Article Courtesy of The Orlando
By Richard Burnett
Published November 4, 2011
Peppered with complaints
by former clients, the KEL law firm has been forced to resign from the
Better Business Bureau of Central Florida — the first area law firm to
be ousted in the business-rating agency's 27-year history, the local BBB
chief has confirmed.
The resignation of Orlando-based KEL, formally known as Kaufman, Englett
& Lynd, from bureau membership followed a jump in the number of
complaints during the past year and the BBB's determination that KEL had
"failed to resolve the underlying cause(s) of a pattern of
complaints," the agency's latest report states. The agency gives the
firm an F rating — a rarity for a law firm.
|Although the firm has resolved all
but three of the 39 complaints filed against it during the
past three years, KEL's inability to slow the pace of the
complaints — 27 in the past 12 months — moved the BBB
to act in June, said Judy Pepper, the agency's chief
"Once a company no longer meets our standards, they
are not eligible to have the BBB accreditation," she
said. "We will give those companies the opportunity
to resign, or their membership will be revoked."
According to the BBB complaints,
many of the former clients accused the high-profile,
widely advertised law firm of charging thousands of
dollars in fees for foreclosure-defense and
mortgage-modification services that were poorly executed
or never provided.
associate attorney adds a case to the hearing scheduling board at
KEL in 2010 as lawyers, loss mitigation specialists and paralegals
worked on the 4,000 foreclosure cases.
"There's no doubt I am losing my house now because of
them," said Amanda Smith-Gillaspie of DeBary, who said she paid KEL
more than $3,500 last year to defend her home against foreclosure.
"They dropped the ball so many times, it was ridiculous. When I
wouldn't pay them another $3,500, they dropped me. Then I started working
directly with Citibank and found out KEL hadn't filed some of the
paperwork at all."
KEL has denied such allegations, according to the BBB. In cases where it
was accused of taking clients' money but doing nothing, the firm has cited
specific dates on which it filed modification paperwork with clients'
lenders. In some instances, the firm said, its clients provided erroneous
or inadequate financial information, which delayed the process.
A KEL representative said last week that the firm worked diligently to
address the complaints, which constituted only a tiny fraction of the
firm's 15,000 cases during the past three years. He acknowledged that KEL
had resigned from the bureau's accredited-membership program, but only as
"We disagree strongly with the bureau, and we removed our membership
because of the way this was being handled," spokesman Christian
Hertenstein said. "We stand by our work and the services we perform
for clients, and we always make a good-faith effort to resolve any issues
The 39 complaints against KEL fielded by the local BBB during the past
three years are more than for any other local law firm but one. The
Johnson Law Group of Orlando, a BBB nonmember that specializes in
debt-relief cases, has drawn 45 complaints during the same period —
along with an F rating from the BBB.
More than 330 law firms are listed as accredited members of the Central
Florida BBB — a designation that means they subscribe to the agency's
formal dispute-resolution process and maintain at least a B rating.
Overall, the bureau has files on nearly 2,800 law firms in an 11-county
region surrounding Orlando.
Karen Pintor of St. Cloud said she paid KEL $4,000 for foreclosure-defense
work. After a year, the firm said her lender had denied her request for a
mortgage modification, and the firm wanted more money to continue her
case. But Pintor said the lender later told her that her application had
been denied, in part, because KEL had missed a deadline for filing certain
She complained to the BBB, and KEL refunded her $1,000 — but Pintor was
"They made so many mistakes, I didn't feel they deserved any money
from me," she said. "I started working with my lender directly,
resubmitted the whole modification package, and did the legwork myself.
Within a month, I got approved; I saved my house myself."
In its response to the BBB about Pintor's case, KEL denied making any
errors. It blamed the problems on Pintor's incomplete financial documents
and delays by the lender in reviewing her application. In denying her a
full refund, it also cited her contract with KEL, which states that the
original fee was a "flat, nonrefundable rate earned upon
Larry Glinzman, a spokesman for Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida,
said it is unfortunate that people buy into the notion that they must pay
so much for legal help to save their home from foreclosure.
"The truth is many people really don't need a lawyer for
loan-modification assistance," he said. "Why hire a lawyer when
you can get help for free? Most people qualify for it these days; you can
call our agency and any number of agencies. We have a reduced-fee program,
as well, for people don't qualify for the free help."