The signs are visible almost everywhere you go: "You can own your dream house!
Bad credit, no credit, no problem! Call today!" This is the sub-prime mortgage
lending market, where mortgages generally are made to people with impaired
or limited credit, or high debt relative to income. This market has grown from
$35 billion in the mid 1990s to over $160 billion today. While expanded access
to credit for a different market of credit-worthy consumers is good, there
One of these abuses is known as "flipping". Flipping occurs when someone
purchases a piece of property cheaply and then immediately sells it for a highly-inflated
price. People are lured in with the prospect of owning their own home; the
scammer helps secure a loan at the inflated price, then walks away, leaving
the new homeowners with a loan on a house that is not worth what they owe.
Too often the buyer can't afford to pay the inflated loan, and loses the house
in foreclosure. Also, the victim frequently does not qualify for free legal
aid, but nor does he or she make enough to pay market rate for legal services.
Where do these people go to get the quality legal help they need?
One organization that offers help is Civil Justice, Inc. According to Executive
Director Philip R. Robinson, Esq., "Civil Justice is a network of lawyers who
believe that affordable, high-quality services can be provided through a cooperative
network of attorneys, working together, who are willing to share their ideas,
experiences and know-how to better serve all members of the public."
Prospective clients can receive free referrals to attorneys who will help.
While there is no charge for the referrals to the network of lawyers within
the Civil Justice system, the attorney work is not necessarily free. Most of
the attorneys work on a reduced-fee basis, but the details are worked out on
a case-by-case basis between client and attorney.
One of the difficulties is the lack of attorneys in the field. This happens
due to the inability of solo practitioners and small firms to risk investigating
whether consumer law could become viable for them due to the potential initial
loss. This does not have to be the case. "From an attorney's point of view,
the practice of consumer law can become a fee-generating practice area," notes
"Fee-shifting statutes in many consumer protection laws allow the Court to
award reasonable attorney's fees to consumers who have been victimized," he
adds. "So, accepting what may appear to be just a pro bono consumer law case
could actually result in fees depending on the outcome in court. In this way
the legislature has added an incentive for attorneys doing what appears to
just be a pro bono matter."
By working through the Civil Justice network, attorneys have an opportunity
to get involved by co-counseling with Civil Justice and taking advantage of
the experience of the other members of the network. The members can offer legal
experience that covers issues across the consumer law arena. One member remarks
that it was like instantly becoming a part of a much larger firm – that
if you have a question, you could find someone with whom you could talk. In
addition, there are national affiliations that provide a wealth of resources
to assist attorneys in their cases. Being a member of the Network gives attorneys
access to the National Consumer Law Center manuals which cover the gamut of
consumer law issues.
The concept behind Civil Justice, Inc., actually began in the mid-1990s as
an affiliated program in conjunction with the University Of Maryland School
of Law and the Law School Consortium Project (LSCP). The LSCP was interested
in increasing the availability of legal services to low- and moderate-income
individuals by promoting programs that helped to support community solo and
small-firm lawyers through training, mentoring, and providing other support.
Civil Justice, Inc. remains an affiliated program today and continues to work
closely with the University Of Maryland School Of Law to help promote public
interest legal careers.
| Civil Justice, Inc., is just one of a network of
legal services programs in the state with which the Pro Bono Resource
Center of Maryland (PBRC) works to match lawyers with pro bono opportunities
. To volunteer in any of a number of civil practice areas, call PBRC
at (410) 837-9379 or (800) 396-1274, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
To contact Civil Justice, Inc., directly, call (410) 706-0174. Please
tell them you read the article about them in the Bar Bulletin.
Jon Moseley is Volunteer Services Coordinator for
the Pro Bono Resource Center of Maryland.