Nathan Wilson ’12, a former chef and carpenter, was an intern with the Volunteer Lawyers Project in their Foreclosure Prevention Program when he was struck by the lack of information given to homeowners facing foreclosure. “There was this huge information gap,” he said. “The homeowners had no understanding of what was going on. Even with pro bono legal representation, they were in the dark in terms of what was really happening to them and their homes.” Wilson, who had just completed his first year of law school, hatched an idea to start a resource center that would assist homeowners in Kings County facing foreclosure by offering them complete and accurate information regarding the complex and often intimidating foreclosure process.
After completing his internship that summer, Wilson, with the help Brooklyn Law School’s Office of Public Service, initiated talks between the Volunteer Lawyers Project, South Brooklyn Legal Services, and Judge Sylvia Hinds-Radix of Kings County Supreme Court to develop this new program. After almost a year of planning, his vision came to fruition this year with the creation of the Foreclosure Legal Assistance Group (FLAG), a unique partnership between the students of Brooklyn Law School, the Brooklyn Bar Association Volunteer Lawyers Project, South Brooklyn Legal Services, and Kings County Supreme Court.
Wilson, who offers a one-hour training session to all students, started with three students and now has almost a dozen, with five more waiting in the wings. Students are at the courthouse three days a week when foreclosed homeowners are called in for their pre-settlement conferences and are given a date for a settlement conference (where the bank and homeowner typically renegotiate the mortgage) and a packet of papers that are often too complicated to understand. The FLAG students, who typically counsel between two and eight homeowners per shift, are on hand to assist homeowners and to review all the documents with them before they go home, giving them a sense of the process of foreclosure including the timeline, their rights and obligations, and the details of the upcoming settlement conference.
“FLAG offers students a unique opportunity to learn about foreclosure law and to help residents of Brooklyn understand their legal rights and obligations during a very difficult time,” said Wilson. “Students experience direct client interaction which is extremely valuable, and work in the courthouse, gaining exposure to lawyers and judges in action.”
FLAG students are not the only ones who benefit from the experience. “Most clients come in and are really lost,” said Wilson. “They are in the dark. They wonder if they are going to get arrested, if they are going to be evicted, and if there are going to be criminal charges. After we talk to them you can see this visible sigh of relief.”