Federal Reserve image.

My practice area is a pretty goofy little niche, and explaining it to colleagues gets me into the occasional comedy of errors.  Really, odd conversations tend to follow my CLE lectures.

Or bar association happy hours.

Or tours of farwaway legislative chambers.

It happens all the time.  I’ll mention what I do, and the colleague I just met will express appreciation for what I described, tell me it’s a really neat niche, and then try to convince himself (or herself) that our practice areas don’t overlap.

I’m here to tell you that, yes, they do.  The banter usually goes something like this:

Sorry, Aaron.  I handle creditors’ rights, not immigration.  But thanks for doing that CLE.  You’re a funny guy.  

Well, I appreciate that, Stewie.  I’m glad you enjoyed it.  (But inside:  Funny how?  I’m a clown?  I amuse you?)

No, I mean I really like how you got that picture of Ned Stark into your slide deck!

Wait a sec, there, pal.  First of all… immigration?  You’re kidding, right?  You did just sit through my lecture on international law, right?  Those are not the same concepts.  (He’s not kidding, sadly.*)

This is Boromir, from the Fellowship of the Ring. It is not Ned Stark.

More importantly, though, what I do has direct bearing on your debt collection practice.  A huge impact, especially in places where lots of foreign citizens borrow from local and national lenders.  Allow me to illustrate…

Let’s say your client is a bank or a mortgage outfit.  Let’s also say they’re in Branson, Missouri (or pick just about any in-demand resort area, whether in the Ozarks or out on the coast).  They specialize in lending to folks who want a vacation property on a picturesque waterfront.  The bank loans a huge chunk of money to a Ukrainian fellow who just can’t get enough of the Baldknobbers (it’s a thing in southwest Missouri… just trust me) and the comedic stylings of Yakov Smirnoff.  It seems this guy’s wife fell in love with a beautiful six bedroom cabin on Table Rock Lake, so they cashed in a few savings bonds and bought the place.

Thirteen months into the mortgage, Mrs. Ukrainian Lady decides that Kiev is more to her liking than Branson, so the couple hightails it east toward their homeland.  They stop making mortgage payments, and a year later, your client wants to cut its losses.  What do you do?

Well, the first thing you have to do is get a foreclosure suit filed (this illustration really could be any kind of collection action, but if I can promote tourism in my state with some down-home flavor, all the better).  All Missouri counties now have e-filing, so that’s not a tough undertaking.

Next, you get the court to issue a summons to the borrower.  The clerk is happy to e-mail you the thing via CaseNet.

And now things get interesting.  Service of process, you say?

Sure, it’s an in rem action, but you can’t just nail the summons to the front door of the cabin and say you’ve served process.  You also can’t serve by publication until you’ve made a reasonable effort to serve personally.  Your defendant has gone back to Ukraine, and you have to at least try to serve him there, because your client didn’t think to have him designate an agent for service in the mortgage agreement.  You find out that Ukraine is party to the Hague Service Convention, which is mandatory doctrine if you’re serving a defendant in a country that’s signed onto it.  Ukraine objects to service by mail, so that option’s off the table, and your only remaining choice is a request to Ukraine’s Hague Central Authority.

Fortunately, the Ukrainians are pretty liberal about the language issue, so you may not have to shell out a thousand bucks for a translation.  And they get the job done when you ask nicely (unlike their Russian counterparts).  But you still have to fill out your USM-94 correctly.  That’s a big one.  Very important, the USM-94.

Then you sit and wait, while your client sits on a mortgage they can’t foreclose for at least six more months.  And if you don’t even try to get him served, you’ll have a tough time getting the judge to proceed without that indispensable defendant.

This is Ned Stark.


* A huge segment of the practicing bar thinks that international law is immigration law, and immigration law is international law.  My local bar association even conflates the two ideas in its committee structure.  This is so baffling that both the international lawyers and the immigration lawyers in town have given up trying to convince everybody else.