It’s nearly midnight and I’m compelled to blog out of frustration. Frustration from a new client because it’s not the first time I’ve seen this.
A woman asked me to review her student loan situation to see what can be done. She is in default, she wants to get out and get her loans back on track. She’s been dealing with a particular debt collector for just about a year. After agreeing to help her, she forwards me information for review. With her package is a note letting me know that she already sued the collector for harassing calls at work and wanted to know if this could get in the way of my help.
How do I tell her she waived all her leverage? How do I tell her the $500 dollars she received as settlement is missing a zero based on the violations her attorney missed because the attorney doesn’t know anything about student loan law?
I can and will help her, but its mighty frustrating to know she had lots of leverage based on debt collection violations that we can no longer use. Worse, she has to pay for my help out of pocket when the previous guy could have gotten her cash AND helped her situation without it costing her a dime (the lawsuit would have covered the fees).
Consumers need to screen attorneys carefully. When you go to an attorney for help, know what your goal really is. If the attorney finds something on the side, find out how it will effect the real problem; the reason you contacted the attorney. Sometimes things are discovered that have nothing to do with the issue the consumer contacted the attorney about, which is not necessarily a bad thing. With my client, however, she needed help with a student loan, and all she got was $500 and lost leverage.
Understand that consumer attorneys are a bit like doctors; they probably have a focus within consumer law. Some of us know lemon/auto law very well. Some of us know credit reporting or debt collection law very well. And some of us know student loan law very well. Most consumer lawyers know enough about the different areas to assist the consumer, or better yet, refer them to another attorney who might be a local expert in a particular area or at least consult with that expert to better assist the client. I have one particular person I refer all auto cases to, another person who gets all my foreclosure referrals. And then there is bankruptcy – I refer most of those out too – becuase I have so much student loan law work to do, if there is no student loan issue, I won’t work on the case.
If you’re a consumer with a student loan problem, you might need a student loan lawyer. If you decide to call an attorney who says they can stop the debt collection calls, the proper response is , “Great, but will you be able to help me with my student loan?” If they say no, you have two choices: 1) tell them you want them to work with me or another student loan lawyer, or 2) move on to another attorney.
If you’re a consumer attorney who wants to add student loan law to your practice, or at the very least be able to issue spot, you need to check out my workshop. Whatever you decide to do, if a prospect comes to you with a student loan issue, don’t offer to deal with the debt collector if you’re not going to deal with the student loan issue. You’re only putting a band-aid on a stab wound.