Hiring a lawyer could make the difference between keeping your home or losing it to foreclosure. But once you decide to hire a lawyer, how can you avoid picking a bad one? During the Great Recession, many different kinds of attorneys started taking on foreclosure cases to supplement their declining incomes—even though foreclosure defense wasn’t their primary area of interest or expertise. So, selecting a good, dedicated foreclosure attorney can be a challenge.
To learn what to watch out for so you can avoid choosing a bad foreclosure lawyer, read on.
What’s a “Bad” Foreclosure Lawyer?
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 the 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 as to 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. (Learn when hiring a foreclosure attorney might be a good idea, what you should expect from any competent foreclosure attorney, and when to consider firing your lawyer.)
How to Avoid Bad Foreclosure Lawyers: 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 aggressively work for you and should tell you about all potential outcomes. (Be aware, as well, that many scammers prey upon homeowners in foreclosure by claiming they can stop a foreclosure. Take steps to avoid foreclosure rescue scams.)
- 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. (Learn when you might want to hire an attorney to help you in the modification process.)
- 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. Some disreputable lawyers have been known to charge more than $600 an hour in routine foreclosure matters. 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 the lawyer trying to take advantage of your situation. (Find out how much foreclosure lawyers typically charge. To learn about different options if you can’t afford a lawyer, see What If I Can't Afford to Hire a Foreclosure Lawyer?)
- The lawyer has an unusually high number of clients. Usually, a homeowner who's 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 You Hire 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. (To learn whether you need a foreclosure lawyer, and questions to ask should you decide to hire one, see Do I Need a Foreclosure Attorney?)
Also, check the Better Business Bureau website to see if any grievances have been registered and look online for any complaints that prior clients have posted on message boards. Online reviews, like those posted on Yelp, can also be informative.