Collecting on Judgements
by Karen Bries
Editors’ Note: Ray Micklewright of Wolf & Slatkin presented "Getting Your Money After Judgment" at a Tuesdays at the Bar program in April. The Marines have since deployed Micklewright for one year. We send our thanks and prayers with him overseas.
The three simple steps to collecting judgments for your clients are: locating the debtor, searching for assets and using the legal process to seize assets. A few general guidelines to help out your cause are listed below.
Use your best resource: YOU
Perhaps the most tedious part of the process is locating debtors and searching their assets. But the good news is that an associate or paralegal can do most of this. Using a collection agency could be counterproductive; they are only allowed to make phone calls and send letters. As an attorney, you can file liens, seize bank accounts, force the sale of property and more.
Catch more flies with honey:
Be nice to the people you must go through to collect. Sheriffs’ officers are appreciative when you take interest in the process. Send thank you notes or bagels to anyone who can help you. Next time, they will remember your name.
Make a plan:
Once you’ve found your debtor, ask your client what they will be willing to give up to get the debtor to pay. Make sure you find this out before calling the debtor; it’s unlikely you’ll get him or her on the phone again.
Forms are useless:
Unless you specialize in them, generic forms won’t do you much good. To learn how to fill out forms, pull out the statute books and actually read them.
This is the most time-consuming part. Here are 11 good sources to find as much information as possible about the debtor during the case, particularly discovery. Make sure to get the Social Security number, phone number, employment and other personal information. The key to collecting on a judgment is identifying leads and following up. Here are 11 good sources:
Finally, don’t waste your time and money on debtors who have no assets, but do look him or her up every six months. Interest compounded annually on a judgment is eight percent yearly. It’s a good investment on your behalf to keep checking back.