Laid-Off Lawyer Finds New Purpose In Pro Bono Foreclosure Work

At 55, Cheryl Jacobs works 70 hours a week -- and bills next to none.

A lawyer of 25 years, Jacobs was retrenched from her job as a mass tort lawyer in 2008 and seriously considered dropping her legal career altogether.

But there was one part of her life she couldn't let go of: the pro bono cases she had picked up under the Philadelphia Residential Mortgage Foreclosure Diversion Program, a seminal mediation program whereby lender and homeowner are forced to meet face to face for mediation before a home can be foreclosed on.

With more time to kill after her former firm's layoffs, Jacobs took on more cases.

"I was handing several cases and I guess because of my own ego, I thought I was the best person to finish them," she recalls.

Since then Jacobs has worked on nearly 50 foreclosure cases to date -- no easy task given each one can last several years and involve multiple hours-long court appearances. In one of her biggest success stories, Jacobs helped a sight-impaired victim of predatory lending modify her $28,000 mortgage to $9,000, and more recently, down to zero.

In January, Jacobs started the Cheryl Jacobs Law Group dedicated to helping people stay in their homes. She works on most of those cases for free.

"I charge my clients very little or nothing at all," she says. "They can't afford to pay me. If you can't afford your mortgage, you probably can't afford a lawyer."

Although Jacobs, who is divorced and has a daughter, is working harder and making less money than ever before, she has never felt happier.

"Why do I do this? When the mediation works, when I know I've kept somebody in their homes, the feeling is so amazing," she says. "I know how I'd feel if someone was in danger of losing my home and someone helped me stay in it."

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