For quite some time now I’ve been warning people about the wave of mass joinder suits that are being marketed to consumers. The pitch is simply, you’re bank screwed you and now we are going to make them pay. All you have to do is fork over $5,000 to participate, of which the marketers, who are not lawyers, get the majority.
The St. Petersburg Times just released a scathing article on mass joinder marketing that is certainly worth reading if you are interested in this topic. See Law firm’s strategies in mortgage holders’ struggles provoke ethics issues.
Let me hit the highlights for you. All of this information is from the article.
David E. Ramba is a Florida lawyer that is targeting Florida residents to join a mass joinder lawsuit against their lenders.
“Ramba, 40, has joined forces with a California attorney and opened offices in Pinellas Park and Boca Raton where employees ask struggling homeowners to join an innovative legal action against their lenders.
Prospective plaintiffs are told that nearly 6,000 people have joined the effort and six lawsuits have been filed so far.”
Regulators in California and Washington state warn that legal actions like Ramba’s are just the latest twist on mortgage relief schemes that charged up-front fees for loan modifications that didn’t happen. Federal and many state laws now ban such fees in most cases.
“Ramba’s West Coast colleague, lawyer Philip A. Kramer, has already been criticized for promising to negotiate loan modifications that never materialized. The Los Angeles Better Business Bureau gave him an “F” based on 45 consumer complaints.”
Kramer was recently sued for taking money from a consumer and not delivering services. See Philip Kramer, Kramer & Kaslow, and Attorney Processing Center Sued in California.
“Davin Spring, who has a wife, three kids and a barely profitable business in Baton Rouge, La., was sold on the concept. Spring is current on his mortgage, but owes more than his home is worth. When Spring tried to get some relief from his lender, he only got a runaround.
So when he got a direct-mail advertisement about a big lawsuit that could force banks to lower homeowners’ interest, reduce their debt or maybe even wipe out their mortgages, it caught Spring’s attention. He called and reached a representative of Ramba’s in Pinellas Park.
“They told me they only had two more spaces,” Spring said. “They got me hook, line and sinker.”
Florida Bar rules also say it’s unethical for lawyers to split fees with nonlawyers by paying commissions tied to retainers. A recent “help wanted” ad for Ramba’s Pinellas Park office promised “$1,000 to $5,000/wk Potential.”
Rose, the Stetson professor, said if nonlawyers are paid a commission based on how many clients sign up, “they may have a vested interest in skirting the boundaries of ethical rules.”
Ramba Law Group Named in Article the Warns Consumers About Mass Joinder Suits Against Mortgage Lenders by Steve Rhode
None of the complaints has yet gone to trial or been settled, and neither Kramer nor Ramba could cite mass joinder cases that have been successful against banks.
While Kramer’s mass joinder strategy is similar to class-action lawsuits, there are a few differences. In class-action cases, the plaintiffs are treated as a single entity and get an equal share of any settlement. Lawyers usually forego an up-front retainer in return for a contingency fee that can range from 30 to 50 percent.
In mass joinder lawsuits, the cases are combined for discovery purposes. But individual plaintiff’s circumstances are unique and any settlement is divvied up based on the facts of each case.
Plaintiffs’ lawyers get a share of the proceeds; Kramer and Ramba’s contracts call for a 30 percent contingency in addition to the retainer of up to $5,000 per client.