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USFN Marks Fifteen Years

Twenty years ago, foreclosure attorneys across the nation were "isolated islands" that had few opportunities to share information, according to one of the founders of a group that represents the industry.

"We were isolated by geography. We were isolated by client. We were isolated by competition," said Robbie Wilson of Wilson & Associates, which operates in Arkansas and Tennessee.

Seeking to bridge this gulf, a handful of attorneys, each lending $500 to provide the initial financing for the group, 15 years ago joined together to create USFN, formerly known as the United States Foreclosure Network. In those days, there were not set fees or official timelines for performing foreclosure-related legal work.

"Nobody shared information. It was all a big secret," Mr. Wilson, the USFN's first president, told MSN recently.

Today the organization has a multimillion-dollar budget and an executive staff at its headquarters in Tustin.

The USFN, which limits its membership to just two firms per state with a few exceptions, is a hybrid organization. It's partly a trade group, partly a referral network, partly a bar organization, and partly an educational institution, Mr. Wilson said. When the organization was started, its founders worried about getting two member firms per state. Today, membership is by invitation only. The group's 100 principal member firms represent about 2,000 attorneys. Over time, the group's mission has expanded, Mr. Wilson said. It has an extensive roster of associate members who represent the mortgage servicing industry. By bringing multiple disciplines into the USFN, its members and their clients can learn about developments in technology and trends in the mortgage industry as well as legal issues, he said.

David Trott of Trott & Trott, Bingham Farms, Mich., the current USFN president, said the 15th anniversary of the group will be celebrated at its annual meeting in June.

"Just the fact that we made 15 years is significant, because lawyers tend not to get along so well," he said. "We have year-in and year-out almost 100% of the members renew their membership."

He said the USFN has debated changing its bylaws to open its membership to more law firms, but members are not sure that would be in their best interests. The USFN could run the risk of letting less qualified firms come in, and an expanded membership might reduce the time that members get to spend with clients at USFN events, he said.

"In the end, I think it would undermine the success of the USFN if we just opened it up to anyone and became a trade association," Mr. Trott said.

Alberta Hultman, a trade association veteran who became executive director of the USFN last year, says the USFN is the most collegial group with which she has worked.

"It's a smaller group, so all of the members really know each other," she said.

This year, the group's agenda includes an ongoing concern about class-action lawsuits over debt collection practices, electronic commerce developments and opportunities for standardization of practices among states.

Ms. Hultman said the USFN hopes the group's 15-year milestone will serve as an opportunity for the mortgage industry to get to know the group a little better.

Copyright 2003 Thomson Media Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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