Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin : October 2008

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Maryland lawyers are still volunteering to undergo foreclosure training and help thousands of state homeowners in fear of losing their homes, and volunteers are needed to quell the latest wave of foreclosure filings that should hit this month. While many volunteer attorneys are providing immediate legal assistance and guidance to homeowners at public foreclosure workshops, others are serving as counsel to housing agencies or helping individual clients on a pro bono basis. The response of Maryland lawyers to the foreclosure crisis has been outstanding.

In the last three months, volunteer lawyers have assisted hundreds of homeowners at statewide public foreclosure workshops organized by church and community groups and elected officials. At these sessions, homeowners seeking an individual consultation with an attorney undergo an intake process then meet with an attorney who reviews their documents and specific issues before offering guidance and advice. The gratitude on the part of these homeowners, most of whom do not understand their situation, has been tremendous.

Training is the foundation of this volunteer attorney foreclosure project, which is free to all lawyers who volunteer and accept one pro bono foreclosure case or render 15 hours of pro bono legal service. Last April, emergency foreclosure legislation took effect in Maryland, triggering the need for training on the part of volunteer lawyers and pro bono providers so they are acquainted with the intricacies of the new foreclosure process. To date, the Pro Bono Resource Center of Maryland (PBRC), in conjunction with MICPEL, has trained hundreds of volunteer attorneys, equipping them with the skills, knowledge and resources they need to assist pro bono foreclosure clients.

When Chief Judge Robert M. Bell, Court of Appeals of Maryland, sent a letter to all Maryland attorneys last July, asking them to volunteer to help homeowners at risk in the midst of the state’s foreclosure crisis, lawyers immediately responded. But a mechanism was needed to link these volunteers with Maryland homeowners facing foreclosure. Hence, the Judiciary, partnering with the Governor, Attorney General, MSBA, the Maryland State Department of Labor and Licensing and Regulations (DLLR) Civil Justice Inc. and other legal services groups, launched the Foreclosure Prevention Pro Bono Project (FPPBP), overseen by MSBA’s pro bono arm, PBRC.

One of FPPBP’s major components is a special toll-free foreclosure hotline – (877) 462-7555 – manned by the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD), the state agency helping Marylanders facing foreclosure. Since its inception last May, this hotline has been overwhelmed with calls. The callers are immediately “triaged” and most are referred to a housing counseling agency.

However, those determined to need a lawyer are channeled by PBRC to one of four pro bono referral agencies: the Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service; Community Legal Services of Prince George County; the Montgomery County Bar Association; and Allegany Law. Covering the entire state, these pro bono referral agencies link individual homeowners with a local volunteer lawyer.

Thus, through FPPBP, Maryland lawyers are actually volunteering in 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.

“FPPBP has been up and running since mid-July,” reports Sharon E. Goldsmith, PBRC Executive Director, “and we have made tremendous progress.”

MSBA has also given away 2,600+ copies of its updated Foreclosure Proceedings in Maryland public awareness brochure to consumers as a public service. The basic information outlined in this legal information pamphlet is beneficial to attorneys as well as members of the public. Many members of the Bar may not be 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 jzeisloft@msba.org.

MSBA members who want to volunteer as lawyers and help Maryland homeowners should contact PBRC at foreclosure@probonomd.org. For information on training sessions, refer to the PBRC website, www.probonomd.org.

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Publications : Bar Bulletin:October 2008

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