Few consumers expect to wind up in debt. When a debt is in collections for more than 180 days, the creditor can sue the debtor in civil court in an attempt to force him or her to pay up. When this happens, it’s important to take action immediately to avoid wage garnishments, property liens, and other serious consequences.
Hiring a debt lawsuit defense attorney is the best way to resolve legal disputes with debt collectors. Read on to find out what debtors need to know before they hire a lawyer.
Time Is of the Essence
When debtors receive notices from the court that a collection agency has filed a lawsuit, they need to act quickly. The summons that accompanies the complaint should indicate deadlines for responses. Make sure to meet them, because those who don’t could have judgments entered against them by the court. Contact Ben Trotter to schedule a consultation as soon as possible.
Most debt lawsuit attorneys offer free consultations. During this initial meeting, the attorney will estimate the cost of defending the client based on factors like how much money the debtor owes, whether the case is likely to go to trial, and whether the client has a legal right to file a counterclaim.
There are three primary ways that law offices charge for their services. Some charge by the hour, while others charge a flat fee regardless of how long it takes to resolve the suit, and others charge by the result. Those who plan to file counterclaims for illegal debt collection or unfair trade practices may be able to pay their attorneys’ fees using their damage compensation if they win.
It’s usually best to work with an attorney who charges a flat fee. This is the most transparent form of fee schedule. Expect to make a down payment, then schedule monthly payments to finish paying off the attorney fees. Debt defense attorneys habitually work with low-income clients, so they almost always offer monthly payment plans.
What to Expect
Consumer defense attorneys know that time is of the essence when it comes to debt lawsuits. They’ll start working on the case as soon as possible after the client signs his or her contract for services. It’s easier to work with attorneys if clients know what to expect throughout the process.
The Initial Consultation
New clients should bring all the paperwork they have pertaining to the debt in question to their initial consultations. That may include the summons, correspondence from creditors or collection agencies, and personal statements.
New clients should also expect to answer a few questions about their financial situations. They may include:
- How old is the debt?
- What transaction gave rise to the debt?
- Have the debt collectors acted out of line?
- Is the client facing any other debt charges?
What is the maximum amount that could be paid to the creditor in the event of a settlement?
At the end of this initial meeting, clients who choose to move forward will be asked to sign a retainer agreement. This agreement is a legally binding contract that should spell out the details of the fee arrangement and what’s expected from both parties.
As the Case Proceeds
Expect the attorney to stay in touch as the case proceeds. Communications may come in the form of phone calls or emails. A reputable attorney will provide timelines for important events, answer clients’ questions, and return phone calls as promptly as possible. Good attorneys may not be able to answer every call themselves since they typically have busy schedules, but someone in the office should be able to tell the client how the case is proceeding and when the attorney will be able to call back.
Paying Off Legal Fees
The attorney will do everything possible to resolve the debt either through a settlement or in court. He or she may also be able to file a counterclaim if the debt collector has behaved unethically or broken laws regarding fair collection practices. Regardless of the outcome of the case, though, clients will have to make their monthly payments on time until the remainder of their legal fees has been paid off.
Benefits of Hiring a Debt Defense Attorney
Not sure if it’s worth hiring an attorney to get legal help with resolving a debt lawsuit? While it’s true that those in substantial amounts of debt don’t tend to have much extra working capital to pay for legal services, it’s almost always worth spending the money to hire a professional. Here are three of the top reasons it’s worth paying the legal fees.
1. Get on an Equal Footing
Collection companies have entire teams of lawyers on retainer. Consumers who choose to go it alone will often find themselves out of their leagues. Debt collection attorneys know every intricacy of the relevant laws, including debtors’ rights and legal protections, and years of experience defending similar clients. They’ll be able to tap into that knowledge to help new clients resolve debt lawsuits more favorably.
2. Determine the Best Legal Strategy
There are a few defense strategies available to debtors facing lawsuits. A consumer defense lawyer will be able to explain all of them and identify the best one. He or she will be able to get to the bottom of complicated claims and identify weak points in the collection agency’s arguments, such as:
- Debt that is too old to collect on
- Collection agencies operating on bad information
- Debtors who already paid off their loans
- Collection agencies filing lawsuits against the wrong consumers
3. Identify Counterclaims
If a debt collector has violated the Telephone Consumer Protection Act or the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, the debtor may be able to file a counterclaim. An attorney can help with that, as well.
The Bottom Line
Every debtor who has been served a summons on a debt collection lawsuit should consider hiring a lawyer. It’s the best way to come up with an effective defense strategy and increase the chances of a favorable outcome no matter how much, or how little, debtors owe.