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When Debt Goes Legal

What can you do when a Legal Firm or a Solicitors gets involved with your debt account?

Many of us have been there, a Bank or a Debt Collector has been writing to us about an outstanding debt, when we suddenly get a letter from a Legal Firm or a Solicitors demanding immediate repayment of the outstanding balance coupled with the threat of legal proceedings.

Many times, such first contact is in the form of a Letter before Claim, a Letter of Claim, or just a letter claiming that the legal process has now begun.

What you need to know

Often, the legal firm or solicitor are a branch of a very same Bank/Debt Collection firm that have already been writing to you, for example, Overdales Solicitors are part of the Lowell Group. Overdales Solicitors handle legal proceedings and actions related to the debts that Lowell owns.

Another example is Drydensfairfax Solicitors who are part of the Arrow Global Group. Drydensfairfax Solicitors specialises in legal services related to debt recovery and litigation for both consumer and commercial debts.

Or perhaps you have heard of Mortimer Clarke Solicitors, who are in fact, part of the Cabot Group with Mortimer Clarke handling the legal proceedings for debts that are owned by Cabot Financial.

As was excellently exposed several years ago by Dispatches UK in their “The truth about debt collection agencies” exposure, where they put an undercover person into a debt collectors called Marlin Financial.  They exposed that the same staff members were answering the phone pretending to be Mortimer Clarke Solicitors staff.  Marlin was purchased by Cabot Financial in 2014, so when Cabot Financial escalate a debt and Mortimer Clarke Solicitors contact you, you are very likely to be communicating with the same people you were speaking to previously.

You can watch the full Dispatches documentary here.

What should you do when this happens?

The issuance of a Letter before Claim, or a Letter of Claim is a part of the pre-action protocols and as such is the beginning of the legal process.  The Practice Directions (Pre-Action Conduct and Protocols) state that litigation is a last resort and that the parties should do everything in their power (prior to beginning the legal process) to resolve matters outside of court.

We can therefore reasonably assume that a Legal Firm, or a Solicitors would be expected to have conducted robust due diligence on an account before beginning the legal process.

A thorough understanding of the administrative obligations which are placed upon a Legal Firm in bringing forth a Court Claim presents awakened “Defendant” with an opportunity to turn-the-tables, by asking some key simple questions (the “Questions”).

Raising these Questions may cause the Legal Firm or a Solicitor to return the account to the previous company you were dealing with, especially if you stand your ground and insist upon the information.

And by those actions what can you assume?

  • That many hundreds or thousands of accounts have probably been assigned in bulk to begin the legal process, and
  • That the Letter before claim or letter of claim has not been issued by a legally qualified person, and or has been issue prematurely, and
  • That the Practice Directions (Pre-Action Conduct and Protocols) have not been followed.

What further action can you take?

Whilst a firm may have legally qualified people and Solicitors on the payroll, none of them are going to admit that they issued the Letter before Claim without conducting the necessary foundational work as to do so would be risking their career.

In addition, a common practice involves a bone fide solicitor, or legally qualified person, writing a letter supplying their name and contact details (name, direct extension number, email address etc.), whilst a ‘pretend’ solicitor or non-legally qualified person signs the letter with the company name or an alias.

If they write to you claiming to be a Solicitor or legally trained, then the SRA Code of Conduct for Solicitors can be used.  This code ensures that legal professionals adhere to high ethical and professional standards, protecting the interests of clients and maintaining public confidence in the legal profession.

The SRA Principles listed state that Solicitors must act:

  • In a way that upholds the constitutional principle of the rule of law, and the proper administration of justice.
  • In a way that upholds public trust and confidence in the solicitors’ profession and in legal services provided by authorised persons.
  • With independence.
  • With honesty.
  • With integrity.
  • In a way that encourages equality, diversity and inclusion.
  • In the best interests of each client.

Can the Legal Firm or Solicitor claim they are not bound by the above principles?

Conclusion

Asking a few simple, but specific, questions to the Legal Firm or Solicitors about their conduct, shows sound knowledge of their duties and responsibilities and can result in them bugging out very quickly.

In nearly every case where we have had a hand, we see legal firms passing the debt back to the creditor following the receipt of such simple questions and without them answering any of them, whilst simultaneously claiming that their pre-action correspondence followed the pre-action protocols.

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