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Counsel’s Corner: Assisting At-Risk Borrowers

Editor’s note: This feature originally appeared in the September issue of DS News.

Heather Rogers was recently elected as Davidson Fink’s first female partner. Rogers joined the firm in May 2003 where she focused on commercial and residential real estate, and managed the day-to-day operations of the Default Department, which she has continued to do for over 16 years. Rogers is a past Chair of the then approximately 4,900-member Real Property Law Section (RPLS) of the New York State Bar Association (NYSBA), and is still involved with the Executive Committee of the RPLS as the Co-Chair of the Real Estate Finance Committee. She has also served on the board as the Section Vice-Chair and Section Secretary. Rogers was selected as a Super Lawyer for the past nine years and is also a Fellow of the American College of Mortgage Attorneys. 

She recently spoke to DS News on how the industry is impacted by the drop in foreclosures, what natural disasters have done to the market, and how she plans to move forward as the firm’s newest Managing Partner. 

What are some of the biggest challenges facing the default servicing sector in today's market?  

The current biggest challenge facing the market from the attorney side is the decrease in foreclosures. We have to maintain the practice with less work coming in, as well as an increase in pressure to invest in technology, security, and staffing. Many firms are struggling to maintain this level. We are also seeing a lot of movement in the industry to smaller, newer servicers, and with others, merging, closing, and selling off their portfolios. Keeping up with this is difficult from all sides. 

What are some industry trends that are you are looking out for as 2020 approaches?  

It appears we may be looking at a baby recession at the end of 2019, so we need to be ready for that. Some of the other trends I see are how to increase efficiency without losing quality, technology improvements and security issues.

Black Knight reported the Mortgage Delinquency Rate increased 11% for June. What can be done to help borrowers at risk of delinquency and foreclosure? 

First, the dissemination of information to borrowers is key. In New York, we send numerous notices to borrowers prior to commencing a foreclosure, but those notices come from the very entity that these folks are in fear of (lenders/servicers and their attorneys). Many times, the message is lost. More needs to be done to present this information as being from someone “on their side.” The message will be better received and hopefully better utilized.

Second, I think that lenders and servicers need to be more flexible in settlement and be given the power to think outside the box. We often run into a case where the solution is easy, but because it doesn’t fit inside a neat box, the answer is “no.” While I understand investor guidelines and the need to streamline processes, it can be frustrating and difficult to explain to opposing counsel and the court. In fact, it is often the threat of the court that may finally force a lender to proceed with an outside-the-box solution.

Finally, many lenders’ attorneys take the position that the borrower and their counsel are the enemy. I have never operated that way and try to take a more collaborative approach while still zealously representing our clients. Foreclosure isn’t good for anyone, including our own clients. Working together to come up with a solution that works for all parties should be the goal, if possible.

What does it mean to you to be named the first female Managing Partner for Davidson Fink? 

Of course it is quite an honor that my partners deemed me worthy of the position. I’ve been running the day-to-day operations of the firm’s Default Practice for over 16 years, and it was a good learning experience and proving ground for the larger job. I have spent most of my career as one of, if not the only, female attorney at the firm, but it never occurred to me to focus on that. I worked hard, got involved, spoke up, and took advantage of the opportunities that came my way. I asked questions, I learned. No excuses, no free ride. I hope to bring a fresh, creative perspective to the operation of the firm and to expand on our “work hard/play hard” culture. 

What have been some of the challenges you've faced during your career, and how did you overcome them?  

First, I am a wife and a mother of two boys, both of whom I had while I was practicing law full time. My husband, Todd, and I worked together as a team and made plans and decisions that would allow each of us to succeed in our own careers and as parents and spouses. That was not always easy, and we all had to make sacrifices. It was very important to us that our boys saw us working as a team and that anything worth doing or having is worth working for.

Second, being often the only woman, and for most of my career so far, youngest partner, I had to figure out a way to gain respect from both the other partners and the staff. I overcame this, frankly, by putting in the work—getting my hands dirty. I had to learn when to listen and when to speak up; when to take care of it myself, and when to ask for help. It is also really important to me that the staff know that I have their back and that I would never ask them to do something that I wouldn’t or couldn’t do myself. I am someone who never met a task that was beneath me.

Finally, the challenge of navigating a department—and now firm—through the ups and downs of this industry and the ever-changing legal services market. Early on in my career in this industry, things were very quiet and quite routine. When the mortgage market crashed and the largest firm in New York closed—and both happened in quick succession—everything we knew changed. Our own practice more than tripled in size in about a little over a year, and that, coupled with all of the new laws and procedures surrounding foreclosures and servicing, made it nearly impossible to navigate.

I have a team-based management style, so I assembled the team, put together a plan, meet often to adjust it and then we worked hard. It wasn’t easy, and we made some mistakes, but overall we survived the storm. We also learned a lot from the process and have used those lessons to navigate new challenges since. The reality is, I would be nothing without the great people around me: my husband, boys, partners, and staff.

About Author: Mike Albanese

Mike Albanese is a reporter for DS News and MReport. He is a University of Alabama graduate with a degree in journalism and a minor in communications. He has worked for publications—both print and online—covering numerous beats. A Connecticut native, Albanese currently resides in Lewisville.

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