Editor's note: This story was originally featured in the January issue of DS News, out now.
In the January issue of DS News, we were proud to introduce our section on 25 women lawyers who have made their marks in the legal industry. From breaking through the glass ceiling to fighting for the rights of their clients, these formidable women have ensured the success of their individual firms and the industry through their skills and can-do attitudes. They are mentors and role models for a younger generation that admires them, learns from their fights, and is influenced by their positive approach towards creating a work-life balance.
In this third installment, we profile get to know more about what inspired these women to become lawyers, their views on the current state of the industry, what it’s like to be a woman in law, and what qualifies these women as being among some of the finest minds in the legal and financial services industries.
MARY ANN HESS
Managing Member, Folks Hess Kass, PLLC
Foreclosure, Collection, Mortgage Deficiency, and Default Services Litigation
Mary Ann Hess, Managing Member of Folks Hess Kass, PLLC, was first exposed to working in the legal realm when she worked for the Maricopa County, Arizona Superior Court as a Case Transfer Coordinator and subsequently as a legal secretary at the largest law firm in Arizona. It was these years spent honing her skills, as well as her natural disposition as a detail-oriented individual that made her excited to take the next step and practice law herself. Hess helps her team meet the challenges of the legal landscape through diligent training. “I have worked closely with our firm’s attorneys over the years to make certain that they participate in as many seminars relevant to our legal practice as possible. In addition, we conduct ongoing and aggressive in-firm training with our attorneys and staff to remain current not only on the law related to our practice but of the complex compliance and reporting requirements of our firm’s clients related to topics, including protecting confidential client information, reporting consumer complaints, and other client compliance requirements,” said Hess. Hess prides herself on having been able to help many litigants over the years on a pro bono basis as a court-appointed settlement judge to resolve their disputes on a mutually beneficial basis and often under very difficult circumstances when they could not afford costly litigation.
Senior Counsel, Office of Regulations, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
Laura Johnson is Senior Counsel in the Office of Regulations at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), where she focuses on mortgage servicing. She has been with the CFPB for more than four years and came to the bureau from U.S. Bancorp, where she handled consumer-oriented regulatory compliance issues. Prior to that, she was a Staff Attorney and later Chief of Staff in the Division of Financial Practices at the Federal Trade Commission. She also practiced law with the firm of K&L Gates in Washington, D.C., where she focused on financial services regulatory counseling. Johnson is a graduate of Centre College and Washington College of Law. Johnson is skilled in legal research and writing and helped craft amendments to the Mortgage Servicing rules and TILA-RESPA while at the bureau. She is also a frequent speaker at events, including the Five Star Conference and Expo. At the 2017 conference, Johnson helped educate attendees on specific requirements of CFPB rules, how servicers and vendors can be prepared to be compliant with the rules, and addressed what qualifies as satisfactory compliance among servicers. Johnson, well respected by her peers, will continue to be a leader in the practice of law in the years to come.
LOUISE M. JOHNSON
Senior Counsel/Supervising Bankruptcy Attorney, Scott and Corley, P.A.
“Practicing law provides me with a mentally challenging and stimulating professional work environment with wonderful colleagues, clients, and courts without which I could not have raised my two lovely daughters as a single mother,” Louise (“Ceasie”) Johnson told DS News. Johnson’s decision to study law was led in part by being the daughter of an English teacher and a lawyer-turned judge for 30 years. Another influence that helped her prepare for her later career was obtaining an undergraduate degree in piano performance, which taught her discipline, practice skills, attention to detail, and a love of people and performing. “These disciplines honed my capabilities that I use daily in my practice of law, specifically in my preparation in the office, my interaction with clients, and my representation of clients in court,” said Johnson. In the year ahead, Johnson sees the advancement and prevalence of technology as something for which mortgage professionals and lawyers will need to be prepared. “It is important to stay abreast with the technological changes and improvements in order to fully compete in the ever-changing marketplace,” Johnson noted. She looks forward to helping her clients navigate these changes in 2018 and beyond, as well as continuing to be an active industry leader. Among her greatest accomplishments, Johnson cites the honor of having served as President of the South Carolina Bankruptcy Law Association.
Managing Member, Laurito & Laurito, LLC
“There is a special relationship built between attorneys and their clients, whether the client is an individual or a large corporation,” said Erin Laurito of Laurito & Laurito, LLC who has been practicing for 15 years. Laurito helps her clients navigate regulatory and compliance challenges and finds the most enriching part of her job to be solving problems. “There is nothing more satisfying to me than being part of a team of amazing people who use their individual strengths to find a solution for our clients that reduces their anxiety or reaches their desired goal,” said Laurito. Laurito got her love of problem solving from her father, also an attorney and though she attributes her desire to first practice law to him, her passion for the field deepened as she matured. “At first, I was captured by watching my dad leave for work each day, spending time as a child at his office, and listening to him solve problems. In college, I became very interested in business management and entrepreneurship, and a law firm lent itself to those passions and still does. In law school and after joining the firm, I learned that being a lawyer requires a propensity to analyze problems in certain way, and I believe I have that propensity,” shared Laurito.
MICHELLE A. MIERZWA
Partner, Wright, Finlay & Zak LLP
Michelle A. Mierzwa has been practicing law for over 19 years and has worked with mortgage lenders and servicers to ensure their compliance with state and federal laws. “I really enjoy helping clients to address new and existing laws through their policies, procedures and systems to ensure compliance and minimize risk of error, violation and liability,” Mierzwa said. Starting her career as a litigation and appellate attorney, Mierzwa ranks her first jury trial as one of her most memorable career highlights. “I obtained a 12-0 verdict in favor of the servicer and no one knew I was five months pregnant then,” Mierzwa shared. As a young professional processing loan originations Mierzwa was intrigued by lending regulations and title policy exceptions that were the basis for underwriting conditions. “I wanted to learn more about the foundational laws of the industry I ‘grew up in’ professionally and that’s when I decided to study this aspect of the law,” Mierzwa said. Looking into the future, Mierzwa feels that regulatory compliance will continue to be a pain point for the industry. “Even as federal regulations may come at a slower pace from the current administration, state regulators and legislators are increasingly interested in following lender and servicer conduct,” she said.
General Counsel and EVP, Arch Mortgage Insurance Company
Sara Millard began her career in the financial services sector on the eve of the financial crisis—a decision that proved to be both challenging and fortuitous for her. “As a young attorney, I could demonstrate my abilities earlier in my career than I would have under more favorable circumstances,” Millard said. In 2015, she helped her company introduce RateStarSM, a risk-based pricing solution. But it was her work in the team that positioned United Guaranty Corporation for sale to strategic buyers that proved to be the most fulfilling career highlight for Millard. “During this time, my role shifted to include mergers and acquisition activities, and provided an opportunity for me to continue developing as a legal professional,” Millard shared. She believes that the mortgage industry is set to leverage data to enhance the due diligence required before closing a loan and streamline consumers’ homebuying experiences. “Service providers associated with originating, servicing, and investing in loans must collaborate to fully leverage such advances,” Millard said, adding that housing finance reform was a critical, yet uncertain area in legislation. “Uncertainty is a key obstacle to the full return of private capital to the housing market. Legal professionals will have to navigate it and be prepared to change course, if potential legislative and executive actions are implemented in 2018,” said Millard, who along with her team is helping her firm navigate these uncertainties and prepare for possible reforms.
You can read the rest of the "Women in Law" feature in the January 2018 issue of DS News magazine, available by clicking here or on the image below.