Business of Law

Partner explains how a manufacturing practice is helping his firm grow and better serve clients

Matt Hunoval felt bored to his marrow as a big-firm associate in the nation’s No. 2 banking capital, Charlotte, N.C.—doing due diligence, preparing ancillary documents and performing other drudge work for billion-dollar M&A deals. So despite making more money than he figured a fifth-year associate is worth, he left in 2009 to do what seemed even more perfunctory—handling flat-fee residential foreclosures by himself.

He had certainly honed the skills for exacting tasks at his old employer, Moore & Van Allen, and now pored over every line of the documents in his new field: affidavit of default, substitution of trustee, trustee’s deed, deed of trust and notice of hearing. The work excited him.

But Hunoval’s story is a bit richer than the simple irony of walking away from comfortable monotony to take a chance on even greater tedium with decidedly less glamour. And he doesn’t shy away from criticism of his chosen practice and the checkered history of foreclosures.

The industry is ridding itself of the scandalous, robo-signing foreclosure mills that faked documents to prop up questionable mortgages, though court battles continue over whether many of the tens of millions of mortgages bundled and securitized for sale to investors during the housing boom-and-bubble still have questionable chains of ownership.

But for Hunoval there is the legitimate and necessary business of foreclosure that someone is going to do, and he wants to be known for the best way to make the process swift and true. If he does it well, he figures, some who might otherwise be foreclosed on because of an occasional mistake in the vortex of volume could be saved by his attention to detail.

“Even before you start to tell the story, the narrative is set and we’re the guy in the black hat riding in on a black horse,” says Hunoval, who gets referrals from half a dozen clients, including mortgage servicers, banks and small hedge funds. “But if we reduce error rates, it helps our clients, who don’t want to foreclose when it’s not merited. They want to service the loan. And that’s good for the debtor.”

For the first years, he had only one major client, a “whale” as he calls one of the top 10 mortgage servicers in the nation, in addition to some “bluefish” and “minnows.” More recently Hunoval landed two more whales.

Hunoval’s firm has grown quickly to 70 employees—nine of them carefully picked lawyers, some with particularly beneficial backgrounds and experience for the boss’s vision. Those numbers include a cushion for handling the new, big clients, and he estimates the staff could grow to 90 by the end of the year.

While he hasn’t gotten much notice in the legal profession, Hunoval’s approach is attracting the studied gaze of the business world for the programmatic, systematic efficiencies that, as he puts it, he’s building into his firm’s DNA from the lowliest clerk to his highest-paid lawyer.

Read the rest of “Lean & Clean: Foreclosure firm goes statistical to improve speed and quality” here in the March ABA Journal.

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