By Sarah Orr
The Foreclosure Assistance Clinic (FAC) is a weekly, free, drop-in legal clinic where UW Law School Consumer Law Clinic students and volunteer lawyers provide limited-scope assistance to homeowners in foreclosure. The students and lawyers from a variety of practice areas have donated over 700 hours to the FAC and helped over 300 homeowners since mid-2010. While the worst of the foreclosure “crisis” may have abated, homeowners still need basic legal information and assistance to navigate the process.
The FAC was created by the Dane County Foreclosure Prevention Taskforce to help homeowners both regain some control over their situations and tell their personal stories in a legal system that can feel impersonal. We help homeowners understand how to respond to the foreclosure lawsuit and provide information about additional resources, such as mediation and financial counseling services. The homeowners leave the FAC with renewed determination to persevere. One client remarked, “It’s a wonderful resource during this financial turmoil.” Another client found that the FAC “helped make a hard time a little easier.” A few clients were astounded that they could meet with a local lawyer and law student free of charge. They were deeply grateful for the time we spent with them.
According to CCAP data for Dane County, a very high percentage of those who come to the FAC do file an answer, usually within days of the clinic session. In some cases, the judge dismissed the lawsuit. In others, the parties settled the case through mediation or voluntary dismissal. Most FAC clients gain more time in their homes by filing an answer. All of them benefit by knowing more about the process and their options going forward.
The FAC also was designed to be “portable” to other locales. Armed with a supply of pro se answer forms and instructions, basic training in foreclosure, a handful of pertinent statutes, a space to meet and some Kleenex, a local bar association or other group of willing volunteers could set up a similar resource in their community. I look forward to lending a hand to anyone interested in starting up such a project.
Sarah Orr is Associate Clinical Professor of Law and Director of the Consumer Law Clinic at the University of Wisconsin Law School