Monday, July 1, 2013

With Housing Crisis, State Bar Helps Pave Road to Recovery

By Patrick Kelly, Guest Alumni Blogger

While the housing market finally seems to be rebounding, the effects of the foreclosure crisis continue to reverberate throughout California. Many homeowners are still struggling and in need of help in order to save their homes. The State Bar of California, in partnership with the Office of Attorney General Kamala Harris, has stepped up to provide assistance.

In November, Harris announced a $10 million grant program for organizations that provide housing counseling and legal services to homeowners. The funds were secured through the National Mortgage Settlement . The State Bar offered to help administer the new grant program, in conjunction with the Attorney General's Office. Because the State Bar already administers legal services grants, we were able to offer our help at no cost to taxpayers. That means that the entire $10 million will go to the people who are struggling and need it most.

The State Bar has been compiling and processing dozens of applications to help the selection teams set up by the Attorney General's Office make funding recommendations to the Attorney General. These applications are from legal aid organizations and other nonprofits proposing innovative, scalable and sustainable approaches for helping California families dealing with a foreclosure crisis. About $9 million is going toward Consumer Assistance Grants, which will give families the resources they need to achieve longterm financial security, including counseling, legal representation and financial planning assistance.

The Homeowner Bill of Rights Implementation Grant, worth about $1 million, is designed to make the most of a recent state law designed to guarantee fairness and transparency for homeowners facing the foreclosure process. The recipient will educate consumers and public interest attorneys about the law and engage the bench and legal community in discussions about the issues courts will face as parties begin to seek redress under the law.

This grant process is just part of a multi-year effort to mitigate the harm to Californians from the foreclosure crisis. The State Bar's Office of Legal Services -- working with HUD, the California Office of Attorney General, legal services programs, housing counseling agencies and many other groups -- has convened five foreclosure prevention forums throughout California since 2009. The bar also helped conduct foreclosure training sessions. The purpose of each event is to provide current foreclosure information to legal-services advocates and pro bono attorneys in an effort to equip them with the tools necessary to assist Californians in need of legal assistance.

In addition, the State Bar offers free Continuing Legal Education programs for pro bono attorneys on topics directly and indirectly related to foreclosure. More than 3,000 California attorneys have taken these free trainings, developed in conjunction with the Practising Law Institute (PLI). For more information, go to the bar's website .

Of course, the bar's discipline system is diligent in ensuring that lawyers are not violating their professional responsibilities in this area, fraught with conflict, and we are proud that they are fulfilling that important role. And finally, the bar's Ethics Hotline (800-238-4427) has been helping many attorneys sort through specific questions that arise while handling foreclosure cases.

I am proud of the fact that the State Bar and the legal community are playing such an important role in making sure that Californians continue the recovery from this devastating crisis.

Patrick Kelly is the Western Region Managing Partner at Wilson Elser Moskowitz Edelman & Dicker LLP and president of the California State Bar. A recipient of Loyola's Distinguished Alumni Award, he sits on the board of the Law School's Advocacy Institute and was elected to the Law School's Board of Overseers.

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