As a senior litigator in mortgage foreclosures and real estate litigation, Kathleen Achille loves the days when she’s in a position to both negotiate for, and help advise, clients in an industry that so directly impacts such an important part of their everyday lives. Obviously, emotions in foreclosure cases can run high, so Achille says the really good days happen when she can negotiate settlements benefitting both her clients as well as the borrowers. “It’s great when everyone is satisfied with the outcome,” she said. Despite those good days, Achille sometimes faces the recurring challenge by some male colleagues who automatically assume she’s anyone but a member of the bar. “I still chuckle to myself when I walk into a courtroom and they automatically assume I am there to report the proceedings. In 21 years, I have yet to hear about similar experiences from my male colleagues. The gender assumptions about everyone’s role in the courtroom remain alive and well in 2020.” But for now, Achille can take pride in being nominated as a top Woman of Law. “It is pretty cool,” she said. As for her outlook on 2021, Achille is another legal professional concerned about the ripple effects of COVID-19, specifically with foreclosures and evictions. “We’ll be challenged with figuring out how to balance the moratoriums and the courts’ expectations of moving the dockets,” she said. “Once all of them are lifted, we should expect to see the impact 2020 payment defaults caused by COVID-related hardships will have on the laws and regulations for filing and prosecuting foreclosure actions."
Cristina Arroyo comes from a family of lawyers and always knew that this was a career path that she would follow even though she began her career in public relations and marketing. “Although I fought the idea of being an attorney, in the back of my mind I always knew it was going to happen. I transitioned to law as I liked the idea being given different types of situations and helping provide solutions,” shared Arroyo, who joined the profession at a time when leadership was less diverse. “At the beginning of my career, I had less role models and mentors to relate to, and it was harder to envision my career path, a difficulty I think my male counterparts did not have. Although there is still work to be done, I feel today more women and people with more diverse backgrounds are assuming leadership roles in our industry, which is encouraging. I also think that due to the pandemic, with the move to more remote work, a shift in home and work roles and responsibilities has occurred and although difficult, it has highlighted women’s time management and multitasking skills.” Arroyo said. As an in-house compliance counsel, Arroyo enjoys collaborating and partnering with business units to work jointly to implement and operationalize regulations. Considering the year ahead, she believes that in 2021, servicers must continue their commitment to assist customers through the challenges they face, as well as work constructively with regulators and industry peers to continue modernizing our industry.
Jenna Baum, Managing Partner of the firm’s National Eviction Management Group, focuses her practice on representing investors and servicers in post-foreclosure cases across the country. In 2017, Baum became the youngest woman to become a Managing Partner in the firm’s history. “I consider myself lucky every day to work at a firm that views your worth based strictly on your work product and contribution to the firm, not your sex or nationality,” Baum said. Before her legal career, Baum was an avid athlete, playing volleyball competitively and while in college. She said her experience as a captain taught lessons that helped her to achieve success in her career and become a leader in her field. “This experience taught me about determination, perseverance, overcoming hurdles, and that truly understanding your teammates is the best way to lead,” Baum said. These skills have proven especially useful in these unprecedented times, conducting business while keeping public health and safety in mind. Baum noted the complexity of the process when someone must relocate during a pandemic. Despite this challenge and other difficulties, Baum said she maintains a positive outlook. “I do not know what the future holds, but I do know that economic impacts have been devastating,” Baum said. “However, I have faith that we all learned from the 2008 recession as an industry and are better equipped to handle this in a sensible way.”
Jane Bond has 30 years’ litigation experience, 24 years of which has been devoted to business and real estate within the mortgage lending and servicing industries. She represents clients in appellate proceedings before the Florida District Courts of Appeal and the Florida Supreme Court. She has handled countless cases, from residential and commercial foreclosures, title issues, foreclosure-related insurance claims, condemnation and eminent domain to one of the most prominent cases in our industry: the Statutes of Limitations, US Bank v. Bartram. “This industry provides many opportunities to keep learning and growing as a professional and to help others learn and grow,” she said. To that end, Bond is active in myriad organizations including USFN, ALFN, LL100, and the FL Bar (serving on the Real Property Finance and Lending Committee). Many women are in the field now, and Bond enjoys being part of a diverse management team. Earlier in her career, however, she was the only female attorney at two different firms, and she frequently was the only female litigator in a courtroom. Her mother and her father, a Dale Carnegie coach, brought her up with a positive attitude and drive to succeed, she says. “The key is to be yourself and enjoy the practice of law,” Bond says. “Always stay strong, well informed, and friendly; I enjoy meeting people, working with attorneys from other firms and working alongside our clients.”
Bonial & Associates, P.C., Managing Director Bonial & Associates, is both a Certified LGBT Business Enterprise (LGBTBE) by The National LGBT Chamber of Commerce and a Certified Women’s Business Enterprise (WBE) by the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC). The WBE certification affirms the business is woman-owned, operated, and controlled. Hilary Bonial told DS News that “seeing my teams succeed is the most enriching part of my job.” Bonial added, “Watching the legal strategies assist clients in making good business decisions is quite rewarding.” Bonial noted she is most proud of the positive results she has obtained in court for her clients. “Any time I can stand before a judge and represent my client, I am proud of the unique set of skills I have developed over the years and of my ability to put them to good use.” Bonial has been Managing Director of Bonial & Associates, P.C., for over two years, and served previously as a Shareholder/ Attorney at Buckley Madole, as well as serving as General Counsel for National Bankruptcy Services, LLC, for over eight years. Despite some improvements over the years, Bonial said the number of female executives within the industry is still comparatively small, and she is often the only female leader in the room when a decision is made. “The perception of women leaders being overly emotional remains,” she added. Looking ahead to 2020, she said, while it may be “pie in the sky theory,” she would like to see the adoption of meaningful diversity programs in the default legal space.
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 non-standard 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.”
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.”
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.”
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.
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.”