The head of one coverage attorney service has been swamped with requests but says there’s a shortage of qualified attorneys
As the one-time largest plaintiffs foreclosure law firm in Florida, the Law Offices of David J. Stern at its peak handled 20 percent of all foreclosures in the state, processing more than 70,000 foreclosure cases on behalf of major lenders like Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase in 2009.
Now that the Plantation law firm has been dropped by a number of lenders and servicers including Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, ex-clients are scrambling to find law firms and lawyers to fill the void.
Stern’s law firm and his back-office foreclosure processor, DJSP Enterprises, have nosedived since the Florida attorney general’s office began investigating allegations of improper shortcuts on foreclosure paperwork. Within the last year, 900 people have been laid off from the firm and DJSP employment at both businesses peaked at 1,200.
But the replacement law firms haven’t found it easy to find enough qualified law firms to take the work, and the transition has slowed a system already clogged with overwhelming numbers of cases. Some judges are not willing to delay cases due to the change in attorneys as Stern files are turned over to new lawyers. More and more counties are requiring in-person rather than telephonic hearings.
“We are very frustrated,” said Thomas Ice, a defense foreclosure attorney with Ice Legal in Royal Palm Beach. “We’re having all these problems setting hearings. We call up Stern’s office and say, ‘You haven’t withdrawn from the case.’ They just don’t show up. Sometimes the judges will go forward, but many times they won’t reset it. We don’t want delays. We want resolution.”
Other banks that have assigned transition counsel are Aurora Mortgage and Bank of New York, which are using Broad and Cassel; Wells Fargo, which is using Carlton Fields; and Bank of America, which had been using Yoss LLP, Ice said.
Some of the laid-off Stern lawyers have gotten jobs with clients’ new law firms. That’s the case with Plantation-based Kahane & Associates, which hired at least three former Stern attorneys, and McCalla Raymer, the foreclosure giant from Georgia and Alabama, which appears to have picked up a Stern office in Orlando and its five lawyers. The firm also is advertising for paralegals and lawyers in Tampa, Fort Lauderdale, Miami and Orlando.
Jonathan Broder, who heads coverage attorney company mymotioncalendar.com, has been swamped with requests for attorneys to appear at foreclosure hearings. There’s a shortage of attorneys that already know the ins and outs of residential foreclosure law, he said.
“At the end of the day, these firms need people who know what they’re doing and know case law,” Broder said. “It’s hard to start from scratch. Who is prepared to get 14,000 files in two weeks and be prepared to be at trial the next day?”
Adding to the challenges is the fact that more and more counties are requiring in-person hearings. Broder said he is getting inundated with calls for coverage attorneys for foreclosure hearings in Ocala, Gainesville and Pensacola.
Judging by one hearing, transitioning cases from Stern’s firm to others has not been seamless.
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