The volunteer lawyer response to Maryland’s foreclosure crisis has been overwhelming. Foreclosures are now a national crisis and our state is one of the worst, averaging 62 foreclosure filings a day, with a deluge of new filings anticipated in August and September. Many Marylanders may lose their homes, so Maryland attorneys are stepping in and volunteering to give pro bono legal support to thousands of homeowners facing foreclosure.
When Chief Judge Robert M. Bell, Court of Appeals of Maryland, sent a letter to every attorney in Maryland in early July, requesting volunteers to help homeowners at risk, over 200 attorneys immediately responded. Attorneys signed up for the first MICPEL/PBRC foreclosure CLE training program July 10 in Baltimore to learn about the new state foreclosure laws, then they volunteered to help. To date, more than 750 attorneys have volunteered for subsequent training sessions held in Salisbury, Rockville and Clinton, and attorneys are still signing up for future programs. (See training sessions on Page 6.)
Training is the key to this volunteer effort, as emergency foreclosure legislation took effect in Maryland on April 4, 2008. Now, any foreclosure action filed in Maryland after this date must comply with the new law. Attorneys volunteering will undergo training so that they will be familiar with the foreclosure process under the new law, including new notice requirements and extended time periods for foreclosure sales.
To help alleviate the foreclosure crisis in Maryland, the Judiciary, partnering with the Governor, Attorney General, MSBA, the Maryland State Department of Labor and Licensing and Regulations (DLLR) and other legal services groups, has launched the “Foreclosure Prevention Pro Bono Project” (FPPBP). Lawyers are encouraged to volunteer and assist homeowners with a legitimate defense to help save their homes and preserve their families. All training programs are free for volunteer lawyers who agree to accept one pro bono foreclosure case or render 15 hours of pro bono legal service.
MSBA’s pro bono arm, the Pro Bono Resource Center of Maryland (PBRC), is overseeing and administering FPPBP. One of its major components is a special hotline, coordinated through the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD), which helps Marylanders facing foreclosure. Callers are “triaged” through the hotline and referred to either a housing counseling agency or a pro bono referral program.
Through FPPBP, Maryland lawyers are encouraged to volunteer in one of three ways: (1) providing direct representation to a homeowner referred by the hotline to the pro bono referral program or from the program itself; (2) serving as “counsel” for nonprofit housing counseling agencies by answering questions from agency counselors; and (3) providing brief advice and counsel to homeowners through foreclosure solutions workshops or other public events.
“With new notice requirements and extended time periods for foreclosure sales, homeowners have a better chance of salvaging their homes and stabilizing their finances,” reports PBRC Executive Director Sharon E. Goldsmith. “Lawyers will play a critical role in the prevention of legitimate defenses and the education of homeowners about the law. Preserving homeownership helps neighborhoods remain stable, maintains property values, forestalls crime and provides families with a quality of life that cannot truly be measured.”
MSBA is also offering an updated Foreclosure Proceedings in Maryland public awareness brochure, revised in June to reflect changes in the new foreclosure law, and is giving it away free to Maryland consumers as a public service. The basic information outlined in MSBA’s legal information pamphlet is beneficial to attorneys as well as members of the public. Many members of the Bar are not familiar with these new laws and may find the guide helpful in their daily practice of law. The brochure is available online at www.msba.org/departments/commpubl/publications/brochures/foreclosure.htm, or for print copies contact Jason Zeisloft at firstname.lastname@example.org.
MSBA members who want to volunteer as lawyers and help Maryland homeowners should contact PBRC at email@example.com. For information on training sessions, refer to the PBRC website, www.probonomd.org.