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Advice and insights from your go-to General Counsel

The search for the next class of Robert Bosch Foundation Fellowship Program Fellows is underway. The road shows will begin soon, with receptions scheduled around the country that will bring together high-potential young professionals who are curious about the cultural exchange and professional development that the Fellowship can provide. The application process is arduous, and the evaluation and placement processes for successful applicants is even more difficult, but the hard work pays off immediately and in perpetuity. Now in my second year as co-president of the Robert Bosch Fellowship Alumni Association, I get the chance to reflect almost every day on the value the Bosch Fellowship has added to my life, giving me German fluency, lifelong friendships, and a paid year outside of normal life – and my comfort zone – to focus on writing….

 

black chick in foreign land

30 Aug 2001

alright-

inspired by the fabulous Candice and her splendiferous travelogues, i impart to you my collected experiences of the last month – if you dont care please delete now…
First off – i like Germany and i love Berlin – there is so much to do here and not once have i been forced to eat native German Speise (that’s food) – i have had no trouble what so ever finding a suitable mojito and cheap grocery stores are in abundance (we’re talking a bottle of wine, slab of camembert, cucumber, jar of nutella, bread, lettuce, pasta, sauce and yogurt all for about 7 bucks) -

last week was the semi-annual Long Night of the Museums – sounds ominous i know but get this – for 12 DM (6 bucks) from 6 pm last Sat night to 2 AM on Sun i had my choice of 100 museums, plus a shuttle service between them all… since i did not leave my apt until 10pm, i limited myself to the Museumsinsel (the Museum Island), which is a pice of land in the center of Berlin surrounded by the Spree (said “Shpray”) River – on the Museumsinsel stands the Berliner Dom (really old gorgeous cathedral), the Pergamon (ancient architecture – we’re talking huge chunks of Greek temples and whatnot), the Old Natíonal Gallery (first rate Caravaggio exhibit right now, as well as more ancient stuff) and the New National Gallery (well its closed for renov. right now – they use it in the meantime as a screen for openair movies) -

at midnight the Insel was packed – there were jugglers and acrobats and lovers and snack carts everywhere – there were beers and dogs, and kids and grannies….the Fernsehturm (the big strikingly ugly tv tower that dominates Berlins skyline) glowed Deutsche Telekom Pink – the Caravaggio exhibit was complemented by the string quartet that played for us while we browsed – and the Dom served up heavenly Gregorian chant from midnight to 2, after which came a short service and a free breakfast, of course….

There is no shortage of outdoor activity here – the Volksparks are many, as well as the lakes (Seen und Bäder) – most are just a short train or bike ride away – i have been running in Tiergarten (literally ‘Animal Garden’) a huge green space smack in the middle of town and bordered by most of the most recognizable landmarks – the Siegesäule (column with gold Victory on top), Brandenburger Tor (big gate with greenish Victory in chariot on top), rather scary statue of Bismarck flanked by lions and big strapping bo-hunk farmboy types… but i digress -

yeah – i have been going to class too – today was the last day (and writing you guys is my idea of celebrating) we took a 7 hour test – hmph too much like work – pretty much sucked – and earlier this week a friend and i trekked out to the Freie Universität Berlins to check out the law library – sounds too much like work you say – not so! not ten minutes into our browsing the computerized catalog we are approached by the dear Henning (some of you know the story) and off we go to lunch – one hour gone just like that – i am happy to report that one lunch, two coffee breaks and four hours later, i managed to come away with much needed info on German civil law as well as tentative plans to cook dinner for 8 this Thanksgiving….

Bad things about Berlin? the sewer stinks. so what, you say – the ‘what’ is that the stench has an annoying habit of wafting up through the grates, as well as your plumbing, when you least expect it – i am well armed with incense from the Winterfeldplatz Market….oh, and people here cannot park to SAVE THEIR LIVES – such itty bitty cars they have – the Smart car (a Mercedes, by the by)is half the size of a Civic hatchback – yet and still, the Berliners bump their way in and out of parking spaces (parallel and non) – at least twice i have seen people (one man, one woman) directing a driver into a parallel parking space – twice in 3 weeks! when is the last time you saw a MAN take orders from a WOMAN on how to get into a parallel parking space? i am so glad i left Boyfriend at home…

phone usage here is rather spendy, and the bureacracy is murderous…everyone is required to register their address with an official office – the piece of paper you get upon registration is required for seemingly everything (“oh – your passport – oh, but it doesn’t have your address – sorry, can’t give you your cell phone/library card/bank account/luggage/first born child/ etc.”)

all in all – i am taking it light here and it feels fine – i have met with my soon-to-be boss at Deutsche Bank – he is a big strapping fellow with experience in N. American banks (he knows finacial covenants – how can this go wrong?) – i start work Oct 1. – the question has already been asked – would i consider staying on after my fellowship? DUDE – i pled the fifth….

I move into my permanent apt the first week of Oct – it is a one bedroom in Schöneberg (nice area of town – like Dupont, if one gets one’s drift) with plenty room for guests – so please come see me….
my credit in this fabu internet cafe is expiring soon so i better go

Ulla – mein Deutsch wird immer besser, und Du bist immer vermisst – noch weiter, ich habe UHU für dich gekauft….

next time – politics (*groan*)

bis bald (til soon) y’all
Yolanda D. McGill, Esq.
Bosch Fellow 2001-2002

CIMG0722

Back in the summer of 2008 Germany was enthralled with the promise of Barack Obama. Obama gave a speech in Berlin in July. The crowd pressing against the fences surrounding the Siegesaeule (Victory Column) stretched all the way up the multi-lane boulevard StraBe des 17. Juni from the column back to the Brandenburg Gate. Now the ‘transatlantic relationship’ between Germany and the U.S. is strained for a number of reasons.

As a German scholar and someone vested in maintaining the strength of the ties between these two great countries I am compelled to remind my fellow Americans of the way things were and can be again.

For your consideration: one of the dozens of wonderful images I captured that sunny July day in Berlin, and an article by Dr. Keith Allen shedding light on Germany’s own recent engagement in spying and interrogations in this new age of fighting ‘terror’.

I had to re-post this short article and clip I saw today on Huffington Post because I am so glad that John Oliver would take the time to highlight the problem of payday loans and the payday loan industry.

Don’t get me started, I could tell you some serious war stories about how these people somehow defend the way they make billions of dollars for their friends and families (many of these companies are closely held) by ripping it from the hands and accounts of struggling working folks $30 – $100 at the time. Getting stuck in the payday ‘circle of misery’ is a death by a thousand cuts if there ever was one.

Once a person understands the loan product and the industry – the transaction is not as simple or straightforward as it first appears, and intentionally so – that person can’t distance himself fast enough. I wish more Americans knew just how dangerous these things can be, and all the work being done to rein them in. Don’t worry John, their day will come.

Foreclosure rescue fraud is STILL a big problem. It is hard to believe. I have been working hard with dozens of national level partners to try to stop homeowners losses to crooks who pretend to offer solutions only to steal money. That’s the bad news, for sure.

The good news is that our work – ‘our’ meaning the Loan Modification Scam Prevention Network – has not been in vain. The LMSPN partners continue to fight, now six years after the housing crisis began. The message is getting out to homeowners where they need to go for help. Homeowners are watching for red flags (even where there are none – I spent an hour yesterday convincing a scared homeowner that the NC Housing Finance Agency was legitimate and was not out to steal his equity) and are still reporting scams into our national Loan Modification Scam database managed by my client, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

Better still, the enforcement agency partners are coming out swinging, with each case bigger than the last. The criminal charges in the indictment handed down yesterday in Manhattan could result in 20 years of jail time per count – seems almost a fair punishment for stealing over $18.5 million – and hope for saving their home – from over 8,000 distressed homeowners.

Homeowners usually report dealing with only one person or entity, but many of the more egregious fraud allegations are ultimately lodged against complex multi-state operations; the information we gather and cross-reference in the scam database helps all LMSPN partners identify who is working with whom even across state lines. So the scammers keep going back to the trough, stealing and destabilizing because distressed homeowners are big money for them. But the hits to them keep on coming. Good news indeed.

There are many reasons I wish to improve my efficiency and form when it comes to written expression. Most of those reasons are professional, but not all.  Here is part of the draft of a dedication and book jacket that I found, written in longhand and folded neatly in a small plain white envelope, as I went through my mother’s personal effects after she died suddenly on this day back in 2006…

To my daughter, Dineine, and the unwavering steadfastness, devotion and support of my giving and loving friends, Ms. G, Mr. C and Mr. D.

‘Silent Tears’ is a look into the life of Angel, who beats insurmountable tests of the mind, heart, body and soul.

Angel had always believed that life is for the living and only the strong can survive. With strong parents she had been taught that all things are possible. 

But then came the real test of life…

 

As the jacket text continues, it becomes clear (to me, at least) that this book was meant to be semi-autobiographical. My mom was a complicated woman, and if I could flesh out her personal narrative it would likely be a riveting read. It’s no tribute of course if I can’t do her story justice, but I think sometimes it would be really worthwhile to try.

I love the role of general counsel.

It places a lawyer in a position to guide and support corporate decisions in a manner that will help the company grow and succeed. The work of a general counsel is always interesting because he or she sees and touches every single legal issue the company faces. Every. Single. Issue.

If you think that sounds like a tall order you would be right, which is why the typical GC has several years, and types, of experience before taking on the job. God bless our local paper the Independent Weekly ( Indyweek ) and the formidable Bob Geary, who anointed me general counsel of my think tank when I gave this interview back in 2005 about the payday lenders we were in the process of running out of our state. I was mortified!  While I am a hard worker and admit that I aspired early to the role, I do try for self-awareness at all times. I was a mere senior policy counsel in 2005, only six years out of law school!

Thankfully for the job I had then, as well as some of the successes I have enjoyed since, the REAL general counsel had a good sense of humor about the whole thing. No harm done, and maybe this mislabeling even helped point me in the general counsel direction. Of course, I framed the article (it’s, uh, hanging in my living room…).

Yesterday I bought all of my tickets – event, plane, football – for my upcoming class reunion. Come mid-September I will join other members of the Michigan Law School class of 1999 in Ann Arbor to celebrate and share with one another all that has transpired these last fifteen years. As I perused some of the emails and webpages I realized that my schedule could become a bit overloaded on the Friday morning as I intend to go straight from DTW airport to the all-day program celebrating the 20th year of the Michigan Journal of Race & Law. This journal is important for reasons too multitudinous to list here so I will just relate its significance to my legal career.

Anyone who has been to law school knows the importance of being accepted to write on a journal. Top schools like Michigan typically have several journal options – there is the top or primary journal for the super-smart-straight-to-academia class members, in our case the Michigan Law Review, and then there are other journals that are less competitive but also allow focus on specific issue areas. As a law student I desired desperately to improve my writing.

I viewed good legal writing as my next big hill to climb. I had always been one of the bright students, from kindergarten through NYU undergrad. One perk of being ‘bright’ was that teachers permitted me to skate by despite giving comments on my papers such as ‘nice paper, too bad there is no beginning and no ending’. But geez those were the hardest parts to write! And I hated to edit! I would write an essay at one sitting because editing was boring, backtracking was annoying to me. Even when I managed to make my papers long enough they were unsatisfying to my profs because frankly I was too lazy to ensure that the thoughts in my head were clearly represented in the paper.  But because I was always able to demonstrate that I knew the material my profs would tolerate this laziness from me and my grades never suffered. In fact, my German composition professor told me after a few classes that he was satisfied I knew what I was doing so I need not worry about submitting additional work!

All that changed in law school. Everyone is bright in law school. My days of ‘skating by’ were over. In fact, my property professor wrote ME a memo detailing ‘all of the rules of writing that I cheerfully break’. Sigh. So I stepped up, and my writing improved. I recognized that for me it is about discipline and thoroughness. Nothing boosts those two characteristics more than working on a journal. As a newbie on a journal your job is to – gasp – spend HOURS editing the bejeezus out of very dense material. I was so excited to get accepted on the journal and assigned to edit a note. And then – reassignment. Not to another note, but to help put together a speaker series. I protested, I needed to work on my writing. But the seniors editors persisted, they needed me and my soft skills (I was on law school student senate) to help make the series a success. I was upset, but I did it. That series was on the extremely important topic of critical race theory, and it was very well received. However for me personally it did not seem like a success, as it was the first moment in an ongoing search for my professional path as I felt I was repeatedly forced to choose between the ‘real’ legal work such as writing and research that I wanted to pursue and the natural skills I have that lend themselves so well to ‘cocktail’ legal work such as lobbying, project management and team building. Now I am far enough along in my career to understand lawyers are often tasked with doing many types of things. As long as we remain professional and within our capabilities there is no need to rule areas of interest out!  My career now reflects a successful combination of what seemed to me back then as irreconcilable options, and I can truly celebrate the journal’s 20th with a clearer sense of my contribution rather than feeling less than scholarly because I got to do the ‘fun stuff’!

Fannie Mae and it’s Know Your Options campaign asked me to train its housing counselors on counseling clients to avoid and report foreclosure rescue fraud. I am always thrilled to work with Fannie’s loss mitigation shop, but I need to lock in a date, and my September calendar is still in flux.  Scheduling problems are common when you are working with agencies and programs that are national in scope, but I know from over ten years of doing this that the issues typically work out just fine…

Traveling and training since 2003

Traveling and training since 2003

I’m quoted in today’s press release from my client Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law as we applaud how our government agency partners in the LMSPN continue to vigorously pursue foreclosure rescue fraudsters.

It may shock many of you, but you will find that several of the defendants are lawyers, connected to lawyers, or somehow assuming a veneer of legal representation in their solicitations. Why is this? While there are legitimate foreclosure defense lawyers working hard every day – i know some personally.

BUT there are many more who are willing to make quick easy money by partnering with non-lawyers to operate primarily telephone operations where the homeowner is paying for legal advice they are not actually getting. This business model is popular because the non-lawyers are subject to federal and state laws that prohibit charging homeowners for help to avoid foreclosure until the homeowner actually has the help in hand. Lawyers have a limited exception to this prohibition, an exception that is supposed to permit legitimate lawyers who take retainers to provide legal assistance to their clients. That exception is being used to scam homeowners instead of help them, generating millions of dollars in profits for these operations.

If you are looking for help or know someone who is, be careful if you want to hire a lawyer to help stop your foreclosure. Check with your local bar so you can get someone who is licensed to work in your state and in good standing.

 

The Mortgage Bankers’ Association conferences are an ideal platform for sharing and comparing ideas on how to best protect consumers of financial services. Lenders, services, fraud specialists and agency officials proved to be an enthusiastic audience for our anti-fraud panel back in MarchIMG_1827

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