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Professor Linda Fisher

Named a Bellow Scholar by the American Association of Law Schools

For more than a decade, Professor Linda Fisher of the Seton Hall Law Center for Social Justice has been fighting for the rights of homeowners who are facing foreclosure. In the past five years, as fraudulent and predatory lending practices have generated a wave of foreclosures nationally and taken a toll on our economy, Professor Fisher has seen first-hand how these unlawful practices can destroy entire neighborhoods.

As Professor Fisher advocated, on a case-by-case basis, for residents who are on the verge of losing their homes, she grew increasingly interested in the broader effects of the foreclosure process, particularly in the Newark area.

It was this growing interest that led her to consider a research project that would study the foreclosure process and its impact on neighborhoods. The project, entitled, “The Links Between the Foreclosure Process and Vacant and Abandoned Urban Properties,” won Professor Fisher the distinction of being named a Bellow Scholar, an honor given each year to academicians who seek to advocate for social justice in their communities.

The American Association of Law Schools’ Clinical Section named the scholarship award for Professor Gary Bellow, a pioneer in the clinical movement. Professor Bellow’s legacy, Harvard Law School’s community-based Hale and Dorr Legal Services Center, has served thousands of clients each year for more than two decades, while providing a high-quality clinical experience to hundreds of law students.

Every two years, the American Association of Law Schools (AALS) names several academicians as Bellow Scholars, recognizing efforts that address anti-poverty initiatives or access to justice projects that foster collaboration between lawyers and other professionals, and in which empirical analysis plays a key role. Professor Fisher explained the impetus for her research project: “I am intrigued by the intersection of social science and law, and by the cross-fertilization possible between academic researchers and clinical professors. This project combines empirical research and legal advocacy, allowing me to wear both hats. I’m excited by that.”

In conducting research, Professor Fisher is partnering with a professor from Rutgers University who has collected extensive data on foreclosures in the Upper Clinton Hill neighborhood of Newark. “This area was improving a few years ago, with rising homeownership, until the wave of subprime foreclosures began. Since then, the neighborhood has deteriorated, consistent with existing research demonstrating that foreclosures are a major factor in neighborhood decline.

“The first stage of my project examines the relationship between the foreclosure process and abandoned properties in this neighborhood. In particular, I am examining whether the uncertainty created by foreclosures that were filed but later abandoned by banks has contributed to property abandonment. Many homeowners have been put in a state of ‘limbo,’ not knowing the status of their mortgages or whether they still owned their homes. Well over 90 percent of New Jersey foreclosures are uncontested, meaning that very few homeowners have an attorney. Once a foreclosure is filed, homeowners sometimes believe they have no option other than to leave their home.” Ultimately, Professor Fisher will use her findings to propose and analyze legislative and regulatory reforms that can mitigate the domino effects of foreclosures and help prevent future crises.

As a Bellow Scholar, Professor Fisher will be encouraged to share her research and findings with other academics to solicit their feedback and input, and also, to guide others who wish to pursue similar social justice projects.

Learn more about the Seton Hall Law Center for Social Justice.