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Honoring Excellence Among Mortgage Legal Professionals

Another returning tradition to the January issue of DS News is our Top 25 Women of Law list. From attorneys to other legal professionals working within the lender and servicer community, we’re honored to bring you profiles of some of the talented women professionals working within this space.

ReNee D. Brooks, Group VP // Legal Risk, Truist

In her relatively short career in mortgage banking, ReNee D. Brooks has accomplished more than most attorneys with her length of service. After transitioning from traditional legal practice to corporate operations while at SunTrust Mortgage, she created not one, not two, but three new departments to support the default servicing group, including Default Litigation, Mediations, and Title. Default Litigation manages nonstandard foreclosures and outside counsel as well as providing support to the in-house legal group and providing witnesses for all foreclosure-related litigation. The Mediations group manages all mortgage-related loan files, including bankruptcy and loss mitigation, while attending mediations, handling underwriting per investor guidelines, and managing outside counsel. The Title group manages title claims, reviews titles for the loss mitigation department, and clears title issues for the foreclosure department. Together, these departments are staffed with subject matter experts and have promoted efficient loan management, greater accountability, and reduced risk. “This role allows me to provide solutions to legal and regulatory challenges that make sense from an operations perspective in partnership with legal, regulatory, compliance and operations experts,” she said.

Despite a lengthy body of work, Brooks said she’s repeatedly been mistaken as a paralegal or secretary. “On occasion, women may be expected to prove they are strong enough to compete with, and/or manage men in the workplace,” she said. “In addition, responses provided by women during stressful interactions are more likely to be discounted as emotion driven than comparable responses provided by male counterparts.”

Caren Jacobs Castle, Senior Attorney // The Wolf Firm

With nearly 40 years in the mortgage servicing industry, Castle has accrued honors including service as the Legal League 100’s first chairperson and USFN’s first female president. “I have been fortunate to break a few glass ceilings during my career and hope that, going forward, women don’t feel the barriers still exist,” she said. She loves participating in education and training, whether overseeing a new team member, training onsite at a client’s office, or at a seminar or conference. “Over the past few years, I also have had the opportunity to participate in mentorship programs and have enjoyed helping women who are newer to the industry navigate their way,” she said. Going into 2021, Castle foresees, in addition to moratoria extensions, many continuing legal and regulatory changes as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. She also expects significant bankruptcy filings and legal challenges to resumed default legal actions when the moratoria end. “How quickly the economy recovers, and how regulators and legislators on both the national and state level deal with the ramifications of the economic downturn and record unemployment remains to be seen,” she said. “We need to review and learn from our experiences during the Great Recession as we move towards recovery, hone our loss mitigation and communication skills, as well as be prepared for the many potential legal contests and potential media issues.”

Magalie A. Creech, Partner // Finkel Law Firm LLC

Throughout all the challenges that COVID-19 has caused, Creech feels fortunate to work with a group of attorneys and staff that she believes proved its resilience and resourcefulness during such a difficult year. With 10 years of experience practicing law, Creech recognizes resilience and professionalism when she sees it. One highlight of her career was when a defendant in a prior foreclosure case reached out to her years later seeking advice on an unrelated legal issue.

“He said I always treated him kindly and with professionalism during our foreclosure case, and those were the qualities he wanted in an attorney to represent him,” Creech said. She developed her interest in studying law from an early age, and was inspired by all kinds of sources, “from reading John Grisham novels to the iconic ‘dundun’ of Law and Order.” Today, Creech is a partner at her firm
and has helped it prepare for today’s challenging legal landscape by using the time during moratoria
to focus on improving internal efficiencies and process functionality. “I have also worked to further expand our creditor bankruptcy practice.

By collaborating with our clients and staff to streamline workflow, we are prepared for the next wave of legal responsibilities that will inevitably come in a post-COVID-19 world,” Creech said.

As a leader in her field, she knows that it is difficult to predict what challenges may present themselves to mortgage professionals next year. However, Creech says that “as an industry, we will need to continually develop ways to adapt quickly and effectively. The ability to evolve in times of change while providing effective solutions and services will be crucial to the success of all mortgage professionals going forward.”

Pamela Cunningham, Senior Associate // Hladik, Onorato & Federman, LLP

As a female attorney working in the male-dominated industry of default serving, Pamela Cunningham occasionally faces unfortunate challenges from a few male counterparts.

Whether being interrupted, talked over, shut out of conversations, or mistaken for a paralegal, Cunningham sees these on a recurring basis. However, she says working with a great team at a firm offering tremendous growth opportunities has propelled her career forward--one she finds highly enriching. Those struggles have
helped Cunningham remain strong in her field of which she says the best part is assisting default service clients and borrowers in navigating foreclosure options. She enjoys working with lender/servicer clients and the court system in providing borrowers with alternatives to foreclosure, whether forbearance agreements,
loan modifications, payoffs, or reinstatements.

“Those creative solutions on a defaulted loan are a ‘win-win’ for all involved,” she said. “Borrowers retain their homes, avoid upheaval and disruption to their family, and the lender has now turned a non-performing asset into a performing asset.” As Cunningham looks toward 2021, she says she feels the mortgage industry will
continue to suffer due to COVID-19-related issues. Mortgage professionals will continue to face legal and regulatory challenges, including moratoriums, changing state regulations, and increased oversight on foreclosure alternatives.

Leisha Delgado, Founder and CEO, Default Servicing // Hello Solutions

As the Founder and CEO of a woman- and minority-owned small business and a survivor of stage-3 breast cancer, Leisha Delgado understands what it takes to overcome long odds and succeed. “In today’s market, it
doesn’t make financial sense for many law firms to employ an experienced, full-time salesperson,” Delgado said. “I created Hello Solutions to give those firms a viable option to get more business without having to dedicate senior partners to sales. Those partners can instead focus on providing the personalized attention their clients have come to expect.”

During her time in the industry, Delgado has become very familiar with the industry’s ongoing volatility. “Regulations and laws seem to change almost daily—at the federal, state, and even local levels. The firms we work with are all big enough to handle any default servicing needs a client might have, but are small enough to remain nimble and have a senior partner personally involved with the client’s business.” Delgado believes that the key to helping servicers and investors effectively and efficiently manage their default servicing challenges lies in the partnerships that she helps build between the clients, the attorney firms, and her own organization, as well as the process enhancements and innovations those partnerships often deliver. “Our collective success comes down to meeting the needs of the servicer,” Delgado said. “My objective is to make sure everyone’s interests are aligned so that we can all continue to move forward together.”

About Author: Christina Hughes Babb

Christina Hughes Babb is a reporter for DS News and MReport. A graduate of Southern Methodist University, she has been a reporter, editor, and publisher in the Dallas area for more than 15 years. During her 10 years at Advocate Media and Dallas Magazine, she published thousands of articles covering local politics, real estate, development, crime, the arts, entertainment, and human interest, among other topics. She has won two national Mayborn School of Journalism Ten Spurs awards for nonfiction, and has penned pieces for Texas Monthly, Salon.com, Dallas Observer, Edible, and the Dallas Morning News, among others. Contact Christina at christina.hughesbabb@thefivestar.com.

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