I got a job.
You all will be most pleased or not to hear that I went out into the streets of google maps on Craigslist and got myself an adult job. I am now a full-time paralegal for a small, family owned law firm on West Street. Yes I can ride my skateboard to work wearing jeans a t-shirt and vans and they still let me have the firm paid for Rocco’s Pizza on Fridays. As far as the work environment goes, the job is amazing. Don’t feel like going to work? No Problem. Want to take an hour and a half lunch break because it’s sunny out? Kosher. And at the end of every two weeks I get a chubby paycheck that usually amounts to roughly 2 grand a month. Not too shabby for old robby eh?
A job that requires me to collect debt from people.
So what exactly am I doing? Well, my firm only covers cases from people who live in communities and condominiums with homeowner’s associations. Particularly, a common problem with these associations is that the people who live there signed a contract agreeing to pay a fee either every month, a few times a year, something like that, don’t pay it. This fee, is usually less than 200 dollars, most often a mere 50 or 60 dollars a month. The homeowners association, or HOA, collects this money and uses it to pay for first class bull shit; the pool needs cleaning, the grass trimming, the parking lot repainted, and so on. Rarely, but sometimes it’s used for necessary things like maintenance or trash collection (rarely because the nature of these associations is to charge separately for that). The law firm comes in when the HOA realizes that the majority of their community members have neglected to pay their dues. So what happens is, we get hired by an HOA, referred to as the association sometimes, who then hands over the accounts of their community members who haven’t paid, these are the debtors.
The first impression of a debtor.
When I first began this job, I saw no moral qualms, or really qualms of any sort, with taking large amounts of money from debtors. These people have managed to rack up thousands and thousands of dollars in debt as a result of neglecting to pay a small annual or monthly fee. MAYBE YOU SHOULD NOT HAVE PURCHASED A VACATION CONDO IN ANNAPOLIS if you can not afford to pay 60 dollars a month. MAYBE YOU SHOULD NOT HAVE SIGNED THE CONTRACT SAYING YOU WOULD PAY IT AND THEN IGNORE 5 DELINQUENCY NOTICES BEFORE CALLING AND ASKING ME WHY WE ARE BRINGING YOU TO COURT. Right? Right. So for the first few weeks I’m learning the basics of the job. Every debtor has a file that is either in someone’s office, or in one of two large rooms that hold 50 filing cabinets each, organized by numbers and associations. I sit at my desk and work through different notices and legal forms building lawsuits for each file.
Then the phone rings.
The Phones ring off the hook with people just so excited to tell me how I’ve ruined their life.
So a debtor calls. I answer “Good Morning, law office”.
“Hey I’m calling because I just got some letter from your office saying I owe some “monies” and that “just ain’t true” so “whatever ya’ll think you doin you made a mistake cause I don’t owe no monies to your damn law office.”
1) The letter they are most often referring to is called a Writ of Summons, as in the first five letters that had an attorneys signature on it must have gotten lost but somehow the piece of paper that puts in bold at the top YOU MUST COME TO COURT made it through the mail.
“I understand. In order to help you I will need to pull your file. Do you have your file number?” This is how I locate the file. It is on every notice we mail them including the writ of summons.
“No, ya’ll ain’t give me no damn file number.”
Okay, let’s try for the association name, meaning the name of where this person lives.
“Do you have your association name?”
“No, I forgot it. I don’t got that. I can give you my social?”
YOU FORGOT WHERE YOU FUCKING LIVE?! HOW?! How can you expect me to help you navigate the treacherous waters of the fucking court system if you don’t know where you live? But, this is my job so let’s try again.
“Okay, sir/ma’am, I need you to spell your last name and give me your street address.”
A few minutes of painful corrections, shaky answers, and oh wait from which marriage? type of questions and I finally have something I can work with. The fun part begins where I get to put this charming individual on hold. Here’s the fun: if it takes me longer than 10 minutes to find the file, which could be anywhere in the office, the line automatically disconnects which results in this already angry person getting hung up on and most likely having to call me back. The colorful language with which I have been described will never fail to amuse me. Fun fact: my username came from a debtor explaining to me that if I was going to sue him over 1,500 dollars than my thinking was weaker than the white blood cell count of an aids patient. I can’t make this shit up.
Everyone still awake? Probably best if not.
The Second Impression of A Debtor
So, there are debtors that make me no longer believe that people are just ignorant, and rarely stupid. I mean these people shock me with how they managed to have enough to buy these ridiculously expensive properties and they can’t complete the most basic adult functioning. On the other hand, a lot of these debtors are also foreigners from it doesn’t matter where from because I still can’t understand your accent over the phone but I’m gonna do my best. In entirety a debtor can be a huge pain in my ass, cussing me out, asking stupid questions and giving me stupid answers tying up my day by keeping me on the phone for an hour explaining what it means when you sign a deed and that no, I won’t just cut you a break and forgive 33,000 dollars in debt. Not that I could but just because of your attitude if I could I still wouldn’t. But there are also debtors like dear Mr. Khan and a few others. Mr. Khan is an immigrant who has been making faithful monthly payments of 300 dollars trying to pay off a 3000 dollar debt. He has been making these payments for over four years, every month. See the problem? So Mr. Khan calls a few times a day and we chat about his balance and why it is going up instead of going down and I do my best to explain it to him that he breached a payment agreement so because he wasn’t in an agreement his payments were not only going to his initial balance but also the legal fees of processing a lawsuit because he was not in agreement.
No one ever told him he breached his agreement three years ago.
We have been charging him thousands of dollars simply because we can.
That’s not right, so i’m trying to act like I know what I’m talking about and explain things to him calmly and in a very quiet but desperate plea, Mr Khan says “Robyn, I am trying to understand, really I am, but something is not right. I have been making payments and I understand I missed a month in that first agreement but I have been paying faithfully, what am I going to do I cannot afford the 3,000 dollars. “
and I realize, looking at his balance sheet, that something is very much indeed not right. So I put him on hold and go to my supervisor and explain that I was attempting to give him a breakdown of his balance but I did not understand why his 300 dollar payments were only adding 165 to his balance.
At which point she grabbed the file out of my hand and sternly told me I should not be telling debtors things I didn’t understand. He was not supposed to know his break down of the balance because the head attorney
takes off the top sometimes.
And I was promptly warned to get off the phone and not help Mr. Khan anymore. This resulted in me having to very abruptly and apologetically tell Mr. Khan I am sorry sir I can no longer help you and as he pleaded me to explain and protested that he was doing his best and did not mean to be difficult, my supervisor cut off my line.
THAT FUCKED MY DAY UP.
The very interesting but shady side of the law firm
When I mail out a letter explaining to a debtor that they are in fact, a debtor. I have to write 50.00 on their balance sheet.
You would like to speak to an attorney about your debt? too bad. you’ll need your own to talk to ours.
You want to know why you were charged 2,000 dollars in interest and late fees and “postage and copies” fees just for february?
Because you never signed your payment agreement and we had to mail it five times.
So your house got foreclosed on and you filed for bankruptcy AND you got a judgment on your case with us? Tough Shit. you still have a balance post judgment. Yes the court and us mailed you a letter saying that your judgment was satisfied. Rightfully so, you understood this to mean your account was closed with us and your debt was paid.
you are wrong.
You got that letter 4 years ago? Well we’ve been filing all sorts of bullshit liens (meaning you can’t refinance or sell your property till you pay your debt in full to us) and other things over the past four years because of your post-judgment outstanding balance.
What’s that? You didn’t know you still had a balance on your account because the judge said you only had to satisfy the judgment? We don’t have to listen to the judge. so you have had an outstanding balance this entire time.
You received no notice that you still were in debt? That’s because we legally can’t demand more money from you, so we never sent a notice. Legally, you have to call and ask for your balance.
You don’t want to pay and you want to ignore the debt, the lawsuit and everything else? You just made my job so much easier. Now I get to garnish however much I want our of your bank account and your paycheck, even if the amount is more than what you need to live off of.
And that’s just scratching the surface but if you’ve made it this far in this post congratulations. It’s a long post about something very uninteresting, but at the same time, something I feel like more people need to know about. I thought Lawyers were just crooked because they sued people charging bogus amounts of money. It’s not just corruption. Its something else, something worse, where these people literally not only kick the poor while their down because they missed a few 50 payments of a condo or a home and royally fuck them financially, but they also steal money from them when they are trying to do the right thing. And this is only what I know after 4 weeks of work. Imagine what I’ll find out if they start to actually trust me and not kick me out of the office every time there is a case being discussed.
How the big shots sleep at night.
I imagine its something like how I sleep at night. I want to get out of debt asap myself. I have student loans and credit cards and bills. I don’t want to be in debt ever after this job. I don’t have any other options and re-read the first paragraph about how as far as a desk job goes, mine is pretty sweet. I like the paycheck. And I know I’m personally not stealing, and when I can, tell the debtors things they really shouldn’t know but I cant help but help them. And then I was thinking this is how it happens. I’ll be getting what I need from my paycheck, I’ll help them where I can, and I’ll just keep my mouth shut so my boss will trust me and pay me more so I can save sooner and get the fuck out.