Tip 4 of Uncommon Common Sense

Tip Four – More about Time

In yesterday’s tip, I discussed managing case time. In today’s message we speak about part of why that matters so much, and why time can be one of your best advantages — if you make the debt collector’s lawyer spend a lot of it.

The Way Lawyers Value Time

I have often talked about the way lawyers value time. In debt cases there are two primary ways lawyers look at their time. First and most simplistically, they value their time according to their hourly rate. Most debt lawyers charge somewhere between $75 and $250 per hour of time, depending on their experience and “rank” in their firm and community. This is probably a lot more than you would value your time, and that gives you an ability to spend much more time on the case than they do.

The other, more realistic way lawyers look at their time is in relation to “opportunity costs,” or what they’re losing by chasing you. For more of a discussion on this topic, check out my article Understanding Opportunity Costs. I also consider this topic in detail in the Debt Defense Litigation Manual. In brief, however, consider that a typical debt lawyer might represent a few clients in cases against 100 people. If the lawyer can obtain judgments of $5,000 per case in 90 of those cases by default, those judgments total $450,000.00. If they can collect even a small percentage of those cases, a 15% attorney’s fee is going to be around, say, $75,000. For an hour or two of attorney time.

As crazy as that may seem, it is what they expect – and usually manage.

In order to take advantage of the lawyer’s need to make a lot of money for their time, you will need to spend your time making the lawyer do actual legal work. You can do this simply by defending yourself, by filing motions, and contesting the things they do. But I am not suggesting that you do things that “waste” time. Rather, the debt collectors have certain habits you can take advantage of. One of these is that they tend to be quite careless in their pleadings, and they often forget to put things into their lawsuits that are necessary to state a real claim against you. If you attack this, you force the lawyer to defend what he did and create something new.

Another, even better, example, is the way that debt collection lawyers ALWAYS object to every question you put forth in discovery. This stops most people, but for you, it will be a perfect opportunity to question the lawyer about what she means, argue with the lawyer about whether the objection is valid (they often are not, because they are “boilerplate” objections used regardless of what you asked in your discovery), and to file a motion to compel. All these things require the lawyer to spend time on a case without increasing the value of the case.

The Value of YOUR Time

If you look at the spending time, you have to consider how much money you could get by doing something else than defending yourself and comparing that to how much money you will save by beating the debt collector. Suppose you’re being sued for $5,000. How many hours would you work or be willing to work to make $5,000? Whatever your answer to that question, there’s probably plenty of reason to work hard protecting yourself. While the lawyer only gets  between 15 and 25% of the value of the case, you will save ALL the value for yourself, so even if you valued your time at exactly the same as the lawyer does, it will still make sense for you to spend five times as much time as they do.

A Game of Nerves

The difference in monetary value of your time is actually a large advantage for a pro se defendant. The lawyer suing you on behalf of the debt collector is always watching the clock and needs to be “making” at least the billing rate all the time. You only need a small fraction of that to justify the actions you take, and this means that you should plan to use a lot of time to learn and implement your defense.

But to use a lot of time, you must have a lot of time, and this means that you cannot afford to spend weeks not working on the case. This is definitely a situation where “slow and steady wins the race.” Plan to spend all the time necessary on your case, and then do it.

Tomorrow we will send Tip 5.