Doucet & Associates recently hosted a coffee tasting for our lawyers and staff. When tasting coffee we like to focus on certain aspects of the coffee and pair the coffees with delicious treats to compliment the various flavors...
If your group is interested in learning about consumer law and consumer rights, Doucet & Associates Co., L.P.A. can help by arranging a one-hour presentation for your group...
How to protect yourself when shopping online?
Considering the mass development of the internet and technology, many consumers find it convenient to do holiday shopping online. Shopping online can help save gas money, allows a consumer to easily compare prices, and can offer extra customization options for select products and services. Ohio consumers making purchases online are protected by the Consumer Sales Practices Act (CSPA), which is a series of regulations and rules the lawyers at Doucet & Associates Co., L.P.A. have experience working with.
The CSPA protects consumers from misleading, unfair, and bad business practices. It makes the businesses recognize and honor all promises and warranties, and prevents them from taking advantage of consumers. In Ohio, lawsuits involving violations of the CSPA allow fee shifting. Therefore, if a business loses a lawsuit to a consumer, then the business may be required to pay all the attorney fees for the consumer.
Businesses who engage in online retailing are expected to comply with the CSPA. If a consumer purchases an item online but receives the wrong item in the mail, then the vender is required to correct the problem at no extra charge. Typically, online retailers will replace the item or refund the consumer. Details about resolving issues with online purchases are usually listed in the disclaimer or legal terms section of the order summary or receipt.
The Mail or Telephone Order Merchandise Rule protects all orders placed over the internet and protects consumers who never receive products purchased online. This rule requires online retailers to follow the 30-day rule and ship online orders to consumers with a reasonable time period of 30 days. If the online retailer cannot fulfill the 30-day rule, the retailer must ask permission from the consumer to ship an order late or refund their order.
Under the Fair Credit Billing Act, it is also illegal for a retailer to charge a consumer for an item that may have been shipped but was never delivered. Packages can be stolen, delivered to the wrong address, or misplaced. If the online retailer refuses to refund the consumer for an order that was never delivered, then the consumer may try to contact the charge card company they used to pay. The charge card company may be willing to refund the consumers money for the troublesome transaction.
Consumers shopping online should also take precautions when buying products from foreign companies located outside the United States. Prices may not be listed in U.S. dollars and consumers may get charged with a currency exchange fee. Shipping will be more expensive and most likely take longer too. If a consumer never receives a package shipping from another country, correcting the order will be extremely difficult. Most online retailers require consumers to correct the problem in the retailers’ local court. So, if the retailer is located in Japan, you may have to go to Japan to fix the problem.
Selling products and services online is a great way for retailers to market themselves to more consumers. Retailers can also sell items online that they may not have instore. Whether the retailer is selling products in a store or online, the retailer is expected to follow the regulations of the CSPA. The consumer lawyers at Doucet & Associates Co., L.P.A. are experts at handling lawsuits involving the CSPA and can help consumers who have been misled and bullied by businesses during a transaction. Call us today at (614) 944-5219 for a consultation.
New Flex Modification Program Will Replace HAMP
The Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP) that helps homeowners avoid foreclosure by adjusting interest rates and modifying loans expired at the end of the year. A new Flex Modification program will replace HAMP starting in 2017.
The new Flex Modification program is designed to cut back on monthly mortgage payments when homeowners are experiencing financial hardships and behind on their mortgage. Some homeowners are expected to receive up to a 20% payment reduction on their mortgage. Introduced by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the Flex Modification foreclosure prevention program is supposed to be adaptive to regional differences and the ever-changing housing market.
Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are government enterprises developed by Congress to help loan servicers convert assets to cash, a concept known as liquidity. To do this, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac buy mortgages from lenders and loan servicers. The lenders then take the profit from selling the mortgages and relend it to other consumers buying a home or property. The government enterprises help lenders have an affordable supply of monetary funds to distribute in mortgage loans around the United States.
Flex Modification is expected to help lenders, homeowners, taxpayers, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac save money by avoiding the expensive and long foreclosure process. If you are having financial difficulties and struggling to pay your mortgage payment in full every month, a loan modification may be able to help you keep your home. Contact a foreclosure defense lawyer at Doucet & Associates Co., L.P.A. at (614)944-5219 for legal assistance securing a loan modification today.
Do You Want to Improve Your Credit Score?
Experian estimated Columbus, Ohio’s average credit score to be 666 in 2015. That is only three points below the 669 national average. If your credit score falls below these averages, there are steps you can take as a consumer to gain some points. The lawyers at Doucet & Associates Co., L.P.A. can also offer advice about the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) and how to correct problems on your credit report.
Ways to Improve Your Credit Score
1.You should first check your credit report for errors using at least one of the three main credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion). Your credit score may differ a little on each report based on resources the agency used to develop your score. If there is an error on your credit report, the FCRA says you can send a letter to the credit reporting agency asking for the error to be corrected. If the credit reporting agency fails to correct the error, you can contact Doucet & Associates Co., L.P.A. for help on correcting your report or read more about the FCRA on our website by clicking here and they may have to pay our fees. Correcting the errors on your credit report can improve your credit score.
2.Get a credit card. Having a credit card shows that a creditor can trust you to pay back borrowed money. If you use the credit card correctly without developing debt, then you can increase your credit score.
3.Pay off your credit card debt. Some people cannot pay off all their debt in one payment. If that is the situation for you, stop using your credit cards and focus on minimizing your debt by making the required minimum payments every month.
4.Pay your bills on time. This includes all bills such as credit card bills, utility bills, medical bills and student bills. Failure to pay bills on time lowers your credit score.
5.Ask for a raise on your credit card limit. Getting a raise does not mean you have to spend more on your credit card, but shows that your creditors trust you more.
6.Get involved in paying off different types of loans, whether it is all at the same time or separately. Your credit score can be improved if you have history of accurately paying off a credit card, an auto loan, student loans and a home mortgage loan. If you encounter problems paying off a home mortgage loan the lawyers at Doucet & Associates Co., L.P.A. have experience helping homeowners secure loan modifications and fighting foreclosure lawsuits.
Doucet & Associates Co., L.P.A. Wins Lawsuit Against a Debt Collector
Doucet & Associates Co., L.P.A. won a lawsuit against Portfolio Recovery Associates, LLC for debt collection harassment and violations of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). Our clients sought out our assistance after Portfolio continued to notify them about their debts after they had legal representation and failed to show proper verification.
In 2015, Student Legal Services, Inc. helped our clients by sending a letter asking for verification for some of the debts Portfolio notified them about. Under the FDCPA, a debt collector cannot contact a consumer without permission once they have a lawyer involved.
Portfolio responded by sending a letter directly to our clients verifying another debt, not the debts requested. Portfolio continued to contact our clients by mail and eventually phone about various debts. Portfolio violated the FDCPA by continuing to contact our client’s after they had legal representation.
Portfolio admitted liability through an offer of judgement and paid our clients $2,001 in statutory damages due to collection harassment and violations of the FDCPA. In Ohio, FDCPA lawsuits that create statutes are also violations for a Consumer Sales Practice Act (CSPA) lawsuit and both allow fee shifting. Therefore, Portfolio is required to pay Doucet & Associates Co., L.P.A. reasonable attorney fees, rather than our client.
Trash Out – Lock Out
It is illegal for a mortgage company or lender to remove a borrower’s personal belongings from a property and change the locks before the foreclosure process is complete. This action is called a “trash out” or “lock out”.
In Ohio, a lender has to wait 120 days after one missed payment to send a borrower a foreclosure notice. Then the borrower has 28 days to reply to the lawsuit or face default judgment. During this time the borrower is allowed to continue living at the property.
The lender has to notify the borrower through the sheriffs office when they are required to move – which occurs when the property is sold. Usually the borrower is not required to move out during the foreclosure process until the property has been sold. The property could have been sold by the consumer, an approved short sale, or through a sheriff sale.
The property becomes a sheriff sale if the borrower loses the lawsuit or faces default judgment. The borrower may continue living on the property until after confirmation of a sale. This could be a day or a couple months depending on how long it takes for the property to sell.
After confirmation of the sale, a writ of possession is filed. At this time the lenders will notify the borrowers of a move out deadline. If the borrowers fail to move out by the deadline, then the lenders have the right to hire a trash out company to remove the remaining possessions and change the locks for the new owner.
New York City Proposing Bill to Provide Legal Aid to Victims of Foreclosure and Eviction
In a move that would help even the playing field in eviction and foreclosure lawsuits, the New York City Council is proposing to provide a lawyer to lower-income residents in these cases. If it succeeds, New York City will become the first municipality in the United States to combat the power imbalance between landlord and tenant in these types of cases.
The Supreme Court has guaranteed a lawyer to those facing the possibility of incarceration since the landmark case of Gideon v. Wainwright in 1963. But outside of criminal courts, Americans are not afforded the promise of counsel in the legal system. The Sixth Amendment guarantees a right to counsel in criminal cases, but the Constitution does not provide a similar right in civil cases.
Since 2005, the number of evictions in New York City has risen almost every year, reaching 28,849 in 2013, according to Housing Court Answers, a research and advocacy group that runs the information tables in the NYC Housing Court. Those studying the issue argue that as many as half of those evictions could have been averted with legal representation.
The New York City Council currently has before it a bill that would provide free legal representation to anyone facing eviction or foreclosure who has an income of less than twice the federal poverty line. In New York City, that means an individual making below $44,000. Tenants in about 80 percent of all housing court cases each year would qualify, according to a report commissioned by the New York City Bar Association.
This type of legal assistance is almost always the difference between success and failure for tenants. Landlord/tenant law can be confusing and complicated, and all legal matters require a basic knowledge of filing and pleading rules. Legal studies show that between 70 and 90 percent of litigants appear in court without a lawyer (pro se). The vast majority of landlords, on the other hand, are represented by seasoned attorneys who know the law and understand very well how the court system works. When tenants represent themselves in court, the result is that they end up being evicted almost half the time.
Studies have shown that tenants represented by counsel default less often, receive better settlements, and win more often at trial. With a lawyer, tenants win 90 percent of the time. Even when an eviction does happen, experienced attorneys can help families improve the otherwise bleak situation by assisting them in locating assistance programs to cover arrears, or by having judgments vacated so that their credit scores do not suffer. In 2013, for example, New York legal assistance housing attorneys helped approximately 96% of their clients avoid entering the homeless shelter system – the tenants may not have always kept their residences, but attorneys were able to either help find other solutions or buy time needed to relocate.
This bill has the strong backing of housing advocates, community leaders and legal services providers, as well as the private bar. Part of the reason is very pragmatic – this type of program could save the city money. The benefit of adequate representation in housing court goes beyond stabilizing and improving the lives of families. The New York Times recently reported on a number of efforts underway across the country to track the economic impact of equal representation in civil cases. In one example, a Boston Bar Association study found that for every one dollar spent on legal services, two to three dollars were saved by reductions in municipal expenses associated with eviction, including the cost of shelter, health care, and increases in public benefits.
This is not the first step New York City has taken to combat homelessness resulting from evictions. In an effort to combat homelessness, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has spent nearly $20 million over two years to provide lawyers for low-income tenants fighting evictions in Housing Court.
Door to Door Solicitations
A company selling goods or services to a consumer outside the company’s regular place of business and inside a buyer’s home is considered a home solicitation sale. In Ohio, there are laws to protect consumers involved in these types of business transactions which could result in damages for buyers and penalties for a company if it fails to comply. These laws include details about information the consumer must be provided with, the right to canceling a purchase and misrepresentation.
A company must provide their business’s name and address when contracting a sale solicited in a consumers home. The contract must also include information regarding the language used to make the sale and provide a copy of the contract to the buyer. This contract should include the buyers signature, the date the agreement was made and two copies of the notice of the buyer’s right to cancel the purchase. In Ohio specifically, the buyer is granted a three day right to cancel. The seller must orally notify the buyer of their right to cancel a purchase and refund all payments within 10 business days of cancellation. Also, services may be withheld until after the cooling off period has expired.
Misrepresenting the goods or services being sold by the seller is also an important concept of the buyer’s rights. The seller must make it clear that their intention is to make a sale. There cannot give any false or misleading information including that the buyer has been specially selected to receive a bargain, won a contest, or that the product cannot be sold in stores. Declaring there is no right to cancel is also an illegal and they cannot take on the authority to negotiate the final terms of the sale.
Doucet & Associates Co. L.P.A. in Ohio helps enforce rights regarding home solicitation sales. Please contact us today if you or someone you know needs help.
Craigslist Buyers Have Rights Under the CSPA
In 2012, the Ohio Attorney General’s Office filed a lawsuit against a Cincinnati man for failing to deliver goods he offered for sale on Craigslist, charging him with violating Ohio’s Consumer Sales Practices Act (the “CSPA”). Kevin L. Hunter of Cincinnati was charged by the Ohio Attorney General for failing to deliver goods he offered for sale on Craigslist, primarily automobile tires and rims. State and federal databases indicated that victims lost more than $50,000 to Hunter over seven years.
The Attorney General’s lawsuit charged the man with multiple violations of Ohio’s CSPA, including failure to deliver, misrepresenting price advantages, and advertising and selling without possessing the goods to be sold. In the lawsuit, the Attorney General sought consumer restitution, injunctive relief, and civil penalties.
In a press statement, Attorney General DeWine stated, “It’s bad enough when a consumer ends up paying for shoddy workmanship or products that don’t perform as promised, but paying for something and getting nothing is outrageous.”
The scammer was found to have committed unfair and deceptive acts and practices in violation of the CSPA by: 1) accepting payments from consumers for goods and then failing to deliver the purchased goods and failing to return payments to consumers; 2) representing that specific price advantages existed, when they did not; 3) selling consumer goods without taking reasonable steps to acquire the goods necessary to complete the transactions; and 4) advertising and selling goods without having ownership or possession of the goods and failing to disclose that fact to buyers.
These acts constituted unconscionable acts and practices in violation of the CSPA where the scammer entered into consumer transactions while knowing of the inability of the consumers to receive substantial benefits from the subject of the consumer transactions. The Court found him liable for the scam and ordered him to pay $3,200 in consumer restitution and $50,000 in civil penalties.
The Craigslist scam has since been added to the Ohio Public Inspection File (“PIF”) database, located on the Ohio Attorney General’s website. The searchable Public Inspection File contains decisions from Ohio courts establishing those acts or practices deemed to violate Ohio’s consumer protection laws. While the Ohio Consumer Sales Practices Act (Ohio Revised Code Chapter 1345) prohibits unfair, deceptive or unconscionable acts by suppliers, the statute does not identify every prohibited practice. Such determinations are often left to the courts.
The CSPA allows for enhanced damages to be assessed against a supplier for a violation that has been previously addressed in an administrative rule or by any Ohio court if the Attorney General’s Office has that decision available in its Public Inspection File. In such a case, a consumer may recover three times the amount of actual damages or $200, whichever is greater.
If you have been the victim of this type of scam, or think you may have been involved in a consumer transaction that violated the Ohio Consumer Sales Practices Act, call Doucet & Associates. We specialize in consumer defense and may be able to assist you in protecting and asserting your rights.
What you, as the Consumer, should know about vehicle repairs
Whether you have had to get your car fixed for minor issues, or needed a complete auto-repair, you have rights according to Ohio Law. The Ohio Administrative Code provides certain protections to consumers when it comes to getting their car serviced or repaired. The following are just some of the requirements under the code:
- Once you meet with the servicer in person, they must provide you with a form which indicates: (a) the date; (b) identity of the supplier; (c) your name and telephone number; (d) the reasonable anticipated completion date; and (e) if you requested, the anticipated cost of the repair or service. The form must also contain the following language:
- Estimate: You have the right to an estimate if the expected costs of repairs or services will be more than fifty dollars. Initial your choice:
____ written estimate
____ oral estimate
____ no estimate
- If you request a written or oral estimate, the servicer must provide you with the estimate before starting service or repair
- Your bill will not be higher than the estimate by more than 10% unless you approve a larger amount before repairs are finished.
- The servicer must obtain oral or written authorization from the consumer for the anticipated cost of any additional, unforeseen, but necessary repairs or services when the total cost of the repairs or services, if performed, will exceed fifty dollars.
- The servicer cannot represent that repairs or services are necessary if they are not.
- The servicer cannot fail to disclose to you prior to starting any service or repair, that any part of the repair or service will be performed by a person other than the services or his employees, if the servicer disclaims any warranty of the repair or service performed by that person. The servicer must also disclose the nature of the repair or service which that person will perform, and if requested by the consumer, the identity of that person.
Ohio courts have found that when a supplier has engaged in an act or practice declared to be deceptive by the code, the consumer has a choice of remedies, including rescinding the transaction, or recovering three times the amount of the consumer’s actual damages. In Grieselding v. Krischak, the Court of Appeals Sixth Circuit, affirmed the trial court’s award of $1612 in treble damages, plus interest and attorneys’ fees stemming from a mechanic’s failure to notify the consumer of repairs beyond the stated estimate.
These are just some of your rights as a consumer, among many. For more information see: O.A.C. 109:4-3-13, or call Doucet & Associates Co. LPA at (614) 944-5219.
What Counts as a Lemon Car in Ohio?
Most of us know the term “lemon” refers to a newly bought car that turns out to be a dud, but some are unaware that many states have laws in place to protect against such lemon sales. A new car is worth a lot of money, and many people take out loans in order to pay for one. The prospect of bringing a new car home only to find that it is defective beyond use is terrifying. Luckily, Ohio is a state that has one of these lemon laws in place.
The State of Ohio’s Lemon Law legally defines a “lemon” as a new car with at least one problem that substantially impairs the use, safety or value of the vehicle and begins to suffer from the problem within the first year or 18,000 miles (whichever comes first). Under the Ohio Lemon Law, you must give the manufacturer a chance to repair the vehicle. If during the course of the repairs your manufacturer:
- Works on the same problem in more than three separate instances in the first year or 18,000 miles.
- Works on the vehicle for more than a cumulative thirty days in the first year or 18,000 miles.
- Works on the same car in more than eight separate instances.
- Cannot fix any errors that can result in death or serious injury on the first attempt.
Doucet & Associates Co., L.P.A. recently handled a lemon law case for a client who bought a new vehicle, and almost immediately experienced issues with the gear shift. Additionally, she claimed the car would wobble when accelerating at low speeds. If these allegations proved true, the car would likely satisfy the conditions of a lemon under Ohio law, as these problems inhibited the usability of the vehicle.
She took the car to the dealership on four separate occasions hoping to fix the issues. However, the dealership was unable to permanently correct the problems with the vehicle. Doucet & Associates ultimately obtained justice for the client by securing the return and getting her a refund plus attorney fees. If you feel you may have a lemon on your hands and you have already made the necessary attempts to get the vehicle fixed, call Doucet & Associates at (614) 944-5219.
Can I Stop Spam Email?
While federal law prohibits junk faxes and robo-dialed calls to cell phones ($1,500 per fax/call), there is no federal law that allows you to sue for spam email. There is a law, but that law allows the government to sue and does not provide a private cause of action for consumers.
However, there may be a way to stop spam email in Ohio if you are a consumer getting emails from a business trying to sell you something. If you are a consumer (rather than a business getting business solicitations), the Ohio Consumer Sales Practices Act may provide some assistance. That Ohio law has been used to enforce consumer rights under federal laws that do not directly allow a consumer to sue. That “theory of extension” allows you to go to court in Ohio and seek both an injunction to prohibit the spam and damages including attorneys’ fees.
If you think you have a case, the first thing we recommend doing is emailing the spammer and asking to be removed from their email lists. If there is an opt-out provision in the email, you may want to email that address asking to be removed, but be careful about clicking on links from unknown addresses to avoid unknowingly downloaded a virus. Try this 3-4 times to bolster your case, and if the emails still haven’t stopped coming, contact our law firm for help in filing a lawsuit. Another option is to contact your ISP to see if that can block that address.
Ohio Attorney General Special Counsel Now Subject to FDCPA: Gillie v. Law Office of Eric A Jones, LLC
In May, the US Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals determined in Gillie v. Law Office of Eric A. Jones, LLC, No. 14-3836, that attorneys working as contracted debt collectors for the Ohio Attorney General are subject to the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). The Attorney General’s office, which is responsible for collecting debts owed to the State, often contracts attorneys to act as debt collectors under the title of “special counsel.” Along with this special counsel title came the letterhead of the Ohio Attorney General’s office, which was used when collecting consumer debt on behalf of the State. It is now likely a deceptive act under the FDCPA to use that letterhead, and thus a violation of federal law.
The FDCPA was passed in 1977 to protect consumers from abusive debt collection practices. Congress found that debt collection agencies often operated with the mentality that debt was to be collected at any cost, creating incentives to mislead, or sometimes bully consumers into paying their debts. However, in passing the act, Congress made exemptions for employees and officers of the State when collecting debts owed to the government. Whether or not Ohio Attorney General special counsel was protected under these exemptions was a fundamental issue that the Sixth Circuit Court had to decide.
The plaintiffs, Pamela Gillie and Hazel Meadows, filed a lawsuit against several law firms acting as special counsel for the Ohio Attorney General. They argued that the use of the Attorney General’s letterhead was intentionally misleading, and therefore a violation of the FDCPA. After a lower district court ruled in favor of the defendants, the decision was appealed to the Sixth Circuit Court. The court determined that whether or not the special counsel debt collection letters were misleading was a matter best left for a jury, but held the FDCPA did apply to special counsel acting for the Ohio Attorney General when collecting medical debts for the State.
The Sixth Circuit Court determined that special counsel was in no way considered to either be employees or officers of the State of Ohio, despite their use of the Attorney General letterhead. Because of their nature as contractors for the State, the court determined that any special counsel attempting to collect consumer debt for the Ohio Attorney General was subject to the FDCPA. In this case, special counsel was acting to collect past due OSU medical debts.
The Sixth Circuit Court determined that special counsel is subject to the FDCPA when attempting to collect consumer debts for the State, due to the nature of their relationship with the Ohio Attorney General. Because they were contracted by the Attorney General, and not hired or appointed, they are not protected under the exemptions they claimed. This firm believes that the letters will likely be determined to violate the law, and that the consumer/debtors will recover under the FDCPA. If you think that you may have been affected by this practice, then please call Doucet & Associates at (614) 944-5219.
South Beach Fitness LLC Closes Location in Gahanna, OH
South Beach Fitness, LLC in Gahanna, Ohio closed that location in late September, 2013 to the surprise of many people. On the entrance door, it welcomed its members to visit its facility several miles away in Reynoldsburg. Unfortunately, some members recently signed up for services in Gahanna and expected to receive services at the Gahanna gym, especially after paying hundreds of dollars in enrollment and administrative fees. Questions remain about when the gym ownership knew about the move and why they chose to accept new membership fees with a pending move on the horizon.
Our firm is looking to help people who would like a refund of the money they paid to South Beach Fitness, LLC. The membership contract we reviewed appears to violate Ohio law, which likely entitles consumers to a refund of money paid, some damages, plus the payment of our attorneys’ fees for assisting in the matter.
If you would like to discuss how Doucet & Associates Co., L.P.A. can help you cancel your contract with no out of pocket attorney costs, please call us today at (614) 944-5219.
Doucet Publishes “The Art of War for Lawyers”
This carefully crafted litigation manual offers numerous insights into the practice of law. You will learn:
-The five dangerous personality traits and six calamities that lead to a case’s ruin. -How just five factors determine a case’s outcome. -How to manage the nine kinds of jurisdictions. -How to prepare for and use scorched earth tactics. -How to classify and work with various kinds of evidence. -How to effectively employ witnesses. -How to use secrecy, bait, and a developed strategy to keep your opponent off-balance. -And much more!
How to Interview for a Job at a Law Firm
Doucet & Associates Co., L.P.A. employs multiple attorneys who work in the areas of foreclosure defense, consumer litigation, and small business litigation. This post will provide you some idea of how help ensure your job search leads to a position you love, plus how your interview with our firm can be successful. Whether you are looking to work for my firm or another law firm, here is my suggestion on how to effectively interview at a litigation-based law firm:
1. Have a sense of your interests. One of the major reasons that our associates have given for leaving the firm is that they determine that our primary area or type of law does not match up with their interests. They may have thought consumer law is what they wanted to do, but soon realized their passion really lies in domestic work, criminal defense, intellectual property, or that litigation is not really what they want to do. They determine after litigating for months about two words in a complex consumer statute that consumer litigation really is not where their passion lies.
To ensure you are interviewing at the right firm and that will lead to long-term success at that firm, have an idea of what you enjoyed learning about in law school and during internships, and look for a firm that pairs with those interests. Know what aspects of your educational and work background fit with our primary areas of law. While you may not have a tremendous sense of what you want to do right out of school, I am going to try to avoid hiring candidates that want to “test” out our practice area to see if they like it. I will also want to avoid hiring an attorney who spent their entire 3L year and summers studying IP law. This is not because IP law is not an admirable area to study, but because I would be concerned the candidate will be looking for an IP job as soon as they begin working for my firm (or my firm is just a place to pay bills while looking for that job they really want). Training lawyers is time intense and expensive, so I am going to be focused on those candidates whose interest lies in our practice area.
Enjoying the kind of work you are doing is very important to long-term happiness in the legal profession. While some candidates tell me their most important search attribute is finding a firm where they like the people they will work with, once you begin at a firm, you will find that a great atmosphere is only a part of the eeueation. You absolutely must enjoy the area of practice in addition to the people, and I’m going to be first focused on candidates who sense their interests match with my needs.
Let me be even more specific about our practice area. Litigation experience or course work is a great start. However, I am going to be most drawn to someone who has read the FDCPA (short statute) or has skimmed Ohio’s CSPA in preparation for our interview. A really impressive candidate will have a question or two about a complex area of these particular Acts during our interview. Asking an intelligent question about how one of these laws applies to a hypothetical during our interview yields further brownie points. This shows me you learned something about the laws we work with, and that you are probably interested in our work.
I want to stress that you may be an expert in the ECOA, FCRA, or some other technical consumer statute after a year at my firm, and the question is whether you want to be. If yes, then your interests may match our work.
2. Be able to articulate your long term goals. Hiring and training lawyers is expensive. Beyond basic training, new lawyers’ work needs reviewed closely for months, their work needs molded to our methods, and the time it takes them to learn is time lost on other matters. A good deal of our time is spent during the first six months on training new attorneys (even if most of the training is learning by doing), which means I want to hire lawyers that will want to stick around for more than six months. I am looking for lawyers who want to develop an expertise in consumer litigation and hopefully are looking to add value to the firm as they become more experienced (but I do not expect associates to source business). I am also looking for lawyers who will want to be on a shareholder track, and will be taking their position seriously.
For you, this means that you should think about where you want to be in 5 years or 10 years. If your goals are to try a few different jobs over the next five years to see what you like, that is great for expanding your life’s experience. A general practice firm may be more appropriate than one focused on one or two areas of law. Unfortunately, it is not cost effective for me to hire you. This is not to say things will not work out even if you get the job. But as an employer, I am going to want to limit my exposure to turn-over by seeking candidates who have a mature outlook on their professional legal career, and who can articulate where they see themselves longer-term, especially if their goals consistent with a firm like mine.
3. Be efficient during our interview. I want our time together to be as helpful and productive as possible for both of our sakes. I want to learn about you, and you want to learn about the law firm, the position, and my expectations. Let’s make the most of the first 15-45 minute meeting we have. Think about the areas indicated in this post, and also think seriously about your strengths and weaknesses before our interview. While it is cliché to ask a candidate about their strengths and weaknesses, I sometimes will ask about both to see whether you are prepared, introspective, and polished.
Think about what you want out of the job before our interview. Look at our website, search some court filings, and get a sense of whether you think our firm will be a match for you. While the job market is tough, you will enjoy life so much more if you are practicing in an area of law that fits with your outlook on life.
Depending on what kind of client matters I have on the calendar that day, I may need to limit our first meeting. This may not mean that I am not interested in you, but rather that other pressing matters require my immediate attention. Because of this, please watch for my cues that indicate I need to wrap things up. Also, please keep your answers to a few thoughts (avoid three minute answers), and do not cut me off while I am asking you a question. I understand most people are nervous during interviews, but if you are consistently interrupting me during an interview to share your thoughts, I will be wondering whether you will be able to listen to directions once you start work.
Show me you respect the small amount of time we have together by planning for it and being efficient during our meeting. Everything else being equal, your chances of securing the job will increase dramatically with some good preparation.
4. Project a professional appearance. Our clients trust us with some of the most important and pressing issues in their lives. They may also pay us a decent amount of money to handle those issues, and will expect that we portray professionalism in working with them. Thus, your presentation is important, and our meeting is the first and most important opportunity for you to make a powerful presentation to me.
This may sound ridiculous to some, but shower the day of your interview and make sure your clothes are clean and pressed. I have interviewed otherwise brilliant candidates who have neither showered nor ensured their clothes were clean. They were not hired. Further, I am very sensitive to smells, and do not hire people whose cologne or perfume is too strong. Some people who use the same cologne every day become desensitized to it and think they need 2-4 spritzes for it to work. Please do not spritz 2-4 times before our interview. If you feel the need, a half-spritz is the most you should wear early in the morning while you are getting ready the day of your interview. However, if I have to air out my office after you leave, you are certainly not going to be offered a position.
Further, please do not play with the soles of your shoes during the interview. This actually happens frequently, and causes me to wonder what you stepped in on your way to my office, and what I now have all over my hand from shaking yours. Sit up straight, speak clearly, and make eye contact so I know you are interested and engaged in our conversation. Also, I am not your drinking buddy. If you cannot maintain a level of professional communication with me during our brief interview, I am not going to feel confident that you will be able to maintain professional relationships with the firm’s clients.
I am not trying to scare you away from an interview, so this section is about common sense. Use common sense, and treat our interview as you would for any attorney position. Even though our firm has a business casual dress code during the week (unless meeting with a client or court), you should wear a suit and men should wear a tie. I want to meet you the same way that you will be meeting our clients or a judge. I do not need candidates to be perfect, but rather that they project a professional image because they are professionals now.
5. Be positive and enthusiastic. We help people who are going through difficult times in their lives, and sometimes we are the source of stability and hope that they may otherwise not have. You have a tremendous ability to be a source of good in your clients’ lives, and your positive yet realistic attitude will help shape the way they respond to their legal issue. Because of this, someone who is positive about their past experiences and enthusiastic about our work will have a leg up in our interview.
If our firm is exactly what you are looking for, I am going to get a sense of that by how you approach your cover letter and our interview. If you are thrilled about the opportunity to work here, do not be afraid to professionally convey that. However, there is no need to go overboard here – just focus on the good gained from tough situations. If you were in my shoes, you would want someone who knows what your firm does and is excited to get started immediately, versus someone who is not sure about the practice area but is willing to “give it a shot.” Also, speak positively about your past positions and show me you have a can-do attitude. I would love to end our interview with a feeling that you view each hurdle in life as an opportunity!
Here is a final thought. I spend a good deal of thought on what I can do to make my employees’ experience positive. I routinely ask if there is anything I can do to make my staff members’ lives easier, and have a number of benefits to make working with our firm a great experience. I’ve also worked hard to design the firm so lawyers can have work/life balance, meaning most days you only need to be at work from 9-5.
In exchange, I am most serious about producing high quality work that is persuasive, honest, and covers most contingencies. Despite not requiring attorneys to work 60 hours a week, you can expect to work very hard while at the office, be challenged daily, and spend most of your time integrating new concepts and legal theories into well-written documents. I am looking for professional attorneys with the capacity to produce high quality work and who have an interest in developing the law. The person I hire will be a professional with a can-do attitude and long-term outlook that will help me build a better law firm focused on helping people.
I hope this post has been beneficial and I look forward to your interview! Good luck!
Behind the Ibanez Case
In ruling that U.S. Bank and Wells Fargo had to own mortgages before foreclosing on them, one judge put an end to a two-year saga that left two families without their homes. While the banks tried to convince Massachusetts Land Court Judge Keith Long that the foreclosure sales the banks held in 2007 were valid, Antonio Ibanez and Mark and Tammy Larace’s homes sat empty and deteriorating pending the lawsuits outcome. Over two years later, the Ibanez and Larace’s homes are back in their possession, but with an uncertain future ahead, despite the favorable ruling by Massachusetts Supreme Court.
When the economy worsened, Antonio Ibanez and Mark and Tammy Larace stopped being able to afford their mortgage, and knew it was only a matter of time before their home would be lost to foreclosure. After trying to prevent the inevitable, they received notice that their banks would sell their homes on July 5, 2007. Because Massachusetts permits foreclosure by notice, the banks did not need to receive court permission to foreclose, nor did they seek it. Instead, the banks were able to provide notice in the local newspaper of the foreclosure three weeks before the sale, and then sell the property at auction.
Without means to stop the foreclosure sales, the banks sold each property on schedule in 2007. No one bided on the homes except U.S. Bank and Wells Fargo. U.S. Bank bought Ibanez’s home for $16,437 (15%) less than the appraised value; Wells Fargo bought Larace’s home for $24,602 (17%) less than the appraised value.
Most mortgage loans are no longer lent and held by a local bank, determining who has ownership rights to the any particular loan at any given time becomes difficult and confusing. Banks buy and sell pools of loans regularly, sometimes bundling them with thousands of others to be sold off in chunks by Wall Street. Here, that is what happened to Ibanez and Larace’s loans. Their loans were bundled and sold as part of a security, meaning ownership had transferred multiple times and ended up in a trust. Unfortunately for the banks, however, they did not update their paperwork to show the proper transfers before the foreclosure. Without the proper paperwork, U.S. Bank or Wells Fargo could not prove they had the legal right to order the foreclosure sale. Because the banks did not have the proper paperwork, they could not prove they were the actual mortgage owners, so neither could establish its right to conduct the sale. This means neither bank could obtain title insurance through a title company.
Picture the banks’ problem this way. If you lent John money, and then he stopped paying you, you would have the right to sue him. However, you are the only person with the right to sue him. Your cousin Sally would not be able to take John to court to collect on your loan, nor could she collect on your loan and keep the money for herself. In order for Sally to have that legal ability to sue for you (called having “standing”), you would have to give Sally some legal right. You could either ask Sally to act on your behalf, or sell the loan to Sally so she could sue in her own name. Only when the loan belongs to Sally (or she has your permission) can Sally sue.
The same concept is at work here. U.S. Bank and Wells Fargo were not the original lenders on the Ibanez and Larace’s loans. Instead, other banks owned the mortgages, and never properly sold (assigned) their interest to U.S. Bank and Wells Fargo before those banks foreclosed on the property. Thus, U.S. Bank and Wells Fargo, like Sally, could not show they were the rightful owners of the mortgages and the banks with the power to foreclose. This caused a serious problem for U.S. Bank and Wells Fargo because without standing, they could not legally foreclose or sell the properties.
Without the legal right to foreclose on the properties, the banks did not have the legal right to sell the properties at auction. Without that legal right, the rights of any purchaser of the property would also be tarnished. Think of it in terms of buying a stereo system you know was stolen. Because the thief stole the stereo (he did not have the right to sell it), your ownership is also void – even though you paid the thief money for it. Just because you pay for the stereo does not mean you have ownership rights to it, if the seller never had legal authority to sell it to you. Similarly, if the banks take and sell homes without the legal right to do so, the buyer’s ownership rights will also be tarnished.
Here, the banks were both the seller and the buyer of the tarnished homes, raising serious questions about the legitimacy of the foreclosures and sales. The ownership problem was so big for the banks that title insurance companies would not issue policies on the Ibanez and Larace properties. Title companies issue insurance that covers property owners from losses associated with faulty property ownership chains. If the title company is not comfortable that the foreclosure was proper, and refuses to issue title insurance, then the value of that property drops significantly. After all, no one wants to buy a house from someone that cannot establish they actually own it.
Faced with the prospect of having two nearly worthless properties, U.S Bank and Wells Fargo sue for a court order blessing their foreclosure procedures. The banks could have gathered their paperwork establishing their rights to foreclose, which would mean obtaining “assignments” of the mortgage that showed an unbroken chain of ownership from the original lender to them. However, instead of gathering that paperwork so they could correctly foreclose on the properties, the banks filed a lawsuit asking the court to rubber stamp their shoddy procedures. With such an approval, the banks could then continue to take people’s homes without gathering the necessary paperwork first. Needless to say, the court told the banks to pound sand. The judge did not buy the banks’ arguments in his March 2009 decision, finding that without proper proof of ownership before the foreclosure sale, the banks could not meet the minimal legal requirements necessary to take and sell the homes. The judge noted that beyond Massachusetts’s minimal requirements that require the bank show ownership before the sale, a production of corrected documents after the sale do not fix the problem.
Neither bank was happy with the judge’s decision, and filed documents asking him to change his mind. The banks produced extra documents that they claimed demonstrated their actions were legitimate, including complex securitization documents. After reviewing those documents, the judge again denied their request, finding that “lawsuits are a serious matter and are not a place for ‘do-overs.’” He also found that the additional documents actually offered more proof the banks’ actions were illegal and that his original ruling was correct.
The judge’s order invalidated U.S. Bank and Wells Fargo’s foreclosures against the Ibanez and Larace properties. Both families are back in possession of their homes after two years of sitting empty, and the Massachusetts Supreme Court may have just paved the way for them to stay there. However, despite the favorable Supreme Court ruling, final resolution of these foreclosures is uncertain. While the court’s decision paves the way for each family to sue their bank for wrongful foreclosure, there is still a lingering question about which bank actually owns the mortgage and whether some other lender can appear with the correct documents to foreclose.
What has happened since then is the question?