Foreclosures are complicated. If you want to fight one successfully, you should consider hiring, or at least consulting with, an attorney.
If you decide to hire a lawyer, every competent foreclosure attorney must meet certain standards. To get the best service from your lawyer, you should go into the relationship knowing how a reasonable foreclosure attorney should treat you, handle your case, and more.
But if you get to the point where you no longer want the lawyer's services, you can fire that attorney. Before you end the relationship, though, you should first let the lawyer know about your concerns. You just might be able to work out your issues.
Why You Might Want to Hire a Foreclosure Attorney
You can defend yourself and your home against a foreclosure without an attorney, but it's difficult for most people. Unlike defending yourself in small claims court, for example, foreclosure defenses are not something that most homeowners can handle independently.
Here are a few reasons you might want to hire an attorney if you want to fight a foreclosure:
- Attorneys have special skills to fight a foreclosure. Good foreclosure attorneys have years of training and extensive knowledge about the law. They also know how to apply the law properly in court documents and during a trial.
- Foreclosure law evolves. New laws get passed, and courts decide cases that could help with your foreclosure. It's almost impossible for a non-attorney, or even a lawyer practicing in a different area of the law, to stay on top of all of the changes in the foreclosure field.
- Foreclosure defenses are complex. Many foreclosure defenses are complicated. To successfully defend your case, you'll need to find, read, and understand complex documents, like statutes and court decisions. Attorneys go to law school for three years and review these kinds of materials every day in the course of practicing law to develop the skills needed to do this effectively.
- You need to understand and comply with detailed court filing procedures and rules. To defend yourself against a foreclosure, you will need to respond quickly in writing and in the correct format to official foreclosure documents, file paperwork (like motions) with the court, meet deadlines, and maybe even handle a trial. Even if you have a valid defense, if you mess up, the court won't give you special dispensation just because you aren't an attorney.
Under most circumstances, you have very little chance of successfully defending against a foreclosure unless a skilled foreclosure attorney helps you.
Avoiding Bad Foreclosure Lawyers
Many foreclosure attorneys are dedicated to their clients and will work hard to do everything possible to save your home. But others take on too many cases and care more about making money than helping clients.
When it comes to bad foreclosure lawyers, the story tends to be pretty much the same: Homeowners hire an attorney to fight a foreclosure and, often, to help them get a mortgage modification. The homeowners pay the attorneys' fees for such representation, but the lawyer takes little action in the case or on the clients' behalf. In some instances, the lawyer is ineffective when action is taken. Bad lawyers also typically fail to keep their clients informed about the status of their cases.
Bad foreclosures lawyers tend to overlook critical issues in the homeowners' cases or fail to respond to deadlines in the foreclosure, sometimes leaving the homeowner in a worse position than when they hired the attorney.
How to Spot a Bad Foreclosure Lawyer: Some Warning Signs
Here are some warning signs that indicate you should avoid a particular lawyer.
- The lawyer promises to stop the foreclosure and save your home. No lawyer can promise results or a particular outcome. A lawyer should only promise to work for you aggressively and tell you about all potential consequences.
- The lawyer claims to have special skills or abilities in "negotiating" a mortgage modification. Very little "negotiating" actually occurs in the loan modification process. The loan servicer or the investor (the owner of the loan) has specific requirements that borrowers must meet to get a loan modification, and if you qualify, you'll get one. Though, keep in mind that some strategy is involved in how you present certain information to the servicer. Consider talking to an attorney if you think you have a complicated situation and need help showing your circumstances in the best way to get a modification.
- The lawyer tries to charge you an exorbitant fee. It's not unheard of for some foreclosure attorneys to charge well over the going rate, which is usually based on location and the attorney's experience. Ultimately, when trying to decide if a foreclosure attorney's fee is reasonable, ask yourself whether the attorney is charging a fair amount considering the services provided or is the lawyer trying to take advantage of your situation.
- The lawyer has an unusually high number of clients. Usually, a homeowner facing foreclosure doesn't have a lot of money available to pay high fees to a foreclosure attorney. To make up for this, some foreclosure lawyers operate a very high-volume business to generate more income, leaving them with not enough time for each individual case. While a law office might not tell you how many clients it has, you can get an idea of how busy the office is by the number of people in the waiting area, how many phone calls come in while you're there (and whether someone answers the calls), and your overall impression of the firm. If you have trouble getting in to see a lawyer, the lawyer tries to rush you out of the office, the lawyer won't listen to your concerns or answer your questions, or the lawyer acts like you're taking up too much time, this could be an indication that the firm has too many clients to give your case proper attention.
Additional Steps Before Hiring a Lawyer
If you meet with a foreclosure lawyer and don't see any of the warning signs mentioned in this article or other red flags, you should still do some research to ensure that the attorney is reputable. Call or check the website of your state's licensing organization (the state "bar") that monitors attorney conduct to find if anyone has filed a complaint against the attorney or if the attorney has been the subject of any disciplinary actions.
Also, check the Better Business Bureau website to see if any grievances have been registered and look online for any prior clients' complaints on message boards. Online reviews can also be informative.
What You Should Expect From Your Foreclosure Attorney
At a minimum, you should expect your attorney to:
- Communicate with you. A big part of your attorney's job is to inform you about what happens before, during, and after the foreclosure. The attorney should tell you what kind of issues might arise, how they'll be handled, and when specific events will occur.
- Meet all legal deadlines. Again, deadlines must be met when it comes to foreclosure. In a judicial foreclosure, you get a limited amount of time, typically 20 or 30 days, to respond to a foreclosure complaint. You should expect your attorney to file the necessary paperwork before any applicable deadlines pass and be familiar with all of the local court rules and procedures in your area.
- Be upfront about how much the representation will cost you. When you hire a foreclosure attorney, you'll sign a retainer agreement, which is a fee agreement between you and the attorney. The contract should cover what services the attorney will provide and how you'll pay for those services.
- Act ethically when representing you. All states have rules of professional conduct that set ethical standards for attorneys. Generally, these rules require lawyers to, among other things, keep whatever the client says confidential, act within the limits of the law when representing clients, and put their clients' interests ahead of their own. You should expect your attorney to act ethically and in accordance with the rules of professional conduct when representing you in a foreclosure.
Firing Your Foreclosure Attorney
If you end up having an issue with your foreclosure lawyer, it's usually best to talk to the attorney about the matter and try to find a resolution. You might be able to clear up the problem and move forward with that lawyer.
But if you're not happy with your foreclosure attorney—and the lawyer fails to address the issue after you talk about it—you might need to terminate your relationship. You might want to consider firing your lawyer if:
- your attorney won't update you about your case
- your attorney acts unethically, or
- your attorney fails to show up in court or misses important deadlines.
Remember, even if you fire the lawyer, you'll still have to pay for any services already performed.
If you think you want to fight a foreclosure, consider talking to an attorney. If you can't afford to hire a lawyer to represent you throughout the entire process, consider at least scheduling a consultation with one.
If you can't afford a consultation with an attorney, a legal aid office might be able to help you for free if you meet certain criteria.