Today I was at the court attending a garnishment hearing on behalf of a client. I got there a little bit early and was reviewing the docket posted outside the courtroom by the clerk of the court. The morning’s calendar was full of debt collection cases – mostly filed by debt buyers like Unifund CCR, Midland Funding, Portfolio Recovery Associates, and a host of other junk debt buyers.
Something I noticed is that with the exception of my client none of the consumers were represented by an attorney. That being the case it was no surprise when I went into the courtroom and realized that only a couple of the consumers/defendants were in attendance at their court hearing. Once the court’s calendar began the judge proceeded through the docket in a rapid-fire way granting garnishments and judgments in favor of the junk debt buyers.
Having represented consumers for nearly fifteen years I know why so few people hire a lawyer to represent them in court.
It almost always boils down to one of these three reasons:
Consumers Don’t Know What Their Options Are in Debt Collection Lawsuits
Many people avoid fighting back against junk debt buyers simply because they aren’t sure exactly what they are supposed to do. The legal system can be intimidating and the junk debt buyer is always represented by an attorney.
Immediately the playing field is not level because the debt buyer’s attorney is well versed in the court’s procedures, policies, and the law surrounding debt buyer cases while you are not.
Many consumers have strong defenses to the junk debt buyer’s allegations but unless they are properly presented it is difficult to prevail in your case. Often it comes down to the fact that people don’t know what to do so they end up doing nothing.
Lawyers are Too Expensive
There is just no getting around it – lawyers can be very expensive. As a practicing attorney I understand why lawyers charge so much, although I think we as a profession could a much better job informing the public on the value of legal representation and how a lawyer can improve their legal situation.
This concern is especially valid when dealing with debt issues like bankruptcy, debt collection lawsuits, wage garnishment, and other debt related problems.
I often get the question from clients “I can’t pay my basic living expenses, how am I going to be able to pay you?”.
This is a valid concern and makes hiring a lawyer difficult – if not impossible – for many people who are struggling to make ends meet.
Consumers Aren’t Even Aware That the Lawsuit Exists
Much of my days are spent with people who are completely shocked to have received notice of a wage garnishment even though they have never been served with a lawsuit.
This happens for a number of reasons but mostly likely because the junk debt buyer has a bad address and obtains permission from the court to serve by sending a copy of the complaint and summons to that address (even though everyone is fully aware that you don’t live there).
You don’t respond to the complaint, the court enters a default, and BAM! You are facing a wage garnishment. There are options on how to get the judgment vacated (eliminated) but the process is not user-friendly and difficult to do for people who don’t work in the law every day.
The Legal System in Out of Balance When it Comes to Consumer Debt Collection Cases
Our court system runs most effectively when both sides to a dispute are equally footed and can present their claims and defenses so that a judge/jury can make an informed decision. When one side gets too strong the entire system gets out of balance.
This is the current state of the court system when it comes to debt collection lawsuits. The debt collectors have the upper hand in almost every area:
- Debt collection law firms are active in the creation and adoption of local rules of civil procedure that end up being very creditor-friendly
- Because so many consumers do not participate in the process or don’t have legal representation the overwhelming majority (90%+) of debt collection lawsuits end in a default judgment. It is easy to see how courts can fall into a habit of ruling on behalf of creditors when so few consumers fight back against the allegations.
- Arizona justice courts often allow junk debt buyers to skip out on the mediation process while at the same time requiring the consumer to appear with counsel – rarely resulting in a fair opportunity to settle the case.
- Rarely is the week case of the junk debt buyer exposed to the court and the court falls into the trap of thinking “this is just how business is done.” (I have actually had a judge state those very words to me).
- The frustrating thing is that there seems to be little no interest in changing how things are done.
Imagine if we had this type of system in the criminal justice area of law. In most criminal cases the defendant is guilty of some varying degree of crime. Despite this the court goes to great lengths to protect the rights of criminal defendants. We can’t even imagine a person facing a prosecutor without an attorney and the court judge rubber-stamping a conviction.
Yet this happens multiple times per day in Arizona courts. The attitude is often “well, they must owe someone” (I have also had a judge say those exact works to me) and a judgment is entered.
So What Should You Do?
When the odds are stacked against you it is important that you use every one of the limited advantages you have. I understand that in many cases people either can’t afford an attorney to represent them or it simply doesn’t make sense to bring a lawyer on board because the amount in dispute is relatively small.
Even in these situations you can dramatically improve your end result if you adequately prepare your defense and present it in a coherent way.
In hopes of helping the situation I offer legal coaching services for people who are representing themselves in court.
Legal coaching services allows you to substantially save on the cost associated with hiring an attorney by doing some of the leg work yourself but at the same time having an attorney there to assist you with document preparation, case strategy, hearing/trial preparation, and someone there to answer all of your questions.
Going to court can cause a lot of anxiety, but having a legal coach in your corner make the process much smoother and give you the best chance for a positive result.
Check out some of our online courses and legal coaching services below:
LEARN HOW TO REPRESENT YOURSELF IF YOU ARE BEING SUED BY A DEBT COLLECTOR
Learn How to draft an Answer in a Debt Collection Lawsuit
Learn How to Draft a Response to a Motion for Summary Judgment
Proven Strategies for Settling Debt Without Filing for Bankruptcy
Learn How to Vacate a Default Judgment