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Calling in the troops: how lawyers are helping the country recover from economic crisis

This is the second post in Equal Justice Works’ series on economic recovery, a report on how lawyers are helping clients fight the loss of their jobs, homes, health insurance and more.  It was written by Martin Costello, Program Manager for Equal Justice Works AmeriCorps. In June 2009, Equal Justice Works received a $1.2M stimulus grant from The Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) to place 30 AmeriCorps Recovery Fellows and 305 Summer Corps Fellows  across the country to provide legal assistance to victims of foreclosures and others facing financial challenges as a result of the recession. Being awarded the grant was a tremendous honor, but it was only the beginning. So what have these law students and lawyers done so far? Addressing the economic crisis The term foreclosure is one that has been in the headlines for a while. But even with the incredible media coverage, most people are not familiar with what it actually takes to defend someone who has a home in foreclosure. Truthfully, many lawyers are not sure either. There is a misconception that the housing meltdown was caused by reckless homeowners borrowing more than they should. While this may the case for some, it is not the only cause.  In his economic recovery series, AmeriCorps Recovery Fellows and other housing experts will explain some of the  systematic flaws inherent with our current lending system. Since receiving the grant, our AmeriCorps Legal Fellows and Summer Corps members have helped 1,899 people needing home foreclosure and housing assistance. Radia Hussain, a Summer Corps member at the Legal Aid Society in Queens, provided direct legal assistance to clients who were victimized by predatory lending practices and prevented four clients from losing their homes to foreclosure in just a few short weeks. This is just one of hundreds of stories you have not heard yet about the deception in the lending industry. Many mortgage foreclosure defense cases last a year or more. Clients are facing banks, servicers, lenders and law firms with a deep bench of private attorneys and even deeper pockets. On top of that, in 2/3 of the states, homeowners are not guaranteed a day in court to fight for their home. Against these odds, Equal Justice Works AmeriCorps Legal Fellows have already saved 662 homes from foreclosure. AmeriCorps Recovery Fellow Ben Long, serving at the Appalachian Research and Defense fund of Kentucky, helped a recently-widowed client save her home from foreclosure by identifying several Truth-In-Lending violations and obtained a favorable loan modification. Having an impact in people’s lives With perhaps the biggest crisis in the history of legal services upon us, struggling nonprofit organizations have been handed a variety of financial cuts, lay-offs, unfunded mandates, and continued Legal Services Corporation restrictions. Law firms have also restricted the amount of pro bono work its associates can provide on this issue. Because law firms represent the banks and lenders foreclosing on homeowners, many of these associates are conflicted out of representing the homeowner. This means law student volunteers are needed more than ever in their communities to help people stay in their homes and access the services they need to survive. AmeriCorps Recovery Fellow Christine Khalili-Borna at Public Counsel engaged law students in the Homeless Prevention Project, recruiting 400 students from nearby law schools. Last year, Christine helped 3,462 obtain food, shelter, medical care and other basic needs. If just one of our Fellows can help that many people, imagine the impact of 30 Equal Justice Works AmeriCorps Recovery Fellows. There is so much more to be done, but look how far our Fellows have come already. Visit the blog frequently for more in this series from national housing experts, Fellows and others. -Marty
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