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 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 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 conscience 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.
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 advancement of women in the legal industry.”
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.”
After more than 17 years supporting mortgage servicing both as in-house counsel and in private practice, Lee brings vast experience in building, restructuring, and running private practices for law firms specializing in default and REO related services. “I view our industry as one of the most dynamic, flexible, and resilient areas of the economy,” Lee said. “The recent months have been painful—to say the least—but the benefits we will see as a result of a complete shutdown of our work cannot be replicated.” She serves on the board and executive committee of the USFN, frequently lectures and has published many articles on the topics of state and federal statutory and regulatory compliance. Mentors, women she worked with early in her career, showed Lee that it was possible to have a career, family, and altogether fulfilling life. She also was inspired by the first female CEO of the USFN, and the female member presidents who followed. “They used their wit, intelligence, compassion, and gender to set an example of what was possible while also supporting and inspiring other women and diverse industry colleagues to stand up and show leadership.” As she has worked hard, she says, leadership opportunities have opened. “I’m not sure if that is a comment on what it is like to be a woman in a formerly male-dominated industry,” she said, “or if that is the way it should be since I believe in true meritocracy and competitive achievement.”
Amy Neumann has been with Flagstar bank for more than five years and was recently appointed FVP Director of Late Stage Delinquency. In this role, she enjoys collaborating daily with her team to create solutions to industry challenges while assisting customers. “Especially during this pandemic, this is a highly motivating facet of the role,” Neumann said. Neumann reports that she navigates carving out a healthy work-life balance in her day-to-day, especially with raising three children. A success that she is proud of is designing a comprehensive foreclosure oversight procedure for the Flagstar team. Before her current role at Flagstar, Neumann served as the bank’s VP and National Foreclosure Manager. She was also a Senior Managing Litigation Attorney at Trott Law, PC. She received her Bachelor of Science from Oakland University and her Juris Doctor from the Wayne State University of Law. In Neumann’s free time, she has volunteered to provide immigrants’ legal services and be a community volunteer with Big Family of MI Inc. When looking ahead to 2021, Neumann pinpointed the rollout of CARES Act provisions as something that will be an essential area of focus. “Servicers will need to be able to demonstrate compliance with applicable CARES Act provisions. In the default space, this will be crucial to avoid delays,” explained Neumann. “Also, the expected increase in default volume paired with historically low pre-pandemic numbers will create additional industry-wide challenges. Capacity issues combined with the additional COVID related procedural requirements, and with little notice that moratoria are ending, could result in significant challenges impacting all facets of default."
Susan Reid has more than 25 years’ experience in real estate and mortgage banking. Prior to her current post, Reid spent 15 years as associate General Counsel for Fannie Mae, where she focused on origination and default-related issues. The depth of Reid’s experience makes her the perfect choice to lead McCalla Raymer Leibert Pierce, LLC’s clients through the current regulatory environment. Working in New York’s commercial real estate sector prepared Reid for the world of audits and compliance. “In my early years, I had a lot of New York closings, which at that time went on for hours and days with many participants getting angry and becoming exhausted,” she recalled. “These closings were a great learning ground for me to develop skills of listening intently and calmly to discover the solution amid chaos.” Reid says the COVID-19 crisis has taxed her inherent optimism. “I believe that after the pandemic we will have fewer servicers, law firms, and people in the mortgage industry.” She continued, “I hope that mortgage banking will always have a focus on low- and middle-income homebuyers. This is one group that is often heavily hit by an economic downturn. I believe that owning a home is still important to many people and the best way for a family to build wealth.” Reid says that she is excited to see how many women are involved in today’s mortgage industry. “I draw inspiration from all of them,” she said. “I believe women bring a different negotiation style to a problem than men and we can often reach an amicable solution quicker.”
With 28 years’ experience practicing law, Ruth Ruhl says the most enriching part of her career is the long-term relationships she has with her clients and knowing how hard they work to help homeowners keep their homes with the assistance of RUTH RUHL, P.C. “I am most proud of having the courage to form my own law firm 21 years ago and growing my client base to a national level based on a quality product combined with superb customer service,” Ruhl said. “It is very rewarding to know that I have made a significant contribution to the legal industry both through my firm and my association with the Texas Mortgage Bankers Association’s Board of Directors.” Ruhl’s decision to pursue a legal career stems from the ambition she has possessed from an early age. “I knew that I wanted a career that would allow me to grow professionally and make a positive impact on people’s lives,” Ruhl said. “I enjoy the constant, evolving profession that requires knowledge of current regulations and the complexities and intricacies of how they relate to one another.” Today, Ruhl is constantly looking for new ways to improve her firm’s processes so it can be as efficient as possible in delivering services to its client base. She is an advocate of working smarter, not harder, a philosophy that has proven vital this year and will continue to be useful in 2021. When thinking about what challenges may lie ahead next year, Ruhl says, “As always, listening to my clients’ challenges helps me best respond with the appropriate technology and controls required in this fast-moving industry.”
After 18 years in the industry, Candace Russell feels the world of policymaking is where she and her colleagues can make an impact on the entire system or process. “We all hope that the impact we make by working on all the small details of a rule, policy, or a bill move the needle forward for the better,” she says. “Knowing that pouring yourself into even the small matters eventually can affect major change and benefit the industry and the consumers is immensely satisfying.” For two years, Russell has served as the Loan Administration Committee Vice Chair and Chair for the MBA. She also has started a women and minority leadership group to help encourage participation in the industry. Being a woman, or a member of any minority group comes with challenges, she says, although she awaits a day in which gender and race will be a nonissue in the workplace. “It is an often-overlooked privilege to work for yourself and your own goals without intended or unintended consequences to an entire people group,” she explained. As for the industry’s near future, she bases predictions on evidence, data, and experience, she says. “I think we will see people in power positions focus on how to keep people in their homes for as long as possible and how to open up the home market to those being shut out. There is no one answer or one branch that can fix these issues they will be multi-prong approaches with red tape, a lot of debating, and a lot of passion.”