At the Center of a Storm
The following first appeared in the Winter 2011-12 issue of The Docket, the Earle Mack School of Law quarterly newsletter.
Helping homeowners of limited means avoid foreclosure has turned out to be a boon for 3L Jon-Jorge Aras as well as his clients.
This fall, Aras spends one day each week at Philadelphia's Mortgage Foreclosure Diversion Program in City Hall, linking vulnerable homeowners with housing counselors and attorneys.
"Foreclosure is such a hot issue," Aras said. "Big banks are litigating against really small clients."
With the many Philadelphia families at risk of losing their homes, Aras faces a throng of people in City Hall each week.
"There are hundreds of clients," Aras said.
Aras monitors the clients' progress as they meet with the advocates and representatives from banks through the diversion program created by the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas.
The weekly ritual is part of Aras' co-op placement with Philadelphia VIP, a public-interest organization that links pro bono attorneys with low-income clients who face a range of legal problems.
Through his placement, Aras also conducts intake interviews at the VIP office takes part in weekly case review meetings with experienced attorneys. "It helps me understand fact patterns and how they apply to law," Aras said. "In any one case, there are usually a lot of underlying issues. I've learned to dig deep, and it's made me a better issue spotter."
Because VIP serves as a hub that connects a huge bank of veteran lawyers with clients who qualify for assistance, Aras has gained tremendous insights about networking with members of the Philadelphia bar. By interacting with varied practitioners, Aras has already made valuable connections.
Direct work with clients has given Aras critical tools for professional practice.
"It's taught me how to confront their problems and be realistic," he said. "The first week, I had to give a woman a call and say we couldn't help her. It was hard. You can't help everyone, even though you want to."
Fortunately, there are plenty of people Aras can help. One triumph involved writing a deed of confirmation for a client whose husband had died. Through Aras' efforts, the woman received the deed she needed to keep her home.
Yet the single biggest benefit Aras has gained through his placement may be the way it opened his eyes to the diversity of legal practice.
Having come straight to law school from college, Aras admits that he arrived with a narrow understanding of legal practice and equated it with working for a firm.
"I didn't know if I'd like public interest work," Aras said. "It turned out that I like it a lot."