Legal Ethics

Bankrupt and in Foreclosure Himself, Lawyer Gives Evicted Clients Unusual Advice: Break In


As a tsunami of mortgage foreclosures and bankruptcies continues to sweep over many individuals who never thought they would ever be in this situation, a California lawyer feels his clients’ pain.

After a disastrous experience working as a real estate broker specializing in distressed investments before the market crashed, attorney Michael T. Pines, 58, has at least six properties in foreclosure, owes $2 million or more and has filed for bankruptcy, reports the Los Angeles Times.

Blaming the nation’s banks for creating the problem, he has no compunction about fighting back with a method most lawyers wouldn’t consider, according to the newspaper—after clients were evicted from their homes by a court order, he has admittedly, on a half-dozen occasions, urged them to break back in.

The technique, he says, helps clients accumulate cash with which to pay their legal bills:

“I tell my clients that if you’re living in a house for free, you should be able to afford to pay a lawyer,” he explains to the Times, noting that he routinely charges a billable hourly rate of $650.

The break-in technique obviously has potential pitfalls, including arrest and court sanctions for contempt. And, in the long run, owners aren’t going to save their homes this way, only obtain a little breathing room.

For Pines the perils are increased, since he faces potential attorney disciplinary sanctions for violating legal ethics rules by urging clients to break the law, points out law professor George Lefcoe of the University of Southern California. He calls the break-in approach a “completely futile” technique that “could lead to dangerous altercations with the true owners and law enforcement officers.”

Earlier coverage:

ABAJournal.com: “Foreclosure Lawyer Goes Extra Mile, Helps Clients Break Into Their Former Homes”

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