“Why handle your FDCPA case on your own?”

“Why handle your FDCPA case on your own?”

"Why handle your FDCPA case on your own?"Occasionally we will get calls or emails from consumers who say they believe they have a valid FDCPA (Fair Debt Collection Practices Act) case and they either tell us they will handle it on their own or they ask what we think about it.

Let’s talk about the two motivating factors the drive this desire to handle the case “pro se” — without a lawyer — and then we’ll talk about whether it makes sense to do this.

Motivating Factor — Don’t Rely On Anyone Else — Rely On Yourself

Sometimes we like to do things on our own.  For example:

  • Make our own food
  • Heal ourselves instead of going to the doctor
  • Handle our own investments
  • Change the oil in our car instead of going to a mechanic
  • Or as the picture suggests, do our own home projects instead of hiring a contractor

Is it smart or not so smart to handle matters on our own?

It depends on the complexity and our skills, doesn’t it?

If you have a hang nail, that’s different than if you are having a heart attack.  Sticking your finger with a needle different than cutting off your fingers with a saw.

So as you consider handling a FDCPA case on your own, what is the level of complexity?

And what is your skill?

Level of complexity — you will be in federal court where the rules of procedure are strictly enforced.  Many lawyers don’t like being in federal court because of this.  The lawyers (almost always more than one) on the other side will normally be experienced in defending FDCPA cases and they love when it is a “pro se” person on the other side in federal court.

If you bring the case in state court, understand that the defendant debt collector can move the case to federal court.  They don’t need your permission — it is an absolute right to “remove” a case to federal court when a federal statute (such as the FDCPA) is involved.

While there are more complicated cases, FDCPA cases are much more complicated than a car wreck case because of all the legal issues involved and the fact that you will be in federal court.

Level of your skill litigating cases — how many times have you been to court?  Are you involved in the court process in your work?

There are books you can read and probably some training courses that will claim to teach you about handling your own case in federal court.  I have rarely seen someone on their own in federal court be successful but you have to make your own judgment call on whether you have the skill and time to do this.

We do have to consider the money aspect — will you save money by not hiring a lawyer?

Motivating Factor — Don’t Spend Money On Attorney Fees

A common complaint about any person with specialized skill (accountant, doctor, financial advisor, mechanic, etc) is the cost of us gaining access to that skill.

The old joke about the doctor who had a plumbing leak.  He calls a plumber, who fixes the problem and gives the doctor the bill.

“What??!!  That’s more than I make as a surgeon!”

Plumber calmly says, “That’s more than I made when I did surgeries also.”


Aren’t lawyers expensive?

Generally so.

We have folks hire us for $400 an hour and some projects are done on a flat fee that can exceed $10,000.

So the concept of doing an FDCPA case on your own is that you will save money on your case.

But do you really?

In an FDCPA case you, if successful, will receive statutory damages of up to $1,000 total.  Not per violation.  But total for the whole case.  These damages are for you even if you cannot prove any actual harm by the violations of the law.  These damages are known as “bounty hunter” damages.

If you have actually been damaged, you can receive actual or compensatory damages to compensate you for your loss.

Lawyers who do FDCPA cases handle these on a contingency basis so doesn’t this take money out of your pocket when you settle?

Let’s look at these “objections” or “motivations” and see if they are valid for you in your situation.

Who Should You Rely On?

Given the complexity of litigating a case in federal court (ever hear the expression “Making a federal case out of it?”) then you need to make sure you have someone who knows what they are doing.

There are some cases you can do on your own — for example if you have been sued by a debt collector (debt buyer) then two of your five options involve handling it on your own.

I suggest to you, however, that federal court is not where you want to have someone (even yourself) who does not know what they are doing.  You don’t operate on yourself and being in federal court is the most complex form of litigation.

We often get cases from lawyers who started the case off in state court, then it got sent to federal court, and they refuse to litigate in federal court.  The reason is it is easy to miss the rules, miss the deadlines, and the consequences tend to be much more severe than with state court.

But is saving the money on attorney fees worth the risk?  Let’s see . . . .

Does An Attorney Cost You Money In An FDCPA Case?


“But doesn’t the attorney take a fee — a percentage?”

Yes — but it still doesn’t cost you anything or at least it should not.

Let me explain.

We talked about damages you can recover — statutory and actual/compensatory — you also can recover attorney fees to pay your attorney.  So if you are successful, which is the only time a lawyer will be paid, then either the court will award fees, or that will be built into the settlement.

If you don’t have an attorney you cannot recover attorney fees.

Another thing to consider is we, for example, rarely bring only FDCPA cases.  We normally look for other types of claims we can bring that will bring in additional money damages for you.

For example:

  • Fair Credit Reporting Act (statutory damages and punitive damages)
  • Telephone Consumer Protection Act (damages of $500-1500 per call)
  • Invasion of privacy and other state law claims that can provide punitive damages
  • Etc

My suggestion is have an understanding with your lawyer as to the minimum amount you will take in a settlement and if the other side won’t settle, then know that you should get an award of attorney fees that will pay for your lawyer.  Even beyond this, you would expect to get a higher award of total damages with an experienced FDCPA lawyer than without.

We have represented hundreds of clients and we have trained well over a hundred lawyers in using the FDPCA and in all that time we have not had a client say, “Wow, I wish I had handled this case on my own because you cost me money.”

My point is investigate before assuming that hiring a lawyer will cost you money — I’m confident you will discover hiring a lawyer in an FDCPA will create more money for you than if you handled the case on your own.

Bottom Line — If You Have A Valid Case, What Should You Do?

First, find out if you have a valid case.  Talk with an FDCPA lawyer who can help you understand whether your case is valid or not.  Unfortunately there are a lot of self proclaimed experts who only understand a small part of the law.  So find out, at no charge, whether you have a case.

Second, decide who is going to help you.  If you are handling on your own, that’s fine.  Just understand the time commitments and the consequences if you lose in federal court as you can owe the defendants thousands of dollars.  If you want to hire a lawyer, hire someone who inspires confidence in you that they know what they are doing and will be helpful to you throughout the process.

If you live in Alabama or the case is going to brought in Alabama, give us a call at 205-879-2447 or contact us through our website — we look forward to speaking with you.

Thanks for reading, and have a great day!

-John G. Watts


  1. jose says:

    do you do possible cases in the State of La.? If not, can you advise of other lawyers in my State. Thanks.

Leave a Comment