Foreclosures are complicated, and 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, know that there are standards that every competent foreclosure attorney should meet. 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 simply not something that most homeowners can handle on their own.
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 in the proper way in court documents and during a trial.
Foreclosure law evolves. 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 you receive, 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.
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 have 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 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 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 a lawyer. 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.