Understanding the Attorney Agency Relationship
Assessing the Attorney Agency relationship is a very important aspect to the collection process. Is the attorney there to “pick up the pieces” when the agency fails in their attempts? Are they a necessary and costly evil? Or are they considered an extension of your agency…a teamwork relationship with the client’s interest placed first and foremost? To perceive the agency/attorney liaison negatively only puts you in an adversarial relationship with the one individual that may actually assist in the recovery of the claim. To put it another way…attitude is everything! To be effective, you and your staff’s relationship with the attorney to whom you forward work must be a smooth liaison.
So what can be done to make the agency/attorney association effective for both the agency and your client? Suggestions include….
1) When forwarding a claim to an attorney, make sure you submit a complete package of information.
a) Include all the information supplied by the client.
b) Include all the information you have developed and the work you have done on the claim concerning the debtor.
c) Include complete documentation of the claim such as invoices, statements of account, contracts, credit applications, etc.
d) Include all historical data such as contact notes, banking information, past payment patterns of the debtor.
e) Include the proper entity of the client who owns the claim…corporation, partnership, sole proprietorship.
2) Be mindful of total dollar amount of the claim owed. Too many times agencies forward small dollar amount claims to attorneys which are not cost effective for them to handle. In an effort to maintain a good working relationship with the attorney, make it clear of your expectations. Explain in your forwarding documentation or cover letter that you understand that litigation would not be cost effective and that perhaps they can make both a written and verbal demand on the client’s behalf. If no results are forthcoming suggest the attorney write a closing letter explaining why they matter is uncollectible so that your client fully understands the situation. At the end of the day, no one wants to “throw good money after bad” and the attorney will respect you as understanding that he’s in the business to make money as are you.
3) SERVICE…this is the key to success! You know clients insist on being updated every 30 days or so. However, it is not always practical for the attorney to report every 30 days due to the time the legal process takes. While reports in a timely fashion must be supplied by the attorney, it is important that you assist the attorney by explaining to your client that the next report may not be for 45-90 days dependent upon at what stage in the legal process the claim may be…such as waiting for the court to assign a trial date…or effectuate service of process.
4) On large claims, it often becomes necessary to negotiate a reduced contingency rate and suit fees on behalf of your client. Try to do so prior to forwarding the claim so as not to unnecessarily delay the handling of the matter.
5) All payments made directly to the creditor or to the agency while the claim is with the attorney must be reported immediately. That way they use their time more efficiently so as not to continue to make demands which become costly to the attorney.
6) Should there be delays beyond your control with respect to the client advancing costs, keep the attorney informed.
7) If known ahead of time that the client will not be providing a witness (should one be necessary), let the attorney know this ahead of time. This allows for the attorney to make the appropriate judgment calls on behalf of you client.
8) Always insist that the attorney you forward the claim to acknowledges receipt not only of the claim but the terms with respect to fees and costs. This helps to avoid future misunderstandings throughout the collection process.
9) Always insist that all request for additional costs and/or actions that may directly affect the client are provided in writing and subject to your approval.
10)Always insist that you be included and/or copied on any direct communications between the attorney and your client. This applies to all reports and other forms of direct communication.
11)When closing an account as determined by your client and/or you as the agency, advise the attorney as such in writing and ask for a final accounting of any unexpected costs.
By working in a collaborative and teamwork environment both you and the attorney not only establish a future working relationship but it also conveys to your client that you have made every plausible attempt to collect their claim in a very professional and efficient manner.