Asked and Answered ...

Matthew Nicols on Foreclosure Defense Detroit

By Steve Thorpe

Foreclosure Defense Detroit is a grant project of UDM-Law third-year law student Matthew Nicols. Foreclosure Defense Detroit’s primary goal is to provide free legal advice to low-income homeowners facing foreclosure through the UDM Law Mortgage Foreclosure Defense Clinic. During the free legal workshops, there will be a presentation for struggling Detroit homeowners to learn about the foreclosure process, applicable laws, available legal defenses, possible alternatives to foreclosure, and preventative measures.

Thorpe: Where did you get the original idea for Foreclosure Defense Detroit?

Nicols: I got the idea from taking the Foreclosure Defense Clinic at UDM. I really latched on to the whole community service aspect that the clinics provide for the students as well as the community. The clinic put me in contact with the university’s main campus, which partners with Ford who funds the project. After submitting a proposal that I wanted to mirror what the Foreclosure Clinic did but allow open borders essentially where people could come into this one event instead of the clients coming in one by one.

Thorpe: Who is the project designed to assist?

Nicols: The people we hope to help are low-income homeowners in Metro Detroit who are struggling with their mortgage payments or have already begun going through the foreclosure process and have received a notice or other legal documents. We also want to tailor the program to those who are at the end of the foreclosure process and provide transitional counseling about their next step and what their living situation could be. We want to make it as easy as possible. Also, sometimes you can catch an error later in the process that may be beneficial to their case.

Thorpe: What sort of help could a participant expect?

Nicols: At the beginning of the session we’ll go through a brief presentation about the basics of the foreclosure process including a timeline of what to expect throughout the entire process. We hope to educate the homeowner about what they can do to best alleviate the situation. For example: opening your mail. They need to be aware of the fact that a lot of the documents are time sensitive, so opening your mail is crucial. We also go over general foreclosure law. After that presentation, we meet with each participant one on one to do an individual intake interview. We get to know their situation and what they’re going through and determine whether the clinic can take them on as a client. After the interview, we get back in touch with them and may have them come back to the clinic for a follow-up interview. If they didn’t bring all the necessary documents to the first session, they bring them so we can assess them. Even though we’re law students, we try to provide well-rounded legal advice under Michigan court rules, which allow us to do so under the supervision of Professor Joon Sung.

Thorpe: Tell us about the workshop series.

Nicols: We intend to keep the series here at the law school because the project is done in conjunction with the Foreclosure Defense Clinic. There’s not a set time frame for whether it will be a monthly or bimonthly occurrence. It will depend on turnout. Realistically, we’d like to do it every other month, or at least one major event per semester, as well as one during the summer. 

Thorpe: How does Foreclosure Defense Detroit interact with the UDM Law Mortgage Foreclosure Defense Clinic?

Nicols: One of the main components of the grant is a service learning experience. They want one student to serve as a service leader for another class. We come into the classroom having already taken it already, in the second year in my case, and we convey our experience to the students. We help them understand the importance of public service, such as pro bono work, to the law. It’s an integral part of our profession.

Thorpe: How will this work segue into your legal career after graduation?

Nicols: This type of work is my number one choice. I’d like to stay in public interest work, specifically foreclosure defense. That would be the ultimate goal. I can’t tell the future, especially now. We all worry about what’s going to happen after the bar exam. Hopefully, this project helps show a potential employer that I can work on my own, manage other people and that I have a passion for the practice of law.