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Tip 5 of Uncommon Common Sense

Tip 5: In the Law you are Always Either Pushing or Being Pushed –

and It’s Much Better to Push than Be Pushed

We all know that it’s true in any sort of contest, that one side or the other takes “the initiative,” while the other gets pushed around. It is possible to win even if the other side has the initiative most of the time, but it is unlikely, and the game is much more fun if you are ahead throughout the play. It is really the same way with litigation.

Advantages and Disadvantages as a Defendant

If you are defendant, you start the lawsuit with both an advantage and disadvantage in the initiative. By filing suit against you, the other side took the initiative, but the rules of most jurisdictions give you an opportunity to take control. In addition, you have two huge advantages that you must use to your benefit: the debt collectors are either lazy or busy (or don’t expect you to put up a fight); and the debt collector lawyers must always justify the amount of time they spend on the case and are trying to keep it to a minimum. You, on the other hand, can and must take all the time necessary to take control.

This means you can take control of the case by giving the other side things to do. You should begin doing that immediately.

Stages of Litigation

There are a number of stages throughout the litigation: pleadings, discovery, motions, and trial. And they’re not completely distinct, of course. When the debt collector files suit and gets you served, you are forced to respond either with an Answer or a motion to dismiss. They have the initiative at that point, because you will lose the case if you do not take one of those actions. If you file a motion to dismiss, you will take the initiative of the pleading stage, since they will need to respond – but there is also the discovery stage. If you also serve discovery on them when you file your motion or Answer, you will have taken the initiative in that stage as well.

Game Planning

A good game plan will take the initiative into account. It’s a good idea to form one early in the lawsuit, and the Debt Defense System includes materials to help you do that.

If you are drafting and serving discovery, you can take all the time you want to do it, and then when you give it to the other side they have only a certain amount of time to reply. In debt collection cases, they will never give you what they are supposed to at first – it’s a fact of life. You could think of this as frustrating, as it will be in some ways. Mostly, however, consider it an opportunity for you to keep the initiative: push and keep pushing until you make them give you everything you can get. As long as they are being pushed by you in that way, they will not be pushing you back as much as they could.

The Difference between Pushing and Being Pushed

It is impossible to explain the difference between pushing and being pushed. It takes just the same amount of effort to serve discovery before the other side does as after it does – but it feels completely different. And that feeling – of being empowered rather than disempowered – makes all the difference in reality, especially for pro se defendants. But also for lawyers – it’s a drag always to be behind. Stay on top!

That is true at every stage of the game. Every time you can force the other side to do something, you are both getting what you need (or getting closer to getting it) and forcing the lawyer to spend time on the case – time that is increasingly less justified. You can do all this with appropriate pleadings and filings, and I am not suggesting you file motions that are not legally justified. There can be a cost to doing that. Rather, I am saying to exploit your natural advantages as much as possible.

You will have many opportunities to take control of things and give the other side something to do. You should take advantage of every chance you get – it will suck the will to win right out of the other side.

Tomorrow we will send Tip 6.

How and why to file counterclaim if you can

There’s a great deal to say about counterclaims in debt law cases, and I suggest you look closely at the text of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) itself as you consider what, if any, counterclaims you will bring. In this article, though, I simply want to tell you why counterclaims are so important.

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Why Having a Counterclaim Is So Important?

In most jurisdictions, a plaintiff (the person bringing the lawsuit) is allowed to drop the case (that’s called “dismissing”) virtually at any time it wants to. This isn’t true of federal court, where you have to get permission, but in most state courts it seems to be true. And debt cases are pretty much always brought in state courts.

That means that if you work hard and develop a winning case, the debt collector could just dismiss the case.

That’s just what we want it to do, of course.

However, if the debt collector simply dismisses your case, it could also sue you again later or sell the debt to someone else who would sue you later, and that means you would still be vulnerable to debt collectors. It would also mean you could receive more annoying calls and letters, and would have to put credit repair on hold. Making them dismiss – under any circumstances – is a victory, but you need the case dismissed “with prejudice” to keep it from coming back.

Counterclaims Stop Them from Suing You Again

So how do you keep them from dismissing the suit and refiling the suit later? You do this by filing a counterclaim against them. A plaintiff can dismiss its own lawsuit, but not your claim against it. So if they want to dismiss the case against you either because your claims are good or because they don’t want to spend the money chasing you, they either have to settle the case with you, or they’re still left defending against your counterclaim. They never do that, because then they’d be bound to lose money one way or another. They’d either have to pay you or their lawyers (or both), — without the chance of collecting anything from you. That’s the worst of all worlds for them, and they won’t do it. Instead, they’ll settle the whole case with you.

So a counterclaim gives you power over the plaintiff and lets you keep it around till they agree to destroy (or “extinguish”) the debt. And then not only can you rest easy about the debt, but you can also begin the process or rebuilding your credit report.

Counterclaims Have Value

Sometimes your counterclaim can be worth a lot more than their lawsuit against you was in the first place.

Actually, it is not rare at all for a debt defendant’s counterclaim to be worth more than the claim brought by the debt collector, and this is so for several reasons. First, as I often point out, debt collectors generally bring their claims without any real evidence in their possession – and without the ability to get the evidence cheaply enough to be worth doing. That means that the debt collectors’ claims against defendants will, eventually, be worthless if you just keep fighting enough.

On the other hand, a counterclaim under the FDCPA is usually the result of either something the debt collector did as part of bringing its lawsuit (i.e., bogus notice of right to seek verification, false or deceptive affidavit, etc.) or (by definition) of some other part of the debt collection practice – usually some action involving you personally. Where the violation is part of the lawsuit, there is simply no evidentiary issue at all. The facts are in the file – put their by the debt collector and its lawyers. And where the counterclaim involves some other action against you personally, you should be able to testify. Thus you will rarely have an evidence issue – the hurdle which usually kills debt cases.