Alabama Debt Collection Lawsuits — Part Seven — Hiring Lawyer To Fight The Lawsuit
- What is the collection lawsuit
- What does being served mean
- Overview of your five options
- Fighting the lawsuit on your own
- Settling the collection lawsuit on your own
IF I HIRE A LAWYER TO FIGHT THE CASE…
“How will I know if I have a good chance to win the collectin lawsuit or not?”
It’s a great question, and it’s a little bit challenging in this sense. You’re in a new world here. You’re in court. In the middle of a lawsuit. And so you’re hiring somebody who is a professional in this, so in a lot of ways, you have to trust that professional. You need to ask them, “Hey, what are my chances of success?”
Now quite likely they will ask you questions such as:
- Do you really owe the underlying debt?
- When did you last make a payment (looking at the statute of limitation)?
- What documentation have you received from the debt collector?
All sorts of questions a lawyer will ask you to then be able to give you an opinion on, “Hey, what are my chances of success?”
Now, this is my view. If the lawyer says, “Well, I will not answer that question. I cannot guarantee you whether we will win or lose.”
Say, “Yes, I understand you cannot guarantee whether we’ll win or lose, but you can tell me if you feel good about it. You can give me some odds.”
And if the lawyer says, “No I refuse to do this,” then you have to decide if that’s the right lawyer for you.
“Should I hire a lawyer who has never defended a collection lawsuit?”
How about hiring somebody who has never defended a collection case?
It’s your choice.
You can do that, and everybody has to have their first case.
But the question is, do you want to be the first case for that lawyer? And that’s something you have to answer.
Now, he may be the world’s greatest lawyer and he may be far superior to every other lawyer, it just so happens he has never handled one of these cases.
Great, but you have to make that decision, if you feel comfortable hiring a lawyer who has never defended one of these cases before.
Or you may want to ask questions such as:
- Have you defended these cases in general?
- How about with this specific debt collector?
- This specific collection attorney?
- Have you been successful in defending these cases?
- Tell me about what has happened when you tried these types of cases.
The choice is yours as to the questions that you need answers to in order to feel comfortable with the lawyer you are talking with – bottom line is ask whatever you need to ask to feel comfortable and confident in your decision.
“How can I tell if I have found the right lawyer for me?”
You really cannot tell in an objective way whether the lawyer is the perfect lawyer. Ethics rules prevent us, as lawyers, from saying, “Hey, I’m better than some other lawyer.”
But that’s a decision you have to make, and it’s very hard to determine the skill of the lawyer directly.
And here’s kind of a dirty little secret. I do not know if the criminal lawyer down the street is a good lawyer or not. I have no idea. I’m not a criminal lawyer.
I may feel that I’m really good at personal injury and consumer litigation.
I do not know if the criminal guy is good, or the mergers and acquisitions lawyer, or the lawyer who’s going to draft your corporate documents. You see, I don’t know if she’s any good because that’s not the area I practice in.
And so it’s really impossible for you, not being a lawyer, to know whether a particular lawyer is going to be great at defending these types of cases.
But here’s what you can do.
You can decide, do you feel confident and comfortable with this lawyer?
Does this lawyer answer your questions?
Does this lawyer give you information?
What does this lawyer do so that you go, “You know, this is the right person for me.”
Same way you’re picking a doctor. You don’t how steady is her hand in the surgery.
But you do know how comfortable do you feel with them?
Do you feel confident?
Have you had family members use this attorney?
Have you read reviews?
You just use all your common sense to figure out, “Is this the right person for me?”
“How much will I pay a lawyer?”
And once you find the right lawyer, then you say, “Okay, well how much is this going to cost?” And I can’t tell you a specific amount because it’s going to depend on your particular case, but let me give you some ideas.
Is a lawyer charging you an hourly rate? If so, what’s the amount and how many hours are they going to spend on your case? Is this a 1-hour case or a 101-hour case?
Does the lawyer use a flat fee or a fixed fee, in other words, it is X number of dollars? Well, what does that include? Can the fee go over that?
Now I’ll just tell you, we always use a flat fee on these types of cases, and clients will often say, “Well, what if it gets more involved than you thought, will that go up?” Or, “What extra do you have to pay?”
And I go, “You don’t pay any extra. It’s a flat fee. It’s X number of dollars, that’s all it will ever be, whether the case gets resolved one minute after you hire me or five years after you hire me.”
And people are kind of puzzled by that. They say, “Well, I did this one time with a lawyer and that flat amount, fixed amount, ended up growing.”
Then it’s not a fixed or flat fee.
A fixed amount means that’s exactly what it’s going to be.
Bottom line is you ask the lawyer and make absolutely sure you know that the fee is before you make a decision on hiring the lawyer.
“Will the lawyer file the answer for me?”
Yes, if you’re hiring the lawyer they will file the answer for you. To me, it would be odd to hire a lawyer to fight the case for you, but yet you’re still responsible filing the answer. I suppose that’s technically possible, it just seems odd to me. I’m not sure why you would do that.
So ask the lawyer you are considering hiring, “Will you file the answer to the collection lawsuit for me?”
“Can I hire a lawyer after I file my own answer?”
What about if you have already filed your answer, and then you say, “You know, I think I want to get a lawyer involved. Can I hire a lawyer after I file my own answer?”
At least with my firm, the answer is yes.
This happens quite a bit.
People are still looking at their options, maybe they’re undecided, they file their own answer and then as they get really close to trial, they think, “Oh, my goodness. I need somebody to help me.”
The complexity or the danger is what if the lawyer is busy on the day of trial? That may prevent you from hiring that particular lawyer, so I would get with the lawyer as soon as possible so they can check their schedule to see if they can represent you.
And obviously, still find out, what’s the cost? Is it fixed? Is it an hourly rate, what is this?
Make sure, whenever you hire a lawyer, that you fully understand what the cost is going to be so you can make the best decision.
“Do I need to be at the collection lawsuit trial if I have a lawyer representing me?”
The answer is it depends, and I’ll just tell you what my rule is.
We do not have our clients at trial unless there is something you can do that will help you at trial. Kind of makes sense, right? So if there’s something we need to prove – so for example, let’s assume statute of limitations is six years, and you know that you have not made a payment in eight years. But the debt collector says, “No, no, no. You made a $20 cash payment to us six months before we sued you. You just mailed us cash in an unmarked envelope but we figured out it was you, and so that restarts the statute of limitation.”
Well, I would want you to be at trial to testify, “No, I haven’t made a payment in eight years.”
But normally, we do not need our clients at trial.
Now, if you’re subpoenaed you have to be there at trial.
Other lawyers may handle it differently and say, “No, I want you to be there at trial.”
So that’s a great question to ask the lawyer that you’re considering hiring. “Hey, when it comes time for trial, do I need to be there?” Some people want to be there, but 99% of people do not want to be there, so they’re very comforted by the fact that we do not want them to be there, unless again, there’s something unusual where we need your testimony to help us at trial.
“Will my lawyer keep me up to date on the collection lawsuit?”
Well, I certainly hope so, and that is something you should expect and you should demand, that you be kept up to date on the collection lawsuit. And ask the lawyer, “How will you keep me up to date?” Now, some lawyers may say, “Well, you can call in when you have a question.”
And certainly, you should always be able to call in when you have a question.
I’ll tell you the way the way that we do it is when something happens, we notify you. A lot of people use email, so we do that by email — we send you the court documents.
Some people want them mailed to them. Some people want us to call them when something’s happened.
And then certainly you can call in and speak with Carolyn in my office, and she can talk to you about, “Here’s what’s going on,” and you can always set up a call with me.
But our job, and what our goal is, is to keep you up to date so that you’re never sitting around wondering.
Now, sometimes there are long periods of time, and so it may be, “Hey, nothing’s happening. I don’t expect anything to happen for the next 30 days. We’ll touch base with you if something does happen, or in 30 days we’ll touch base and say, hey, nothing’s happening right now.” That’s just part of the joys of a lawsuit. But you should definitely want your lawyer to keep you up to date because otherwise, you’re going to be stressed out about this, worrying about what’s going on with the lawsuit.
“What happens if I lose the case I hired the lawyer on?”
Whenever there’s a trial somebody is going to lose, so if you lose and you have a lawyer it’s the same thing as if you do not have a lawyer.
You will have some options on appeal, and we’ll talk about those in some later questions.
If you don’t appeal, or you lose your appeal, that means you owe the money.
“What happens if I win the case I hired a lawyer on?”
It’s the same thing, whether you have a lawyer or do not have a lawyer, if you win the collection lawsuit, then that normally means that you do not owe the debt to that debt buyer.
Now, whether you win or lose, having a lawyer will certainly help you in understanding your options.
So if you lose a case, well can you ask the judge to reconsider it? Can you appeal?
If you win the case, what does this mean for the collection company on the other side? Can they appeal? What can they do?
And having a lawyer will definitely help you to be able to understand those options very clearly.
“Will I have any tax consequences if I hire a lawyer in my case?”
It is really the same whether you have a lawyer or don’t have a lawyer.
If you win the case and you do not owe the money, well, there should be no tax consequences.
If you lose the case, then you’ve got to pay the money.
Now if you don’t pay it and some of that debt is forgiven, that could have tax consequences for you.
Thank you for reading this and I hope these questions — and answers — are helpful to you.
Feel free to call us if you have a question about a collection lawsuit in Alabama — you can call us at 205-879-2447 or fill out our contact form and we’ll email or call you right back.
Look forward to talking to you soon!