The Critical Importance of Early Discovery
If you want to win your case and drive the debt collector away, you need to conduct discovery. The sooner you do it, the better because this will give you time to:
- figure out the questions you want to ask
- figure out what documents you need
- understand how the debt collectors play the game before you answer their discovery; and
- send a “good-faith letter” and file a motion to compel in time for trial or motions.
I suggest that pro se defendants serve a first round of discovery (formal requests for information from the other side in a lawsuit) on the debt collector along with their Answer. I have several reasons for that.
Conducting Discovery Increases Your Status
First, serving discovery at the soonest possible moment raises your status with the court dramatically and means that you can insist for an appropriate amount of time for the preparation of the case. Judges often conduct “scheduling conferences” very early in the process – sometimes as early as the first hearing, and they like to push for very quick trials. The debt collectors are all too willing to cooperate with them. In general, pro se (or any) defendants in debt law cases want as much time as possible for discovery to take place, whereas both the plaintiff and judge will normally push for less preparation time. If you have already submitted discovery before that scheduling conference, you’re in a position to ask the debt collector’s lawyer whether they will be able to answer the discovery on time.
They’re never able to answer discovery on time with any materials at all. Sometimes they just object to everything, and other times they seek extra time.
As defendant, you want enough time to: file the first round of discovery; allow them the time to respond; haggle over what they didn’t provide in their responses; file a motion to compel; and give the court time to hear and rule on the motion to compel.
Serving Discovery Early Helps You Get Enough Time
In practical reality, this is going to take at least four months. If you also want enough time to file a second round of discovery and then file a motion (like a motion for summary judgment) that uses what you have found in discovery, you need at least another four months. That means you want the court to set a trial date approximately 8 or 9 months away from that first date. Since the debt collector isn’t used to doing anything more than collecting default judgments, and the court has deadlines, both of them will be leaning on you to compromise the time away. Since the plaintiff likely cannot even get the documents it needs in less than a few months, there can be an advantage in pressing forward. You can’t get ready in less than four months, though. You need that much time to prove they don’t have the evidence they need.
You Won’t Believe Their Responses to Discovery
Most debt defendants would never believe the degree of lack of cooperation and plain bullying that goes into the debt collectors’ responses to discovery. I believe it is important for a debt defendant to understand the way the game is played before providing anything to the debt collectors. It will help to keep the playing field level.
There are strong reasons to conduct discovery early and aggressively. Don’t let the chance pass you by if you can help it.