You are part of a large collections law firm and you need one of your collections hearings covered by “stand-in” local counsel, so you contact a business that finds an attorney to stand in for your hearings. Sounds simple enough. In general, it is simple. The “broker of attorneys” sets out contacting attorneys in the area surrounding the specific court and Bingo! They find an attorney willing to stand in at the hearing. The plaintiff has coverage. The attorney has work. All is good, right? Not really.
Now, here is where it starts getting complicated. The broker doesn’t know (or usually care) whether the attorney has a deep background of experience or has just passed the bar, can barely tie a tie, or what the attorney’s level of experience actually is. It’s a warm body at the hearing and having representation is all that matters. Of course, this is a generalization. Some brokers may go through some sort of process to qualify covering attorneys. Different employees from the same company may qualify the attorneys differently and may or may not provide relevant and adequate documentation to the covering attorney to handle the hearing effectively. The point being is that there is no consistency of quality or preparedness and judges, for one, don’t appreciate it. Several won’t tolerate it.
Collection law firms and the judges presiding over the hearings know that in the majority of the cases the defendant doesn’t show up, so the outcome usually ends up in favor of the plaintiff in the form of a default judgment. But when an inexperienced and/or ill-prepared stand in attorney represents the plaintiff, it’s a sloppy scene, and one in which the judge is placed in a difficult position. One in which he’s dealing with counsel who may not be able to clearly state what the plaintiff wants, may not be able to verify the plaintiff’s claims, and may not even have proper documents for the Judge to review and sign. Thus creating an extra step and more work for the client and judge.
So, the image of stand-in counsel and services that make a business out of facilitating it has become tarnished and the collection business certainly doesn’t want its reputation sullied. An example of this tarnished perception was recently seen at a panel presentation at NARCA this fall in Las Vegas. During a presentation and slide show on the value and enhanced process of a business finding local counsel to fill in for clients’ hearings, there was a collective rolling of eyes and audible sighing in an obvious display of distaste for the practice of stand-in local counsel for collection hearings. The sloppiness, lack of quality, and inconsistency pointed out earlier are clearly part of the reasons. The well has been poisoned, so to speak.
Here is where customized and dynamically updated technology comes into play. We are only humans and humans can and do make mistakes. The volume of these hearings in the business is staggering. Leaving the quality of local counsel coverage and a thorough compliance program up to humans will result in inconsistencies and a tainted image, not to mention penalties from failed audits. There are sites and programs that ensure that quality and consistency, which leaves us humans with the luxury of time to provide that personal support and service that makes dealing with a company special and long lasting.
Penalties for compliance slips are heavy, so it’s worthwhile to develop a rigorous compliance program in-house and align yourself with a local counsel coverage company that has highest quality standards for compliance. Here’s a quick breakdown of the automated process (we’re assuming the collections firm is already a client of the hearing coverage service):
- Collections law firm posts a hearing that needs coverage on a secure website.
- Automatic notification goes out to network attorneys who are already signed up with the coverage service company, which means they have gone through the application process and meet the standards of quality to cover hearings effectively.
- The attorney may accept, reject, or ignore the notification directly from the email or text.
- Once an attorney accepts and covers the hearing, notification is automatically sent to the client that it’s covered and receives full contact and compliance information on the contract attorney, before the hearing.
- Relevant documents are attached directly to the hearing online for the attorney to obtain.
- Once the hearing takes place, the contracted attorney reports the results through the website within 24 hrs and notification of the report is sent to the client.
That’s the overview of the streamlined process but the meat of the system runs in the background on high powered secure servers. The benefits are seen daily in the ease of use, tracking, quality checks, and reporting. One example is the compliance system that, with a click of a button on the site, creates all the relevant compliance information needed in an audit. No scrambling around, gathering information and data from varied sources. It’s all right there without walking away from one’s desk.
Here are quotes from collection firms using one example of a system outlined above:
- “Billing is easy – ‘one stop shop’ instead of billing a bunch of attorneys.”
- “Compliance is simplified – Audits are easy now.”
- “Website is easy to navigate – Saves time.”
- “Service saves time – Don’t need to be on the phone with attorneys all the time.”
- “Knowledge of who is attending our hearings and the ease of being able to contact them has proven to be very helpful.”
- “The attorneys in the network seem to generally care about winning our cases.”
- “The service has made obtaining coverage easier than it’s ever been for all of our coverage areas.”
So, what we are seeing is that the image of stand-in local counsel for collections hearings is like a huge ship grinding away towards an iceberg but the advancing technology and innovative management of the service is slowly turning that ship to clear waters. Quality is improved, competency is high, coverage is consistent, and perceptions are changing in the world of local counsel coverage.