How to Find A Good Debt Collection Attorney Near Me?
According to the United States Federal Reserve System, outstanding consumer credit in the country is currently well over $4.2 trillion. This figure has invariably led to an increase in debt recovery efforts. It is estimated that one out of every four civil cases in the United States court system is a debt collection case. In state trial courts alone, more than 3 million small claims cases were filed in 2019. Debt recovery through the legal system is not an easy task due to the complexities associated with this process, it is always best to hire a debt collection attorney near you to handle these matters.
Debt collection attorneys serve several purposes, and these include:
- Negotiating repayment arrangements with debtors
- Drafting and sending legally compelling letters to the debtors
- Providing professional advice on favorable courses of action
- Filing and initiating legal proceedings for debt collection lawsuits
- Carrying out debt collection legal proceedings when pre-litigation efforts break down
- Forcefully take possession of debtors' properties per legal provisions
Listed below are key inquiries to make when you want to hire ‘a good debt collection attorney near me’:
Where Are You Licensed to Practice Debt Collection in the State You Are?
Your debt collection attorney must be permitted by the relevant authorities to practice law in your state, and the federal courts where that becomes necessary. The American Bar Association (ABA) provides a license verification webpage to confirm whether or not an attorney near you is allowed to practice in your state of residence. If your debt collection case falls under a federal court’s jurisdiction, you can contact the federal court in question to verify the federal court licensure claims of an attorney.
To qualify for legal practice in any state, debt collection attorneys must scale through the Law School Admission Test, which is administered by the Law School Admission Council. After that, attorneys proceed to attend any law school accredited by the American Bar Association located within the state in question, after which they will have to take the state’s bar examination. Generally, states set a Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree as a state bar examination's prerequisite. However, some states may have additional requirements. For example, the Washington State Bar provides alternatives to graduating with a J.D degree like completing the APR 6 Law Clerk Program of the Washington Supreme Court. In Virginia, candidates that have practiced law full time for at least three of the immediately preceding five years in a qualified jurisdiction in the United States and have been admitted into the practice for a minimum of five years may be exempt from writing the state's bar examination. On the other hand, Nevada automatically disqualifies candidates that have been previously disbarred or refused admission into the law practice before any court in the country, or by a governmental agency for reasons bordering around a questionable character.
After passing the bar examination, the next step in the bar admission process and practicing law in the state is being sworn in by the state’s bar association. To practice in a federal court, attorneys must also be sworn in by the court in question. Note that federal courts may also have varying eligibility requirements. In the United States District Court of Nevada, for instance, a condition for admission into the court’s bar is that the attorney must have been admitted into practice before the Supreme Court of Nevada and must be of good moral and professional conduct. In the United States District Court of the Western District of Virginia, attorneys that wish to be sworn in before the court must also provide an attestation from at least two previously sworn-in attorneys on their moral conduct and professionalism.
Although debt collection suits are typically heard by state courts, federal courts may preside over matters where the parties to the case reside in different states or where the claim in question exceeds $75,000, In situations where the jurisdictions of these courts overlap, the plaintiffs may decide which court to file the case, while the defendants may also decide to remove the case to a federal court.
What Kind of Debt Collection Work Do You Handle?
Debts are of different dimensions, and debt collection practice is no different. Therefore, you have to consider the size and type of debt collection you wish to pursue and make sure that the debt collection attorney near you you are considering is capable of pursuing the case. Debt collection is typically classified by the size of the amount in question:
- Small claims: Below $5,000
- Medium claims: Between $5,000 and $25,000
- Large claims: Above $25,000
Debts can also be broadly classified by type, and they include personal debts and business debts. Debts such as auto loans, credit card debts, medical bills, mortgages, and student loans constitute personal debts, while trade credits and small equipment loans are examples of business debts. A debt collection attorney may therefore specialize in debt collection by type of debtor; retail collection for consumer debts, and commercial collection for business debts.
While it is not uncommon to find a debt collection attorney that has a broad scope of practice covering various debt sizes and types, you should always confirm that your intended attorney has experience in handling the particular type of debt that you need to recover.
How Long Have You Been in Practice?
The length of practice and years of experience of a debt collection attorney is a key determinant of how well they can handle any case. While a recently called-to-bar debt collection attorney may have a good understanding of the law and court processes, the specifics of your debt collection case may require more practical experience that can only be derived from past cases. As such, you should always find out how much practical experience your debt collection attorney has garnered. Many debt collection attorneys usually state this information on their professional websites or other public profile platforms.
Note that while the decision to hire a more experienced debt collection attorney near you may improve your chances of securing a favorable judgment, it also comes with higher fees.
Do You Charge Fixed or Hourly Fees?
Always find out how your debt collection attorney intends to charge for your services and come up with a payment agreement. This payment agreement should specify the attorney’s fee structure, the amount to be paid, or an estimate, payment options, and means of payment. The types of fee structures debt collection attorneys use include:
Flat Fee: This is used when you require a debt collection attorney to perform a defined task such as drafting a lawful letter or analyzing and advising on a specific matter. This is sometimes referred to as unbundled service, and debt attorneys typically charge flat fees which may be as low as $100, depending on the task at hand.
- Contingent Fee: With this type of payment structure, you agree to pay your attorney a specified portion of your recovered claim. In this type of arrangement, the attorney only gets paid after winning the case and recovering the debt. The specified portion is usually an average of 30% - 33%, but it can go as low as 15% for large claims and as high as 50% for small claims. However, with contingency fees, debt collection attorneys typically require the client to foot all the costs related to pursuing a lawsuit, such as filing costs, debtor service, bank levies, and debtor examination hearings. As such, you may be required to make a down payment, known as a retainer fee, that will be used to handle these expenses.
- Hourly Fee: While this is a preferred fee structure for some debt collection attorneys, it is usually financially straining for clients. With hourly fees, your attorney is paid for time spent on every task they perform. This includes drafting documents, appearing in court, serving debtors, and appearing for negotiations. As such, whether or not you win the case, your debt collection attorney gets paid. Per-hour rates cost an average of $120 - $350 and they are affected by factors such as your state, type of collection, and size of the claim.
Note that in some cases, the presiding judge may award you attorney fees in addition to your claim provided this agreement already exists between you and your debtor. The typical attorney fee awarded for debts below $25,000 ranges between $400 and $700, while higher attorney fees are awarded for higher debts.
Do You Charge for an Initial Consultation?
Debt collection attorneys differ in their decision of whether or not to charge for an initial consultation. An initial consultation is usually necessary to decide the right course of action, especially if the case involves complications such as extended period debts, loss of evidence, volatile and unpredictable personalities, and a close personal relationship with the debtor. Generally, a common condition is that you will not pay for the consultation if you end up retaining the attorney’s services. If otherwise, then the attorney's compensation would be the consultation fee.
Always ask the debt collection attorney near you from the get-go whether or not you will have to pay for an initial consultation and how much it will cost you.
How Do You Keep Clients Informed about Their Case?
Whether you are an individual, a small business owner, or a large business corporation, timely updates in your debt collection matter are essential. Case reporting is a critical component of quality legal service. According to the provisions of the Model Rules of Professional Conduct of the American Bar Association, attorneys are expected to keep their clients informed as their cases proceed. A change in case strategy or circumstances must also be duly communicated. Your debt collection attorney should also be available to give you the latest update regarding negotiations with the debtor and readily provide answers to your case inquiries.
Find out if the correspondence between you and your attorney will be maintained by email, text messages, or phone calls and how often you should expect to receive them. It is also a good idea to insist on text or mail correspondence being straight to the point and in a single thread, to facilitate quick case history reviews. In addition to this, your debt collection attorney should make the necessary provisions for emergency inquiries, such as who to contact under such situations.
Who Will Actually Do the Work?
It is not uncommon for attorneys, including debt collection attorneys near you, to enlist the help of legal assistants and paralegals on your case. These individuals usually assist with tasks like visiting your debtor's home or workplace, conducting background investigations, scheduling negotiation rounds, and handling relevant case documentation. Legal assistants and paralegals must work under the supervision of a licensed debt collection attorney who ensures that the client’s rights or chances in a case are not compromised and will be held responsible for any misconduct on the part of these auxiliary workers. Because legal assistants and paralegals are not licensed attorneys, they cannot charge similar fees for their services, and so you should find out whether their participation in your case will reduce your bill.
Can You Provide References from Former Clients?
Always request references of previously handled cases from your debt collection attorney. Any experienced attorney near you will gladly provide you with this information and an inability to provide authentic references should be an indication that an attorney is not as experienced as claimed.
Reach out to any references that you are provided with to get an overall review of the attorney’s service and professionalism. It helps to prepare a list of inquiries you would like to make before contacting these references. In addition to tailored references that an attorney may have provided you with, you can visit the attorney's law firm or personal professional websites for client reviews and testimonials. Third-party internet platforms like the Better Business Bureau that allow consumers to drop reviews about services they have used in the past are also a good source for getting debt collection attorney reviews. State bar associations can also provide information regarding whether or not an attorney has had complaints lodged or disciplinary actions taken against them in the past.
What Is Your Success Rate?
Asking this question will help you decide whether or not a debt collection attorney near you can help you achieve your desired outcome. Generally, an attorney’s success rate is determined by their reputation, debt collection philosophy and process, and debt recovery skills. Success in debt recovery suits includes securing a repossession order, wage garnishment order, or property possession. Let your attorney know beforehand what kind of judgment you would prefer and ask how many similar judgments this attorney has secured in the past.
You can authenticate your debt collection attorney's success rate claims by asking to see a list of clients served in the past, the types of claims involved, and the type of judgment secured. Contact these clients to verify this information. You may also access the records of these cases from the courthouses where they were heard to get more information. Note that accessibility to court records varies and in some cases, these records may have been sealed for confidentiality or protection.
When Should I Hire a Debt Collection Attorney?
Sometimes, it may seem enough to hire a debt collection agency near you to recover your debts. However, under certain circumstances, it is best to hire an experienced debt collection attorney that can legally and effectively pursue debt recovery for you. Some of these circumstances under which you will need the services of a debt collection attorney include:
- Sending legally binding letters such as a settlement proposal
- Exhaustion of every other debt collection alternative
- The need to have your debt recovered as quickly as possible
- Demonstrating to your debtor how determined you are to recuperate your money, a move which may compel quick resolution
Having initially hired a debt collection agency does not stop you from hiring a debt collection attorney. Your attorney will simply take over from where the collection agency has reached. Most collection agencies retain in-house law firms which help handle proper debt collection litigation.
What Are the Typical Qualifications Held by a Debt Collection Attorney?
The minimum requirement for admission into the legal practice includes the completion of a four-year college education and a three-year study in a law school accredited by the American Bar Association. After law school graduation, candidates must pass the state bar exams of the state in which they wish to practice, with each state having varying requirements for state bar admission. To be eligible to practice law in multiple states, attorneys must meet each state's requirements. Some states like Virginia allow reciprocity with other states in lieu of taking the bar examination again. Debt collection attorneys can also obtain specialization certification from the American Board of Certification. In addition to these educational qualifications, effective debt collection attorneys should also be skilled in the art of negotiation. This goes a long way in securing either a favorable pre-litigation agreement or a final court-imposed agreement.