Zev Hardman is an attorney admitted to the California bar in May 2013. In September, having a few of his own clients, he was looking for more ways to get in-the-trenches experience. I told him about a new pilot program launched by the Trial Practice Section (TPS) where a new attorney can take on a debt collection case set for trial through the East Bay Community Law Center (EBCLC). The new attorney will defend the case as the attorney of record and benefit from the assistance and supervision of more experienced trial attorneys provided by the TPS.
Three months later, Zev has taken two pro bono debt collection defense cases from the EBCLC. With the help of EBCLC’s Megan Ryan and Evonne Silva, and with my assistance, Zev handled his first two cases to impressive resolutions for his clients. Zev recently met with his third debt‑collection defendant client.
Defense of debt collection cases typically centers on plaintiff collection agency’s lack of standing. Before plaintiff acquired the debt, the original creditor bank may have bundled it with hundreds or thousands of other individuals’ delinquent accounts and sold these bundles for pennies on the dollar to one of the giant collection agencies. Commonly, an account changes hands two or three times before it is assigned to plaintiff collection agency that then files a lawsuit against the alleged debtor.
By suing thousands of typically indigent individuals, many of whom did not incur the underlying debt, collection agencies cast a wide net in hopes of obtaining default judgments that will generate income for years to come from garnished wages or attached properties. Many defendants default because they lack the means to hire a lawyer or skills to defend themselves in pro per. As a result, most debt collection cases end in victory by default for the collection agencies, even though more often than not the agencies lack the requisite evidence to prove their case.
While most of us agree people should pay their debts, justice prevails when plaintiffs meet their burden of proof and all viable defenses are considered by the court. Zev says his clients’ satisfaction with the results of his work is what matters most to him in his practice as an attorney. “Getting litigation and negotiation and client-management experience is obviously very valuable,” says Zev. “But being able to help people is really why I became an attorney.” Referring to the tens of thousands of dollars he has saved for his clients, Zev is of the opinion that “the collection agencies are in the business of profiting from others’ misfortune, so the Robin Hood aspect of it also is fun.”
New attorneys can find satisfaction in taking on pro bono cases under the supervision of a more experienced lawyer. They gain invaluable litigation, negotiation, and client management experience. If you are a new attorney or an attorney seeking more experience, I strongly encourage you to contact me to find out more about this program!
Michael Shklovsky, Chair of the Trial Practice Section