Fourteen pro-bono attorneys with various legal backgrounds including litigation, criminal, and corporate law were on hand Monday afternoon to assist residents at the monthly Mortgage Foreclosure Consultation Clinic at the Bar's Mineola office.
Tables were set up inside the Bar's lecture room on the lower-level, with coffee and snacks on standby for the 50 expected visitors; a relatively high number for the clinic which has been tasked since March 2009 with providing assistance in the form of volunteer attorneys to residents in various stages of crisis with their housing situations. According to Valerie Zurblis, Director of the Bar's Public Relations, these people vary from "those who think they might miss a payment to those whose houses are being sold tomorrow, and everything in between."
One unfortunate person to whom the latter category applied was filled with frustration after being in the process of a loan modification for 19 months and working two full-time jobs to keep her residence. Worried that she would soon open her mailbox and find a foreclosure notice, she was petrified at the prospect of having "police officers knocking at my door and neighbors coming outside" to watch her being removed from her home.
In the interest of providing proper guidance to clients such as this woman, some attorneys who were not originally familiar with mortgage foreclosure law were given "educational and practical training," Director of Pro Bono Activities Gale Berg said. "Before they advise clients, they have undergone training offered by the Office of Court Administration, Empire Justice Center, New York State Bar Association, and have usually observed one or two clinic sessions first."
The attorneys speak with clients for roughly 10-20 minutes, then gave people the options of speaking with Nassau/Suffolk Law Services representatives to determine whether they qualify for low-income free legal assistance, meeting with Community Development Corp. counselors regarding loan modification, or if necessary, consulting with bankruptcy attorneys who were all within feet of each other. Also, because the attorneys present were not soliciting their own business, the Bar offered a Lawyer Referral Information Service to those who might need to pursue further legal action and are able to afford it.
After citizens learned about the clinic, they are encouraged to register for the event through the Bar's website or by phone, although walk-ins were allowed as well. This past April, in an attempt to reach out to the Spanish-speaking community, flyers printed in Spanish were instituted as part of the Bar's "Bridge Over Language Divide" (BOLD) initiative.
Spanish-speaking attorneys were also present to assist litigants. One such attorney, R. David Marquez, felt that after conversing with clients, several of the cases he heard "will end up in class action lawsuits against the banks."
"Foreclosure is running rampant in Nassau County," Zurblis said, admitting that sometimes it is hard to "distinguish the clients from the lawyers," as so many different people were stricken with mortgage problems.
However, Zurblis has faith in the clinic's abilities and believes it is beneficial that "everything is right here for people so they don't have to run around to different locations."
"Coming in, people are not terribly happy, but they are a little happier when they leave," she said.