If you do not hire a lawyer to defend you in a collection lawsuit, you have only two options: represent yourself or do nothing which will allow a judgment to be entered against you. Let’s look at the probable outcomes of these two “bad ideas”:
Why It’s a Bad Idea to Allow a Judgment:
First, the amount awarded will be everything they ask for and many (most?) times this is more than you owe. The judge does not know or care if it is accurate or not. After all, if you did not care enough to show up, why should they care? Second, the judgment creditor now has the right to take your wages, seize your bank account, take your life savings, put a lien on your home, force you to go to court and answer virtually any question they want about your finances. They can seek community property assets of your spouse. They can go to your business and take money right out of the till. They can subpoena financial records from your bank, mortgage lender, and almost anyone else. I can go on and on.
A simple Answer filed with the court will, at a minimum, postpone this and more than likely, reduce the amount awarded, if any. Allowing a judgment is just about the worst thing you can do to your family. Many lawyers, myself included, will help you for free to at least answer the lawsuit yourself. Whatever you do, DO NOT IGNORE A LAWSUIT THAT HAS BEEN FILED AGAINST YOU. Get legal advice.
Why It’s a Bad Idea to Represent Yourself:
To be sure, self-representation is better than doing nothing. You will ultimately lose the case however. Here’s why: Even if you do everything right and are a pretty good “pro se lawyer” and you get to trial, when you represent yourself, you must physically be in the courtroom. “Of course” you say. “I can argue my case as good as any lawyer” you say. And you may be right. But here is the problem: You can also be called to be a witness. With a mere 3 or 4 questions put to you, the collection attorney can win his case, out your own mouth. He/she will ask you: did you have a contract with Discover? Did you use your Discover card? Did you stop making payments on your Discover card? What is the amount you owe, if you know? You have now lost the case. All the hard work you put into representing yourself has just been shut down. Yes, you have bought yourself some time, but the end result is the same. The common wisdom of “the person who represents himself has a fool for a client” is as true today as ever.
A common and understandable lament is: “I can’t afford a lawyer”. Truth is, lawyers give free advice all the time. Truth is, many lawyers are affordable. Certainly more affordable than 25% of your check or all the money in your bank account. A GOOD DEBT DEFENSE LAWYER WILL SAVE YOU MONEY. Not just time and energy and focus. MONEY. Be the smart consumer, hire a lawyer experienced in these matters, take their advice, make and save more money in anticipation of an eventual settlement. Do not procrastinate. Do not make bad financial or legal decisions. Hire an expert. It may shock you how affordable that expert is. Truth is, you can’t afford to not at least speak to a lawyer.
Greg Fitzgerald, Esq.
Fitzgerald Campbell, APLC