GP MENTOR
Representing Debtors

By Sharon Campbell

Although it is true that I represent debtors, a more accurate portrayal of my practice would be to say that I represent consumers. I represent consumers who have been sued for credit card debt. Much credit card debt has been bought by large debt buyer companies, which then file suit in their own name to collect the debt. It is not uncommon for the suits to be filed outside the statute of limitations or have other proof problems. The biggest and most common problem I see is the lack of documentation of the debt—documentation that the company filing suit actually owns the debt in question, and documentation establishing the underlying debt itself.

Where I practice, there are a number of collection law firms that specialize in filing these suits. Once you become familiar with the practices of the few firms bringing these suits, it is easier to handle these cases on a volume, flat-fee basis. I have not found it difficult to obtain payment of a flat fee in these cases, particularly if there is a reasonable chance of preventing the entry of a large judgment against the consumer. Sometimes the collectors who are attempting to collect the debts violate the debt collection laws, federal and/or state, and you can bring a claim against them for their violations. The credit card cases are filed in state court. Whether to file the debt collection violation lawsuit in state or federal court will depend on your jurisdiction. Generally, I file them in federal court.

Credit card cases are being filed in large numbers across the country, providing many opportunities for consumer lawyers both to defend them and to handle the debt collection cases that arise out of them, which also provide for the recovery of attorney fees to the prevailing plaintiff.

Other cases I handle involve violations of the Fair Credit Reporting Act and impermissible access cases under the Equal Credit Opportunity Act. Errors on credit reports are legion, and if they are not corrected after being brought to the creditor and/or credit reporting agency’s attention, they can provide grounds for suits against the creditors who report the erroneous information or the credit reporting agencies themselves. The impermissible access cases arise out of creditors accessing a credit report without permission or without a valid business reason, as set forth in the relevant statute.

After credit card cases and debt collection violation cases, probably the largest number of cases I handle are in the autofraud area. The types of cases range from failing to deliver title, failing to disclose prior wreck damage, salvage or branded title, wrongful repossession, and fraudulent activity in the actual purchase transaction. It is difficult to describe all the various types of claims that may be brought; they are limited only by the creativity of dealers and their violations.

There are never any shortage of automobile fraud cases; a slowdown in the economy will not result in a reduction in their number. Many of the claims are federal, and many states also have statutes, especially deceptive trade practice statutes, that cover many of the possible claims and that also provide for the recovery of attorney fees.

In my area of law, networking with other attorneys is particularly important. Many of my clients are referred to me from other lawyers. The community of consumer lawyers is not very large, and it is therefore even more important to network with fellow consumer lawyers to keep up with the changing laws and reported decisions and to encourage each other. There are organizations of consumer lawyers that facilitate these connections. The resources published by the National Consumer Law Center ( www.consumerlaw.org) are invaluable, containing sample pleadings, discovery, research, and many other helpful assists for a consumer law practice.

Although staff could certainly help in these cases, particularly when discovery gets going, I am one of the rare solos out there who has no employees. Time management is crucial! You have to be diligent about getting the work done in a timely manner. And if you are going to represent consumers, it helps if you like working and dealing with people. Some practice areas do not require much client contact, but this area does. Also, it should go without saying that a litigation practice is very stressful, so it can be a challenge learning to manage the many responsibilities and deadlines. I find it very rewarding, however, to spend my time helping people obtain a remedy for a wrong that has been done to them or helping them out of a stressful situation.


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