The Sherpa Guide to Finding a Student Loan Attorney

Michael Lux Bankruptcy Articles, Blog, Lower Payments, Student Loans 19 Comments

Finding representation in a student loan discharge case can be very difficult.  Getting rid of student loans requires a very specialized bankruptcy attorney, and there are not many attorneys who practice in this area.  However, if you follow the steps I have laid out below, you will be able to find someone to represent you in court.

Why Finding an Attorney is Difficult

If you are having trouble finding a student loan lawyer, do not lose hope.  Failing to find one does not necessarily mean you have a bad case.  It is hard to find a student loan lawyer because there are so few.

Discharge of student loans requires a bankruptcy attorney in most cases.  The problem is that most bankruptcy attorneys make money by filing as many bankruptcy cases as they can and by working as efficiently as possible.  This is because they usually do not bill by the hour, but instead bill at a flat rate per bankruptcy. Getting rid of student loans is much more complicated than a standard bankruptcy, so why would they want this extra work if they are not going to make any extra money?

There are two ways to get a lawyer to take your student loan case.  Choice One would be to pay a high hourly fee while they familiarize themselves with your case and student loan law.  If you are really struggling to pay off your student loans, this route likely will not work.  Choice Two would be to quickly convince them that you have a good case and that they can win with limited effort.  The following steps will explain how you can get your attorney on board.

Step Number One: Familiarize Yourself with Student Loan Bankruptcy Law

Don’t worry, you don’t need to be a legal scholar to get through this step, you just need to familiarize yourself with the basics of student loan discharge in bankruptcy.  First, you need to know that though difficult, it is possible to get rid of your student loans in court.  In most states, the requirement is to show an undue hardship.  We recently covered the bankruptcy laws in each state.

Step Number Two: Explain Your Undue Hardship

One of the most frequent mistakes I see people make when they are explaining a legal situation is that they skip over the important details and focus on details that don’t matter.  If you want to convince your attorney that your student loans cause an undue hardship, make sure you focus you thoughts on the things that matter.

Things that will probably matter:

  • Dependents you have to care for.  This could be kids or parents that you require your care.  Things like child support and other essential costs of care are important details.
  • Your income earning potential.  If you are disabled, or otherwise not able to work jobs in your field, it is important to show why.  A long history of trying to find better paying work is very helpful.  No court, and therefore no potential attorney, will assist someone who could be making student loan payments if they took a job in their field.  In other words, don’t be these guys.

That is likely the end of what matters.  In court you will have to show that you can only make X dollars, and that you need X dollars for things like food for your kids.

Things that don’t matter:

  • You think you got screwed over by your school.  This won’t matter to a bankruptcy court or attorney when it comes to discharging your loans. You may have a case, but that is a different matter, for a different attorney and a different court.  Whether or not they promised you a job when you graduated has nothing to do with whether or not your debt presents and undue hardship.
  • Your lender calls you all the time and you don’t like it.  Multiple calls from Sallie Mae everyday is not fun.  Calling your friends and neighbors is not cool.  Their unwillingness to work with you can be very frustrating.  However, this only has little value to proving an undue hardship.  Your lawyer is not your therapist.  The only thing that needs to be discussed on this front is that you have tried repeatedly to work with your lender, and they refuse to do anything to help accommodate your financial situation.

To be clear, your lawyer could use these stories and experiences when they are making your case.  They may even be a separate lawsuit.  However, when you are trying to convince someone to take your student debt discharge case, start with the important facts to that case.  The rest comes later.

Step Number Three: Show That the Law is on Your Side

As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, many bankruptcy attorneys charge by the case and not by the hour.  Legal research can be both expensive and time consuming.  If you can find cases, ideally in your circuit, you can save your attorney some time and convince him or her that you have a winnable case.

Recently, the Get Out of Debt Guy, put together a detailed analysis of the surprising success rate of student loan discharges.  Conveying this information to a potential attorney could really help your cause.  If you take the time to read through the cases, you may even be able to find someone similar to you who was successful in getting their debt discharged.

Step Number Four: Have Realistic Expectations

For many attorneys time is money.  You will likely be asking them to step outside of their typical area of practice.  Most bankruptcy attorneys stick to their niche and don’t stray into other types of cases.  When you discuss what you are looking for, be sure to get to the point: you think you have a winnable student loan case and would like their expert guidance in the matter (it never hurts to stroke someones ego when you are asking for help).

Discharging student loans is more difficult than any other type of debt in a bankruptcy.  You can reasonably expect that such a service will likely cost more than a standard bankruptcy proceeding.  You can also expect that it might be difficult finding the right attorney.  However, if you do your homework, you can find the right attorney, and you can take control of your financial future.