Offering Assistance, Gaining Experience: The Mortgage Clinic/Mortgage Course

Sept. 30, 2011

It is the mission of the nationally prominent James E. Rogers College of Law to prepare lawyers for leadership and community service. That is exactly what is happening in the new Mortgage Clinic/Mortgage Course that started this fall 2011.

Professor of Law Jean Braucher, holder of the Roger C. Henderson professorship, has created the course through a partnership with Southern Arizona Legal Aid (SALA), a non-profit law firm providing legal assistance to low income individuals and families. Braucher wants students to apply what they learn in her class to real life problems.

Under the supervision of SALA attorneys, students determine legal strategies for clients suffering because of the mortgage crisis, and they are helping clients figure out whether they need mortgage modifications or, in the worst case scenarios, bankruptcy.  Many of clients who might have previously had the means now qualify for assistance to see a lawyer about their financial situations.  Braucher’s students are learning to be sensitive to their clients’ emotional turmoil, while applying laws applicable to complex business and banking systems to individual cases.

Raina Wagner, a third-year law student, explains the professional advantages of the experience:  “The hands-on client exposure is truly a benefit of participating in a clinic… We actually learn how to be lawyers.”  Though the clinic just opened at the beginning of the fall semester, Wagner has begun her lawyerly work. She says, “Already I have a client that I have interviewed in person, talked to twice on the phone, and scheduled a follow-up, in-person interview.”

Wagner understands some of the turmoil of her clients. She observes that, “The recession also affected my life and my family's lives directly. We have been lucky enough to hold onto the home we own — so far — but I know that not everyone has been as lucky. I am not that different from people facing foreclosure or bankruptcy today, and I want to do what I can to give these people the best outcome possible.”

Braucher wants students to become excellent legal advocates and to thoroughly understand the multiple, complex facets of the mortgage crisis. She says of the course work, “Students are learning to understand the issues concerning mortgages both from the debtor and the creditor perspective, and they are learning about complex transactions on Wall Street… We will be reading about the many failures of self-regulation and governmental regulation that led to the housing bubble and burst and resulting recession, with its impact on so many homeowners, including those who were prudent in their own dealings, but got caught up in the general economic decline and loss of home values.”

The Arizona Supreme Court is currently reviewing an important case related to these issues, and as a part of their course, students attended the arguments and read the brief to augment their studies.

Braucher believes that course work supplemented with clinic hours is a solid, effective model for learning.  She also recognizes that the partnership with SALA is an important one for the community as well as for the students.

“We all hope there won’t still be a mortgage crisis in three years, but there are bound to be new legal issues of lower income persons who could benefit from having law students working for them. And for the students, that’s valuable experience.”

All intake for the Mortgage Clinic is through Southern Arizona Legal Aid, which has income and asset limits for providing services.

Visit the Mortgage Clinic at the James E. Rogers College of Law.