Foreclosures are often complicated and if you want to successfully fight one, you should consider hiring—or at least consulting with—an attorney. If you decide to hire an attorney, know that there are certain standards that every competent foreclosure lawyer should meet. In order to get the best service from your attorney, you should go into the relationship knowing how a good foreclosure lawyer should treat you, handle your case, and more.
But if you hire an attorney to assist you with a foreclosure and get to a point where you no longer want his or her services, you can fire that attorney. Before you actually end your relationship with the lawyer though, you should first let him or her know about your concerns. You might be able to work out your issues this way.
Read on to learn why you might want to hire a foreclosure attorney, what you should expect from the attorney, and, if it comes to it, when it might be appropriate to fire the attorney.
Why You Might Want to Hire a Foreclosure Attorney
While you can defend yourself and your home against a foreclosure without an attorney, it is difficult. Unlike defending yourself in small claims court, for example, foreclosure defenses are simply not something that most homeowners can handle on their own. Here are a few reasons why 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 in the proper way in court documents and during trial.
- Foreclosure law evolves. Since the mortgage crisis, foreclosure law has been evolving. Courts have decided new cases that could help with your case and many states, as well as the federal government, have passed laws designed to protect homeowners, like federal mortgage servicing rules that went into effect in 2017. It's almost impossible for a non-attorney, or even an attorney practicing in a different area of the law, to keep 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—like by claiming that the foreclosing party didn’t follow state foreclosure procedures or that the mortgage servicer didn’t comply with federal mortgage servicing rules—you’ll need to find, read, and understand complex documents such as statutes and court decisions. Attorneys go to law school for three years and review these kinds of documents every day in the course of practicing law to develop the skills needed to effectively do this.
- 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 you receive, file certain 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. (Learn about fighting a foreclosure in court without an attorney.)
Under most circumstances, you have very little chance of successfully defending against a foreclosure unless a skilled foreclosure attorney helps you. (Read more about when hiring a foreclosure attorney might be a good idea.)
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 certain events will occur.
- Meet all legal deadlines. Again, there are certain deadlines that 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 agreement should cover what services the attorney will provide and how you'll pay for those services. (Read about how much a foreclosure attorney might charge you.)
- Act ethically when representing you. All states have rules of professional conduct that set ethical standards for attorneys. Generally, these rules require attorneys 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 have an issue with your foreclosure attorney, it's usually best to talk to the attorney about the matter and try to find a resolution. This is usually easier than firing the attorney and then having to go to the trouble of finding another one. Often, you’ll be able to clear up the problem and move forward with your current lawyer.
But if you’re not happy with your foreclosure attorney and he or she fails to address the issue after you talk about it, you might need to terminate your relationship. You might want to consider firing your attorney 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.
Keep in mind that even if you fire the attorney, you'll still have to pay for any services already performed.
If you think you want to fight a foreclosure, consider talking to a foreclosure 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 to help you decide what to do, as well as to explain to your legal rights and responsibilities. If you can’t afford a consultation with an attorney, a legal aid office may be able to help you for free if you meet certain criteria.