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Mayor implores lawyers to help foreclosure cases

With southeast Queens homeowners leading the state in the number of foreclosures, the amount of help sought for affordable legal help is about to increase, the mayor said Monday.

To help ease that situation, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced a new initiative to encourage attorneys to volunteer their time and help those who have been victims of the mortgage crisis. Speaking at Queens Civil Court, the mayor outlined his addition to the NYC Service that he said should dispatch 300 volunteer lawyers to rescue city dwellers facing foreclosure.

“Imagine the impact if just one in every 20 New York City lawyers signed up to save a family facing foreclosure,” he said.

The NYC Service Legal Outreach attorneys, who will work pro bono, would help assist homeowners when they are going through their mandatory settlement conference in civil court. Last year the state signed a law that mandates everyone must have a conference before formal foreclosure proceedings proceed.

In 2009 there were roughly 20,000 foreclosure filings in New York City, according to Bloomberg. Southeast Queens neighborhoods such as Jamaica, Springfield Gardens and St. Albans lead the state in foreclosures, recent statistics showed.

Although the settlement conference has been helping targeted homeowners from acquiring further debt, many still have had problems since they have not had proper legal representation, Bloomberg said.

“There are a lot of people out there running scams,” he said.

Attorneys who participate in the program, which is being run in partnership with nonprofit legal groups such as the Legal Aid Society, the Empire Justice Center and Legal Services NYC, can do so in two ways.

Some 100 lawyers will be stationed at courthouses to screen families and direct them toward ways of obtaining free legal representation. Those attorneys will have a special one-day ´╗┐training session and will be required to serve a minimum of two days of volunteering, according to the mayor.

Approximately 200 attorneys will be directly matched with homeowners and directly represent them in the settlement process. Those lawyers will also go through a one-day training period and work over the course of several months, Bloomberg said.

The mayor said the initiative would be good experience for up-and-coming attorneys who are looking for some fresh legal experience. At the same time, Bloomberg said those volunteers would participate in an initiative that would benefit a greater good.

“Losing your home is devastating to families and to neighborhoods as well,” he said.

For more information on NYC Service, call 311.

Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at ipereira@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.

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