Plenty of law schools talk about producing attorneys who are able to serve their community. But a new program at the University of Miami School of Law actually puts a little bit of money behind the commitment to public service.
Time magazine featured the school’s new Foreclosure Defense Fellowship this weekend (gavel bang: ABA Journal). The article highlights Miami’s attempts to get recent graduates into the business of serving one of the constituencies that actually needs more attorneys.
Unlike similar legal fields such as bankruptcy, foreclosure is rarely a full-time practice and is often handled by real estate attorneys or legal aid services agencies. Still, more than 3 million property foreclosures were filed in the U.S. last year; South Florida is expected to see more than 150,000 this year compared to fewer than 25,000 three years ago. And while mortgage modifications had been on the upswing in recent months, the Boston-based National Consumer Law Center reported this week that many large banks and other mortgage servicers have decided it’s cheaper to foreclose than to offer more affordable loan terms. Making matters even worse, as many as 86% of foreclosure victims in hard-hit areas didn’t have legal counsel last year, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at the NYU School of Law, which released a report earlier this month.
Miami Law has given eight recent graduates a $10,000 fellowship to do this important work. Obviously, $10K isn’t enough to live on. But instead of raising tuition and bemoaning the lack of public interest lawyers, Miami’s fellowship program is giving its graduates a little bit of help in their efforts to give back to the community.
Above the Law corresponded with Miami law professor Michael Froomkin, who founded the program. More details about it, after the jump.
According to Professor Froomkin, there was a lot of competition for Miami’s eight fellowships. Applicants had to commit to working at legal aid organizations three days a week for 27 weeks. Froomkin explained:
Application to the program was open to any 2009 graduate able to make the time commitment. It was competitive based on grades, relevant experience, and enthusiasm.
And while the fellowship money was only $10K, some of the applicants already have Biglaw deferral stipends to live off of.
The foreclosure defense fellowship isn’t the only Miami program aimed at matching its graduates with the needs of the community:
We actually had 2 programs, both aimed at last year’s grads: one gave eight Fellowships and placed people in Legal Aid/Legal Serv. The other smaller one gave three scholarships to JD’s who took the LLM in Real Property and agreed to do 15 hours / wk pro bono. They were placed in a private non-profit that is doing foreclosure defense.
And the school is looking at ways to allow its current students to serve those facing foreclosure proceedings:
[T]he current plan is to start a student-staffed clinic next year that might be housed at Legal Services of Greater Miami (LSGMI) which would deal with housing issues in order to institutionalize the law school’s efforts to help people with housing/foreclosure problems.
The recession has created a huge need for legal services. And it has created a glut of laid off or unemployed lawyers. But matching the attorneys to the work is difficult because it is tough to pay off law school debts by helping low income families fight off foreclosure proceedings. Miami’s programs aren’t going to fix that fundamental disconnect between the cost of law school and the need for legal services.
But the school has taken a nice step in the right direction. The fellowship stipend might not be much, but it is infinitely more valuable than lip service.
Where Are All the Foreclosure Lawyers? [Time]
Miami Law Grads Get $10K Foreclosure Fellowships to Fill Legal Services Gap [ABA Journal]