Consumer Financial Transactions Clinic: Case Work Developments

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Chris Bagley
Chris Bagley, CFT Clinic student
Chris Bagley, who was supervised by Prof. Carlene McNulty, shares the following on his experiences in the CFT Clinic this year:

After two years of reading cases and statutory supplements, writing complaints, memos, briefs, and other papers, and compiling, distilling, and rewriting outlines, I was finally going to have “my” day in court.

As a participant in UNC Law’s Consumer Financial Transactions Clinic, I was at Durham County Superior Court with my client for his foreclosure hearing. I had gotten the case in the third week of the semester. Two weeks and a crash-course later, I put on my best suit and felt ready to explain why the opposing party, a large national lender and servicer, was not legally entitled to put my client out on the street.

This may all seem a bit cavalier and glib. I don’t mean it to be, because my supervisor – Professor Carlene McNulty – and I put in a lot of preparation in those two weeks. But the clinic has definitely given me a sense of practical details that can’t be taught very effectively in the classroom. I spent a surprising amount of time in those two weeks tracking down my client with additional questions, checking in with the opposing party, and then, on the morning of the hearing, printing and labeling exhibits.

Another surprise that I suspect is familiar to practitioners: The hearing was postponed to early December because we were there to contest it. A deputy clerk had been assigned to handle the matter, but Durham County’s elected clerk of court, who is a licensed attorney even though Chapter 7A of the General Statutes don’t require him to be, has a policy of presiding over contested foreclosure hearings personally. In any event, the lender had not arranged counsel.

On the rescheduled date, I came back with a different suit, a deeper knowledge of the relevant case law, a written response, and an illustrative poster exhibit for the court. Again, the lender was not represented. Again, the hearing was pushed back, with no advance notice to us, this time to January. What do they say about the wheels of justice? 

I am absolutely not complaining about the delays. They’ve allowed my client to get his finances in better order. They’ve allowed us more time to run dozens of different scenarios for a mortgage modification using guidance from the Federal Housing Administration and the Treasury Department. I’ve started to think that he actually has a respectable chance of making one of those scenarios work.

The delays have also provided some valuable lessons: Be diligent about checking in with the court and with opposing counsel. Prepare the client for the unexpected. Be able to shift one matter onto a back burner for an appropriate time so I can deal with other matters coming down the pike.

Lastly, our court delays are one facet of my client’s larger bureaucratic tangle. He has sought help from his mortgage servicer, from one nonprofit housing counseling agency, and then another, from one nonprofit law firm, and finally from our clinic. He has been advised to sell his car, not to sell his car, to work more, and not to work so much that he endangers his health or his Social Security disability income. Meanwhile, he’s going through a divorce, which precipitated the mortgage troubles. It must be bewildering, Kafkaesque, and I can see that it has aged him. It’s a reminder to us, as his attorneys, that our role as advisors can go beyond the strict scope of the legal representation, and that society needs us, that we’re helping to fill a little part of a very wide gap.

Posted by Carlene M. McNulty on Thu. March 31, 2016 12:46 PM
Categories: Consumer Financial Transactions Clinic
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