Bad Ideas, Holidays and Seasons, New York Times

Buffalo ‘Foreclosure Mill’ Employees Don Mean Costumes For Halloween

Allegedly offensive Halloween costume

I thought the rule for Halloween costumes was “don’t dress like Hitler.” But apparently you are also supposed to wear costumes that are nice and compassionate — or else you might be smacked around in the New York Times.

(We won’t smack you around. Please send in Halloween pics, and you might win a t-shirt.)

Over the weekend, you might have seen the Times story on the Stephen J. Baum law firm. As the largest so-called “foreclosure mill” in New York state, representing banks that kick people out of their homes, it’s not the kind of place that receives hugs and kisses from the community. Which is fine; lawyers there are paid for their work.

Every year the Baum firm hosts a huge Halloween party. Last year, employees reportedly dressed up like the some of the people who lose their homes during the course of Baum’s foreclosure business.

Some people are outraged that foreclosure lawyers don’t have “compassion” for their adversaries….

The Times got a hold of pictures from last year’s party from a former employee. Columnist Joe Nocera explains the background:

[A] former employee of Steven J. Baum recently sent me snapshots of last year’s party. In an e-mail, she said that she wanted me to see them because they showed an appalling lack of compassion toward the homeowners — invariably poor and down on their luck — that the Baum firm had brought foreclosure proceedings against.

When we spoke later, she added that the snapshots are an accurate representation of the firm’s mind-set. “There is this really cavalier attitude,” she said. “It doesn’t matter that people are going to lose their homes.” Nor does the firm try to help people get mortgage modifications; the pressure, always, is to foreclose. I told her I wanted to post the photos on The Times’s Web site so that readers could see them. She agreed, but asked to remain anonymous because she said she fears retaliation.

Are we sure that this tipster was a former employee? Because if I was running a foreclosure mill and trying to drum up business, I might want somebody out there talking about my “cavalier attitude” and generally showing off how I only employ people who don’t give a f*** about anybody except for their clients.

Come on, they’re foreclosure lawyers. They work for the bank. Why should they have compassion for people who are costing their clients time and money? We’ve got different lawyers who should care about people losing their homes. And maybe the government should care about people who are losing their homes. But the banks’ lawyers should really not care about people losing their homes. That’s not their job.

There have been allegations that the Baum firm has engaged in actual unethical behavior. And if that’s true, they should be punished.

But Halloween costumes are not evidence of unethical behavior. If you asked me to psychoanalyze their costume choices, it looks to me like the Baum firm maybe has a foxhole mentality. They do work that many people consider distasteful. There is at least a sense of professional nobility that attaches when you represent drug dealers and pimps. When you are well-compensated by banks for kicking people out of their homes during a terrible economy, nobody likes you.

What do you want them to do? Go home every night and cry about how “evil” they are? No, if you are going to do that work, then you need a cavalier attitude about the people you are fighting against — at least if you are going to do that work well.

So, take a look at the photos. And ask yourself if you would really prefer that your lawyers dress up as, I don’t know, Care Bears.

UPDATE (11/3/11): Stephen Baum has issued an apology for the party antics.

What the Costumes Reveal [New York Times]

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