help from Lawyers,” described the situation in California related to SB 94.
In California, where foreclosures are more abundant than in any other state, homeowners trying to win a loan modification have always had a tough time.
Now they face yet another obstacle: hiring a lawyer.
Sharon Bell, a retiree who lives in Laguna Niguel, southeast of Los Angeles, needs a modification to keep her home. She says she is scared of her bank and its plentiful resources, so much so that she cannot even open its certified letters inquiring where her mortgage payments may be. Yet the half-dozen lawyers she has called have refused to represent her.
“They said they couldn’t help,” said Ms. Bell, 63. “But I’ve got to find help, because I’m dying every day.”
Lawyers throughout California say they have no choice but to reject clients like Ms. Bell because of a new state law that sharply restricts how they can be paid. Under the measure, passed overwhelmingly by the State Legislature and backed by the state bar association, lawyers who work on loan modifications cannot receive any money until the work is complete. The bar association says that under the law, clients cannot put retainers in trust accounts.
To make matters worse, SB 94 has recently become controversial. In late September 2011, Suzan Anderson, who is the supervising trial council of the state bar’s special team on loan modifications, made an unscheduled appearance at the bar’s annual conference, presenting what she purported to be the bar’s new interpretation of SB 94. Literally hundreds of attorneys and legal scholars disagree, however, and litigation has recently been filed against the bar seeking declaratory relief, so we’ll soon see the courts decide the issue.
The core issue is about when a lawyer who represents a homeowner trying to get their loan modified can be compensated. The bar claims the law requires an attorney to wait until the very end of the case, however, the actual language contained in SB 94 doesn’t say that… it says lawyers cannot be paid until completing “any and all services (the lawyer) has contracted to perform…” Up until Ms. Anderson’s presentation at the annual meeting, lawyers were dividing services into separate contractual arrangements and accepting payments from homeowners as discreet sets of services were completed.
Regardless of which side of the debate you’re on, the issue highlights how far the banking lobby will push a state legislature and state bar association in an attempt to prevent homeowners from being represented by legal council when trying to to avoid foreclosure, and it should come as absolutely no surprise that SB 94 was born in the state’s Senate Banking Committee, sponsored by Sen. Ron Calderon, who chairs that committee.
Advocates of SB 94 claim that it was needed to stop “scammers” who were preying on homeowners in distress from accepting up-front fees. As quoted from Streitfeld’s article in The New York Times…
A spokesman for the Mortgage Bankers Association said it simply wanted to protect homeowners from fraud. “Be very careful about anyone who wants you to pay them to help you get a loan modification,” said the spokesman, John Mechem.
The evidence of any sort of army of lawyers-turned-scammers ripping off homeowners has always been thin, and by “thin” I mean nonexistant. In the two years since the bill became law, the bar has taken some type of disciplinary action related to the representation of homeowners in foreclosure against two dozen lawyers, give or take a few. In a state with more than 200,000 lawyers and 2 million homeowners in foreclosure, two dozen lawyers disciplined would hardly seem justification for a law that effectively prevents lawyers from helping homeowners get their loans modified.
Last December, Suzan Anderson, who heads up the bar’s task force on loan modifications, told The New York Times…
“I wish the law had worked,” Ms. Anderson said.
It’s also telling that no other state in the country has a law anything like SB 94, in fact, the rest of the states follow the FTC’s Mortgage Assistance Relief Services rule, MARS, which was adopted on January 30, 2011, and it does allow attorneys representing homeowners seeking loan modifications to accept funds in advance into their trust accounts.
The New York Times article also offered the perspective of several California homeowners seeking legal assistance in a post SB 94 world…
Mark Stone, a 56-year-old general contractor in Sierra Madre, feels differently. A few years ago, he got sick with hepatitis C. Unable to work full time, he began to miss mortgage payments. The drugs he was taking left him “a little confused,” he said.
Mr. Stone knew that his condition put him at a disadvantage in negotiations with his bank. So he hired Gregory Royston, a real estate lawyer in Redondo Beach. It took Mr. Royston nearly a year, but he restructured the loan.Without the lawyer, Mr. Stone said, “I’d be living under a bridge.”The legal bill, paid in advance, was $3,500. “Worth every penny,” said Mr. Stone, who is now back at work.“This law,” Mr. Royston said, “took the wrong people out of the game.”
A Bleak Picture in California…
California’s approach to discouraging lawyers from representing homeowners at risk of foreclosure has not served the state or its residents well at all. California is the “hardest hit” of all 50 states, accounting for one of every five foreclosures in the U.S. Almost half of California’s homeowners are either underwater or effectively underwater today. Since 2008, there have been 1.2 million foreclosures statewide, and that number is expected to exceed 2 million by the end of 2012. And, according to the report published by the California Reinvestment Coalition…
The 2 million foreclosures expected by the end of this year are forecasted to cost the state and its residents $650 billion statewide.
Today, in California alone there are roughly TWO MILLION homeowners in foreclosure. I don’t know exactly how many we have nationwide, estimates vary, but are in the 5 million range. I do know that if two million people needed just 10 hours of legal assistance, it would take 20 million man hours. Assuming a six hour work day and a 260 day work year… that’s just under 13,000 years assuming only one lawyer were involved. To help two million people, assuming 10 hours each, at best would require more than 10,000 lawyers trained and working efficiently.
How many attorneys do we have trained and ready to help loans get modified, represent homeowners in foreclosure defense matters and/or in bankruptcy. Nowhere near 13,000 that’s for sure… in fact, we might not find 1300 either… and many would say the number could be closer to 130, and with the proliferating fraudulent documents… the abuses by servicers… the number of people who are foreclosed on illegally… its become easy to see the disease, and trained ethical lawyers would seem the only cure.
We need a literal army of experienced litigators, and Max Gardner’s Bankruptcy Boot Camp has trained close to 900 attorneys to protect the rights of homeowners in foreclosure. I’ve attended Max’s Boot Camp… I could never recommend it strongly enough… and often do. But, there’s more than legal training that’s required here… and if we’re going to attract the number of lawyers we need to fight this war…
The Answer is Money…
What Was Your Question?
Ohio’s former Attorney General Marc Dann is a highly experienced foreclosure defense attorney and a graduate of Max Gardner’s Boot Camp. He’s proven in his own successful practice that lawyers have the opportunity to DO GOOD… and DO WELL at the same time by learning the ins and outs of this, unfortunately, very fast growing and specialized field. And he’s developed a comprehensive training and ongoing support program that allows experienced foreclosure defense attorneys to immediately access new clients and the right clients, improve operations within their firms, and yes… increase their profitability dramatically.
Marc understands our need for an experienced army of foreclosure defense lawyers, but he also understands the reality that lawyers have to make money in order to operate effectively. In a phrase, a lawyer that can provide effective representation for homeowners at risk of foreclosure today, should not be worried about losing his or her own home to foreclosure because that benefits no one.
So, Marc has developed and employed best practices in building his own successful foreclosure defense practice, and now he’s teaching other attorneys how to make money in foreclosure defense so that ultimately he will have provided countless thousands of homeowners all over the country with access to highly capable, ethical and experienced attorneys.
Marc Dann’s LAW PROFITS program will take experienced and effective attorneys committed to foreclosure defense and protecting the rights of homeowners, and help transform them into vibrant, profitable firms or individual legal practices. Some of the innovative solutions Marc will be delivering include:
- How to cut through the noise created by scammers, reaching out to homeowners in a very honest and compelling way.
- When and how to sue the bad modification company or bad lawyer.
- Suing the foreclosure mills for fun and profits.
- Using Fair Debt Collection Practices and State Consumer Protection.
- Learn about the new practices available under Dodd Frank.
- Harnessing TILA and RESPA inside and outside bankruptcy court.
- Unconventional approaches stay one step ahead of servicer practices.
- Billing structures, methodologies, and practice accounting.
- Designing compensation programs that balance the needs of homeowners with the needs of your firm.
- Never lose clients – Ongoing communications program that’s turn-key and educates clients so they become fans.
- Fee agreements – for contingency and hourly clients.
- Become part of a highly visible network of top foreclosure defense attorneys, and strategic partners.
- Communications strategies and tactics proven effective and unavailable anywhere else.
Making little or no money in foreclosure defense isn’t doing your clients any favors because you cannot be your best without it. Marc Dann’s LAW PROFITS is not a pot of gold, or a winning lottery ticket, but it is a proven process and suite of best practices that makes a law practice profitable… essentially immediately. It’s work, no question about it, but it’s important and gratifying work.
I wholeheartedly support Mar’c Dann’s LAW PROFITS initiative. And I strongly urge all of the lawyers reading this to take action now by clicking the link below, so you can find out more about what his LAW PROFITS program for foreclosure defense and bankruptcy lawyers can do for you and your firm. The FRAUDclosure crisis and its ancillary topics, I’m sorry to say, are going to be with us for a long time… a decade plus, if we’re lucky. Longer if we’re not. It’s time to settle in and start capitalizing on being one of the best at solving on of the worst case scenarios.
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