Lending Assistance: Head of firm's mortgage banking group stays in step with the times


By Tom Kirvan
Legal News

She once was a professional dancer, admittedly equally at ease as a leader or a follower.

Nowadays, Lise Barrera is in a decidedly leadership role with Jaffe, Raitt, Heuer, & Weiss, heading the Southfield-based firm’s Mortgage Banking Group, helping advise a wide range of clients on complex legal matters that cut across the lending and real estate spectrums.

Her current responsibilities would seem to represent an interesting career twist for the Texas native, who grew up in the city of Laredo on the Rio Grande River and appeared destined for a life as a professional dancer or dance instructor.

“I was involved in dance since the time I was 3 years old,” says Barrera. “It was a way of life for me for many years.”

So much so that she dropped out of college at Texas A & M University to pursue her dance dream, relocating to Columbus, Ohio, site of the world pro/am championship each November and birthplace of many dancing careers.

“I dropped out of school against the better judgment of my parents, who weren’t exactly enthralled with my decision,” Barrera says with a slight smile. “I figured that I probably would never be able to live with myself if I hadn’t given it a try. It was a childhood dream of mine.”

Over a four-year period, Barrera served as a dance instructor for several well-known studios while also competing professionally in ballroom dance contests in the Midwest and along the East Coast. For good measure, she resumed her undergraduate studies upon moving to Michigan, earning a bachelor’s degree in English from Wayne State University in 1994, graduating summa cum laude while receiving Phi Beta Kappa distinction.

“I really crammed two years of academic work into one, taking 22 credits one semester,” says Barrera, who admits to being an “over-achiever.”

It was then time to decide whether to pursue a Ph.D. in English with a mind toward a career in academia or a somewhat more practical notion of attending law school.

“My father really thought I had the skill set to do well in the law, so he encouraged me to go to law school,” Barrera says. “I was fortunate to get into all the schools that I applied to and decided to go to Wayne State, which turned out to be a fabulous place to learn about the law. It really was the place for me.”

Following her second year at Wayne State, Barrera served as a summer associate for Jaffe, gaining exposure to the firm’s banking, finance, and business transaction specialties. The experience dovetailed neatly with her studies at WSU, where she graduated cum laude in 1997 as a member of the law review.

“I really enjoyed the transactional (law) classes at Wayne and saw that area as a likely career path for me,” Barrera says.

And logically, Jaffe would prove to be the launch pad for her law career, affording her the opportunity to develop expertise in mortgage banking and regulatory compliance matters.

“I, again, have been fortunate to work with a number of wonderful lawyers with the firm, all of whom have been willing to share their knowledge and wisdom with me,” says Barrera, who counts Jaffe partner Gail Morris among her legal mentors. “This has been a great place to learn and grow, and to be constantly challenged as changes in banking and business laws are enacted.”

Needless to say, there has been no shortage of legal work for banks and other lenders as they deal with increasingly complex regulatory compliance issues that have sprung from the recent economic meltdown.

“Banking, by nature, is one of the most heavily regulated industries, which makes our role in offering legal guidance particularly important in today’s marketplace,” Barrera explains. “In light of what has happened in the mortgage and real estate markets over the last few years, the need to stay on top of compliance issues has become even greater.”

Her client list includes regional and community banks, credit unions, investment funds, title insurance companies, appraisal firms, and the like, all determined to stay in step with ever-changing laws in the financial services and real estate fields.

“We anticipate that there will be even greater changes ahead,” Barrera says of the expected legislative response to the nation’s economic difficulties. “Lending practices and real estate ventures are going to come under greater scrutiny as part of the fallout from the last few years. As a lawyer, this isn’t a practice that you can dabble in. It has become too complex for that as government oversight efforts increase.”

A resident of Berkley, Barrera may have gained an appreciation for the role of government as a byproduct of her father’s career as a city planner for Laredo. His government work came after a stint as a Navy officer.

“He spent the early part of his career in the Navy, eventually transferring into the Navy Reserves before retiring as a captain,” Barrera says of her father, Al. “After his work as a city planner, he formed his own import-export business, specializing in brick and masonry products. He still has his hand in the business.”

Barrera’s mother, Barbara, grew up in the Bay Area of California, enjoying a career as a neo-natal nurse and then as a high school health education instructor.

One of four children, Barrera has two sisters and a brother. Her sister, Ali, is a professor and holds a pair of doctoral degrees from the University of Chicago, traditionally one of the top academic institutions in the country. Her younger sister, Tessa, an honors graduate from Stanford University, is a media strategist in New York City. Her brother, Fred, earned his law degree from South Texas College of Law and is an executive with a workers’ compensation company in Houston.

“I’m very proud of my sisters and brother for what they accomplished in their careers,” says Barrera. “They continue to inspire me.”

An avid gardener and mountain biker, Barrera likewise has found spiritual inspiration from her volunteer work at St. John’s Hospice. Barrera, who belongs to a monthly book club and particularly enjoys historical novels and other works of non-fiction, became involved with the hospice facility several years ago as part of Jaffe’s 40th anniversary celebration. The firm marked the milestone in 2008 by committing each of its lawyers and staff members to donate at least 40 hours of volunteer service on behalf of a local nonprofit or charitable organization.

“It has been such an enriching experience for me to be involved with the hospice program at St. John’s,” says Barrera, a yoga enthusiast. “It has given me a deep appreciation for the role of caregivers and the lengths they go to in helping patients and their families during life’s final stages. I’ve learned so much from my visits with patients and in helping out anyway I can. I really have been blessed to be part of such important work.”