Seven Insider Tips: How to Hire an Attorney to Fight a Debt Collector
Quite often, I will chat with the consumer, and offer what general assistance that I can. If I personally know a consumer attorney in their area, I will make a phone call on behalf of the consumer. My staff is also as helpful as they can be in pointing them in the right direction for their needs.
* Hire a specialist. That means a consumer attorney or a debt defense attorney. Quite often, consumers turn to attorneys that their families or friends have hired for general legal services. The problem here is, debt defense is very possible–if you know what to look for. Think of it this way. You probably have a family doctor that you visit for physicals and general checkups, right? But if you knew you needed your appendix removed, would you call your family doctor and ask him to do the surgery? NO! You would contact a surgeon–a specialist. (Note: “specialist” has a particular meaning in the legal profession, and there is no “specialty” in consumer law; what is meant is an attorney who routinely practices in the field and has already handled hundreds of cases similar to yours.)
* Start keeping detailed records. NOW. One piece of general advice that I offer anyone who calls my office, from any state, parish, municipality or country is to start keeping detailed records, notes, and voicemails regarding the debt collectors they are encountering. For one thing, it is evidence, and might be needed if your case ends up in court. For another thing, if you are trying to hire a very busy consumer attorney in your area, and you show up for your consultation with detailed records, they are more likely to take your case, and likely to trust that you are willing to do what is needed on your end to gather proof of harassment, abuse, etc.
* Visit www.naca.net. This is the website for the National Association of Consumer Attorneys. On the home page, you will see a tab near the top labeled “Find an Attorney”. When you click on this tab, enter your state in the appropriate box, and then — very important!! — make a selection from the “Areas of Practice” list to the right. This will help you reach a consumer attorney who specializes in debt defense, rather than an unrelated area of consumer law. Chances are, you will find what you need under the “debt collection” tab (just choose the “select all” option), or the “garnishment” tab if that is your area of need. After clicking the “search” button, you will see a list of attorneys in your state, and a click on a name will reveal more information, and contact telephone number.This is the starting point I recommend when I am contacted by a consumer living in a state where I have no personal knowledge of a colleague to recommend. If I do ,however, I am more than happy to recommend a known consumer attorney, and make a phone call on your behalf.
* Don’t wait until it is too late. If you’re reading this, chances are you’re stressed about something regarding debt collection–whether you’re being called endlessly by harassing collectors, your wages have been garnished, or you’ve been served a summons, something has got you reading this blog. So–take action NOW. Contact a consumer attorney NOW. Don’t wait, don’t bury your head in the sand, don’t hope that your problem will go away. A consumer attorney can tell you where you stand, how worried you need to be, how quickly you need to take action, and can quite possibly relieve some stress within the first meeting about your case.
* Do hire an attorney. Don’t go it alone. There are many consumer advocates and websites for those facing debt defense issues that give spot on advice. Many of my clients are so on top of the procedures, statutes, policies and case law that yes, they are definitely smart enough and well-informed enough to make a strong argument in court. I still urge you to consult with a consumer attorney. There are subtle but definite advantages to having legal representation. Consumer attorneys fight these battles day in, and day out. Consumer attorneys know the players in the game. They are familiar with the judges in the courtrooms. They can advise you on best and worst case scenarios based on perhaps hundreds or thousands of other debt defense cases they have experience with. In some cases, a consumer attorney will waive his or her fee.
* Don’t assume you can’t afford an attorney–help can be free. In harassment and abuse cases the consumer attorneys’ fees you incur are generally paid for by the debt collectors, and few consumer attorneys will actually seek to recover their fees, from you. Most debt defense attorneys charge the consumer for defense of a lawsuit, but in some circumstances can collect their fees from the debt collector suing you. Consumer attorneys are passionate about helping those in need. Most consumer attorneys understand that people are individuals who got in over their head either by misfortune or bad decisions. Depending on the case, and the desired result, representation by a competent attorney may or may not be available at no cost. However, a well prepared client with lots of notes, call logs, legally obtained audio recordings, and saved voicemail messages certainly will be a more attractive client on a contingent fee basis, than a client who simply says “they keep calling me!” without being able to document at least some of the abuse.
* KISS (Keep It Simple…) Only tell the attorney the facts that they ask you to tell. Generally, a lawyer can represent you without knowing exactly when and how you got into debt. It does not generally matter why you are in debt, so long as the debts incurred are personal rather than business related. Consumer protection laws only apply to personal debts, such as restaurants, clothes, rent, entertainment, but not to debts related to business ventures. Consumer protection violations can frequently outweigh the debt, and in some circumstances actual valid debts can be eliminated simply with identifying a potential FDCPA violation, if your lawyer is skilled.