Editor’s note: This feature originally appeared in the January issue of DS News.
From breaking through the glass ceiling to fighting for the rights of their clients, these formidable women lawyers have made their mark in the industry. In the first of this three-part series, we spotlight the accomplishments of these women in law.
Randall S. Miller & Associates - VP of Operations - Default Servicing
Number of Years Practicing Law: 24
There’s never a dull moment at a financial services law firm, according to Dawn Alli, VP of Operations at Randall S. Miller & Associates. Her unique perspective comes from years of work both within default services law firms and working directly with servicers, running operations for US Default Management. “My past experiences have assisted me in developing streamlined procedures that not only keep the law firm operating at peak performance but also assure our clients that we are a true and trusted partner,” Alli said. Her unique experience has helped her to separate Randall S. Miller & Associates from the competition by focusing on the needs of clients while maintaining excellence in positive office culture, timeline management, and compliance. Looking ahead to 2019, Alli said she believed that efficiency and technology are the keys to maintaining excellence while staying on top of an ever-evolving industry.
HEIDI B. CAREY
Riley Pope & Laney, LLC - Managing Partner of Default Services
Number of Years Practicing Law: 24
To Heidi Carey, the most enriching part of her job is the interaction with clients and their customers, the judiciary, and employees. “I see my job as an attorney to bridge the gap between our client’s business needs and how to get it done through the court system,” Carey said. Though at times her job can be challenging, Carey enjoys figuring out the puzzle of problem-solving through the court system. She’s dedicated to improving her firm’s internal processes for efficiency and accuracy. “Another great part of the job is being the face of our client in the courtroom. In default cases, I always try to talk to debtors prior to the hearing to explain what is happening and put them at ease in front of the judge. Most debtors have not been in a courtroom before and are appreciative of my respect and courtesy,” Carey said. Though Carey has worked her way up to being a partner in her firm—a feat that she counts as a career highlight—she didn’t always set out to be an attorney. In college, Carey majored in cello performance with a minor in business. Once she decided that she did not want to be a cello teacher, she decided to give law school a try. “My first semester was a big wake-up call after being a musician! After I figured out the game of law school, I did well and ended up working for a mortgage servicing company prior to entering private practice representing lenders in 2001,” Carey shared.
MAGALIE A. CREECH
Finkel Law Firm LLC - Member - Civil Litigation, Bankruptcy, Lender Liability, Real Estate, Business Litigation
Number of Years Practicing Law: 8
Magalie A. Creech has been with Finkel Law Firm LLC for more than 10 years, first starting out as a summer law clerk. During those years, she not only learned about the practice of law but also came to discover how important it is to be part of a dedicated and reliable team. Given the sensitive nature of the information the firm handles, it is critical to have a team of dependable, conscientious employees. This can be especially challenging in a field where the regulatory and policy landscape is constantly evolving. Creech is thankful to be part of a talented group of professionals whose collective experience handling a broad spectrum of regulatory and litigation issues qualifies them to offer comprehensive legal representation. “I consider them family, and that is what makes my legal practice so rewarding,” Creech said. Creech practices in the litigation division of the Finkel Law Firm and manages the firm’s creditor bankruptcy department. She represents national banking associations and loan servicers state-wide in commercial and real property-related litigation, with an emphasis in contested foreclosures, bankruptcies, debt collections, and real estate matters. She also handles a variety of civil litigation in both state and federal court. Creech received her Juris Doctorate from the Charleston School of Law in 2010, graduating cum laude, and was admitted to the South Carolina Bar the same year.
Cruikshank Ersin, LLC - Attorney - Property
Number of Years Practicing Law: 16
Elizabeth Cruikshank ranks helping people, finding solutions to problems, learning new things, and being in court among the best aspects of her job. These passions make her uniquely equipped to handle the challenges of the mortgage market. Cruikshank sees more of these challenges on the horizon, in the form of a rise in foreclosures, bankruptcies, and evictions. She has also noticed a decline in new homeowners and an uptick in renters. To meet these obstacles, Cruikshank has found education to be the key to staying on top of new legislation. Cruikshank has seen her firm expand from one state to four in the Southeast, as well as increasing their areas of focus to include default work, litigation, and collections, among others. Cruikshank Ersin, LLC, now handles legal needs in Georgia, Florida, Tennessee, and Mississippi. While these tasks may seem daunting for some, for Cruikshank it’s all part of a lifelong dream. “I have wanted to be an attorney since I was five years old and can’t imagine doing anything else. Being a direct descendant of Thomas Jefferson—I think it is just in my blood,” Cruikshank noted. Along with Abby Ersin, Cruikshank founded her firm based on the core principles of always returning phone calls; keeping the client up to date on all pending matters; listening first; working with clients, not against them; and being enthusiastic and passionate about the firm.
Hello Solutions - Owner - Default Servicing
Number of Years Practicing Law: 5
“I’ve always felt proud to be a successful woman in a historically male-dominated industry,” said Leisha Delgado, Owner of Hello Solutions. She added that “my passion for the legal aspect of mortgage grew out of a keen interest in the complexities and cyclical nature of the industry. Initially focused on resolving title issues, I developed strong and meaningful relationships in the default servicing space.” During her time in the industry, Delgado has become exceedingly familiar with the ongoing volatility in the area of default servicing. She assists her clients in meeting this challenge by developing efficiencies that support scalability and innovation. Delgado noted that the industry can best face 2019 by working to streamline processes through technology and develop partnerships that alleviate distractions, so lenders and servicers can focus on core competencies. No stranger to flourishing in the face of adversity, Delgado survived a battle with stage 3 breast cancer this year amidst growing her business. Her warrior spirit has served her both professionally and personally. “Helping my clients grow their business despite the current climate aligns with my mentality as a breast cancer survivor. I believe integrity, hard work, and customer-centricity go a long way,” Delgado said, and it is this determination and passion behind Hello Solutions that has led to her clients’ evolving success.
Trott Law, P.C. - Managing Attorney - Mortgage Default, Bankruptcy
Number of Years Practicing Law: 25
Marcy Ford counts herself lucky that her job allows her to be both a problem-solver and an advocate. “I still love working the nuanced case that others have given up on and figuring out how to break it down and look at the facts from a legal, compliance, and business-process perspective. Changing processes, filling in technology gaps, or simply increasing training to solve problems is the big payoff for me,” Ford said. Ford believes that it is Trott Law’s attention to detail, high ethical standards, and employment of some of the brightest legal minds that will ensure the firm’s future. She has made it a priority to be present and involved both locally and nationally so that her firm stays abreast of the communications that are vital to success. The highlight of Ford’s career has not been winning an individual case but rather being part of a growing and phenomenal practice that has stood the test of time and industry upheaval. “When volumes were high, we certainly faced challenges, but it was when volumes declined, combined with never-before-contemplated compliance standards, that Trott Law’s star really shined,” Ford said.
JEANETTE F. FRANKENBERG
Stern, Lavinthal & Frankenberg, LLC - Managing Member - Full-Service Default, Commercial and Real Estate Transactions, Commercial and Residential Leasing, Bankruptcy, Commercial and Consumer Finance, Evictions, REO, Environmental Law, Land Use and Development, Commercial Litigation
Number of Years Practicing Law: 31
Jeanette F. Frankenberg, a leader in the default and REO arena, is the Managing Member of Stern, Lavinthal & Frankenberg, LLC, the only solely woman-owned full-service default law firm in New Jersey. She attributes her success to her strong business acumen, hands-on enthusiasm, and forward-thinking approach in an ever-evolving field. “We continually invest in programming enhancements to create processing efficiencies, quality control checkpoints, and cutting-edge data security. These enhancements result in a superior product with cost savings for our clients,” Frankenberg said. Frankenberg is a formidable force in the industry who will never settle for the status quo. She understands servicers’ requirements and continuously adapts to meet their needs. Presently, she is pursuing controlled expansion into new jurisdictions beyond New Jersey. This strategic growth will allow Stern, Lavinthal & Frankenberg, LLC, to bring its experience and innovation to a broader audience without sacrificing quality product and service.
MICHELLE GARCIA GILBERT
Gilbert Garcia Group, P.A. - Managing Attorney - Real Estate, Business, Probate
Number of Years Practicing Law: 32
Michelle Garcia Gilbert told DS News, “It sounds cliche, but helping people, whether it be clients, colleagues, family, or friends, motivated me to become an attorney.” While most of her work now involves representing businesses and executives, she continues to handle pro bono cases, especially for special needs adults, the homeless, and military veterans. To Garcia Gilbert, her dedication to her work at the firm is about more than just the ins and outs of the legal practice. “My highlight has a different twist,” she said. “I am the mother to six children—five daughters and one son—and my career has allowed me to raise my children in their faith and education.” To adjust to today’s challenging legal landscape, Gilbert Garcia Group looks for other business opportunities, such as networking with note-buyers and signing up for local referral programs. They have also launched other non-law businesses, such as leasing co-working space in a segregated part of their building, and they are looking to set up a commercial kitchen to lease to catering companies. To assist their lender and servicer partners, her firm relies on technology. “The use of technology to continuously streamline processes in legal proceedings enures to clients seeking to reduce legal expenses while allowing firms to provide the best legal services where needed,” Garcia Gilbert said.