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Mortgage Giant Restocks General Counsel Role During Pandemic

Sept. 21, 2020, 10:02 AM

Guaranteed Rate Inc., one of the largest retail mortgage lenders in the U.S., hired Sidley Austin partner Frank Favia Jr. as general counsel.

Favia joined the Chicago-based company this month as mortgage lenders across the country cope with a surge in demand amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Abigail Hart, a Guaranteed Rate spokeswoman, said the company has expanded its legal department to support its “rapid growth and new ventures.”

Favia takes over from Neil Hayes, who remains with Guaranteed Rate as chief counsel for corporate, a role that Hart said will see him focus on corporate and transactional matters.

Neither Hayes, a former deputy general counsel at Sears Holding Corp. who joined Guaranteed Rate as legal chief in 2016, nor Favia, who spent 14 years in Sidley’s business litigation and investigations group, responded to requests for comment.

Favia, in a message posted to his LinkedIn profile earlier this month, said he’ll serve on Guaranteed Rate’s executive management team and “lead the legal department of nearly 20 (and growing) talented in-house attorneys and staff.”

Rebecca Blabolil remains in her role as chief compliance officer, Hart said. She noted that Guaranteed Rate has brought on other talent in recent months.

C-Suite Expansion

Outside the legal group, Guaranteed Rate announced Feb. 28 its addition of former Philadelphia real estate lawyer Joseph Grassi III as chief risk officer, a newly created role at the 7,500-employee company.

Grassi joined Guaranteed Rate after almost two years as a principal deputy general counsel at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. He previously spent over 20 years at Fannie Mae, where he rose to deputy general counsel and interim general counsel..

Guaranteed Rate also hired former Kelley Drye & Warren partner Randall Lehner in May as an associate general counsel for litigation and recruited former Allstate Corp. corporate litigation counsel Yesha Hoeppner the following month as senior counsel for litigation. Both lawyers are based in Chicago.

Guaranteed Rate has grappled with several legal issues this year, including a $15 million False Claims Act settlement and a setback in a trademark dispute.

Mayer Brown and labor and employment-focused Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart have each handled nearly 23% of Guaranteed Rate’s U.S. litigation portfolio within the past five years, according to Bloomberg Law data.

Ice Miller; Kelley Drye; and Gordon Rees Scully Mansukhani are other law firms that have frequently appeared in court for the company in recent years.

Real Estate Recruits

Guaranteed Rate’s new additions are the latest in a series of legal recruits in the U.S. real estate sector, which has been hit hard by Covid-19.

  • Americor Funding Inc. announced Sept. 16 its addition of general counsel and chief compliance officer Nima Vahdat, who most recently held the same role at Impac Mortgage Holdings Inc., where former special counsel Gregory Walker left Impac earlier this year to become legal and compliance chief for Sprout Mortgage LLC. Irvine, Calif.-based Americor provides debt consolidation services.
  • Broadmark Realty Capital Inc., a Rockville, Md.-based real estate investment trust, announced Sept. 8 its hire of Nevin Boparai as chief legal officer. Boparai spent nearly the past half-dozen years as an associate general counsel for corporate and securities at Ventas Inc., a Louisville-based REIT that hired a new legal chief of its own earlier this year.
  • The Texas Pacific Land Trust disclosed in a securities filing this summer its hire of Kelley Drye’s Houston office managing partner Michael Dobbs as general counsel. Dobbs, who moved into his in-house leadership role Aug. 1 and remains a consultant to Kelley Drye, was previously a name partner at a Houston firm that merged with Kelley Drye in late 2016.
  • Velocity Financial Inc., a Westlake Village, Calif.-based mortgage solutions provider that owns Velocity Mortgage Capital, announced July 7 its addition of Roland Kelly as general counsel and corporate secretary. Kelly joined Velocity after nearly 20 years at Jefferies Financial Group Inc., where he was most recently a managing director, associate general counsel, and assistant secretary.

To contact the reporter on this story: Brian Baxter in New York at bbaxter@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Chris Opfer at copfer@bloomberglaw.com

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