After two years of reading cases and statutory supplements, writing complaints, memos, briefs, and other papers, and compiling, distilling, and rewriting outlines, I finally got “my” day in court.
As a participant in a UNC financial law clinic, I was at a local Superior Court with my client for his foreclosure hearing one weekday morning in October. 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.
That may seem like a breezy and cavalier way to put it. I don’t mean it to be, because my supervisor and I put in a lot of preparation in those two weeks. But this case has been a jarringly fast education. I’ve come across several practical issues that I never imagined while 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: 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 the local 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 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. He’s now in a better position to make 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, a window into his predicament. 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 given various conflicting advice. Meanwhile, he’s going through a divorce, which precipitated the mortgage troubles. It must be bewildering, Kafkaesque, and I can see that it is taking a toll on 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.