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.
Keri P. Ebeck, Partner // Bankruptcy, Bernstein-Burkley, P.C.
Keri Ebeck knew in middle school that she wanted to be an attorney. Perhaps it was growing up watching Perry Mason and Law & Order, she says. After being the first in her family to graduate from college, then law school, and then practicing law for 17 years, she sees things a little differently. “Now, I watch those legal shows and realize that legal TV is nothing like the real practice of law.” While proud of her many accomplishments, Ebeck says a career highlight occurred when she left her comfort zone and changed firms. “I made that decision to better myself as a person, as a lawyer, and as a leader,” she said. “Being a part of a great firm is essential to loving what you do. I consider myself very lucky to have joined Bernstein-Burkley, P.C.; the firm has truly enriched my career and practice.” In addition to Ebeck’s love of the law, her company’s excellent representation of its clients really drives her. As a result of COVID-19, she says, many legal challenges await the mortgage industry in 2021. Surrounded by strong partners and staff, she believes she is in a good position to help clients. “Once the moratoriums are lifted, the volume of default and bankruptcies will drastically increase and the mortgage professionals (being the servicers or their counsels) will need to deal with the volumes, litigation, and the courts. It will certainly be trying times, but I have no doubt that parties have learned greatly from events in 2008 and will persevere.”
Michelle Garcia Gilbert, Managing Partner // Gilbert Garcia Group, P.A./Sapphire Title & Escrow Company
Michelle Garcia Gilbert was first drawn to the practice of law in order to help people, and that this remains a strong appeal for her, “especially in our other practice areas of guardianship and probate.” She explained, “We handle guardian advocacy cases, which allows developmentally disabled adults to have guardians once they turn 18.” Having practiced for 34 years now, she noted that “Female attorneys tend to be in the minority in a room of fellow attorneys,” explaining that this can often limit mentorship opportunities for women in the financial services law sector. Gilbert said that she tries to offset the gender imbalance “by not being intimidated and by proactively reaching out to male colleagues for assistance.” After more than three decades spent in service of the law, Gilbert said that becoming the owner of her own firm more than a decade ago remains one of her proudest career accomplishments. Looking to the year ahead, Gilbert noted that the industry will continue to operate in the shadow of COVID-19 and its consequences. “Tech-savvy attorneys—which default attorneys are—can utilize processes and automation not only to handle default legal services but also to manage forbearance alternatives, and asset management services to help lenders and servicers, like another outsource vendor.” While this year had presented numerous challenges, Gilbert told DS News that her commitment to proactively improving her firm, including purchasing the building from which they operate in 2015, has proven invaluable. “We have commercial tenants and an additional revenue stream,” she said. “[These efforts] helped the firm to weather the ups and downs of default servicing legal work.”
Hallie Greene, Principal // Warren Greene Management and Consulting, LLC
Hallie Greene has managed a wide variety of areas within the industry over the last 20-plus years. She now enjoys using her extensive experience to help her clients achieve their operational goals. She and Jennifer Warren worked together for two decades before starting Warren Greene Management and Consulting, LLC, which she marks as the highlight of her career. “We share the same work ethic, enthusiasm for the industry, and love of tackling challenges. Cofounding our Certified Women-Owned Small Business with one of my great friends has been an amazing experience and is the highlight of my career to date,” she said. Greene is grateful to be an owner of her company as it allows her the flexibility to spend important time with her family. “I am the mom of a child with special needs and a guardian of my brother who has autism. Finding a balance between work, children, and family can be challenging especially over the last year with quarantine and homeschooling thrown into the mix.” However, she tries to stay present wherever she is. “I give 100% to my work, and when I am with my family, I give 100% to them. It is not always easy to maintain a 100% presence in my current environment, but I try my best to stay conscious of this goal each day.” Challenges Greene foresees in 2021 include post-pandemic increases in default volume, regulation, and scrutiny. “Now more than ever, mortgage professionals and law-firms must find ways to handle their work efficiently and effectively without sacrificing quality,” she said. Warren Greene Management and Consulting, LLC offers customizable, cost-effective solutions for maximizing an organization’s capacity, productivity and work-product accuracy.
Robyn Katz, Managing Partner // Florida Foreclosure, McCalla Raymer Leibert Pierce, LLC
A 21-year industry veteran, Robyn Katz has a proven track record of achieving operational excellence and exceeding clients’ expectations. Her blend of legal experience, process development, business acumen, and technological aptitude has benefitted both her firm and its clients. “From a technology standpoint, we stand at a crossroads,” Katz said. “There are now e-notaries, e-notes, e-vaults, and fintech companies attempting to disrupt the industry. Artificial intelligence is being used in loan origination to enhance operational efficiencies. Adapting to this new technology in changing market conditions is crucial to maintain a competitive edge.” Katz’s unique ability to communicate, motivate, and lead employees has resulted in exceptional personnel retention rates and satisfaction among staff members. She frequently shares her expertise by speaking at workshops and default servicing conferences as well as contributing to industry-related publications. While she recognizes the opportunities in today’s market, including historically low interest rates contributing to a thriving refinance environment and strong purchase market, she also sees uncertainty looming. “Foreclosures have ground to a near halt due to the impact of COVID-19,” she said.“Firms that rely on foreclosures as a primary source of revenue must continue to evolve to succeed.” As a woman who began her career in 1998, she has faced such challenges as work-life balance and childcare issues.“I have been fortunate to have the support of other female lawyers, who have served as mentors throughout my career. I now make a conscious effort to serve as a mentor and promote the advancement of women in the legal industry.”
Laura LaRaia, Chief Legal Officer and General Counsel // First Guaranty Mortgage Corporation
Laura LaRaia finds that the most enriching part of her job is collaborating with First Guaranty’s risk, compliance, and legal teams as well as the business teams to “proactively and constantly” go above and beyond to help consumers. LaRaia has 23 years’ experience practicing law and was interested in the field from an early age, as her father, brother, uncle, and grandfather were all attorneys. “I love advocating and fighting for the right outcome in all aspects of work and home life,” LaRaia said. “It is one of my greatest passions.” In her role, she works to provide the maximum coverage of all aspects of the legal arena for the company with the use of databases and other electronic tools to ensure that the legal department helps the mortgage company in its efforts to continue to streamline the business. One of her career highlights has been developing the ability to “successfully lead various teams who actively support our company in all areas of risk mitigation but continue to provide assistance with loan production and servicing.” As 2021 draws near, LaRaia believes that many of the legal challenges the professionals in the mortgage industry will face will “center around the results of COVID-19 impact.” For example, mortgage companies will have to make decisions about returning to the workplace determining what protocols will be put in place if they chose to do so. LaRaia added, “Due to the extended forbearance time frames, we will likely find ourselves working through the additional aspects of loans coming out of forbearance and the resulting modifications."