Who says small firms can’t do big things? Last week, the Wall Street Journal reported on the solo and small firm lawyers, who in the course of simply doing their jobs defending homeowners in foreclosure cases, stumbled across gross abuses in the foreclosure process, ranging from robo-affidavit signers” who attested to reviewing documents they’d never seen, lost paperwork and forged documents. Though some might characterize these deficiencies as mere technicalities, they’re far more than that. Imagine, for example, having one bank foreclose on a home, only to have the real party in interest come forward to collect the debt. In any event, in light of the discoveries by Tom Ice and James Kowalski, two of the lawyers mentioned in the article as well as others not mentioned (like one of my list-serve buddies, Mike Wasylik who outed foreclosure abuses back in April), judges are now taking notice of these arguments, sending banks back to the drawing board to gather up the papers necessary to support the foreclosures.
Solo lawyer bloggers played a part as well. The WSJ article mentions Matt Weidner, who coined the term “robo-signer” and whose blog shared many of the documents and rulings that could help other lawyers obtain relief. Matt’s blog represents blogging at its finest: a platform for sharing content and ideas that helps other lawyers serve their clients more effectively.
In contrast to these seedy, so-called lawyers who saw foreclosure defense as a way to turn a quick buck without doing much work, I’m quite sure that the solo and small firm lawyers who uncovered the banks’ abuses didn’t get into in this line of work for the money. That’s not to say that the lawyers profiled in the WSJ story aren’t earning a comfortable living from their foreclosure practices — but my guess is that neither are they clocking a four-hour, stress-free work week. Instead, they’ve probably toiled for hours, scrutinizing document after document, trying to piece together a plausible argument out of what seems like a lost cause. And then they’ve marched into court, gotten slapped down by the judge, only to return the next day and do it all over again.
I’ll admit that much of what we lawyers do that can be replaced. Paralegals can fill out forms and intake clients, legal process outsourcing teams in India can review documents for privilege. But as the mortgage crisis bears out, the so-called “foreclosure defense” quasi-legal providers were no match for what real lawyers, specifically real solo and small firm lawyers can do: when all seems lost, still show up fighting for clients, full of heroism and heart.