Some people might be surprised how student loan issues can be tangled up in several different areas of law. Areas include the more obvious ones – bankruptcy, consumer protection, tax. They also include those areas that are less obvious – family, estate, immigration. Finding a student loan attorney in one of those areas can be difficult.
Here, we provide you with some steps that can help you find someone to represent you with your student loan problems.
Why Finding a Student Loan Attorney is Difficult
If you are having difficulty finding an attorney to take on your student loan case, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have a bad case. It is difficult to find a student loan attorney because there are so few. Even though student loans affect millions in the U.S., few attorneys are knowledgeable on the laws surrounding student loan issues.
There are two ways to get a lawyer to take your student loan case.
- Choice One: Pay an attorney 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: Quickly convince the attorney that you have a good case and they can win with limited effort. The following steps will explain how you can get your attorney on board.
One Note: We get many questions about finding bankruptcy attorneys to help them discharge their student loans. So, we will use them as an example in this article. The principles are still the same, though, and can be applied to other areas of law.
Bankruptcy attorneys generally make money by the number of cases they pursue. They file as many bankruptcy cases as they can and work them as efficiently as possible. They do this because they usually don’t bill by the hour. Instead, they generally bill their clients a flat rate per bankruptcy.
Discharging student loans in bankruptcy, however, is a unique circumstance. Bankruptcy law treats student loans differently than nearly any other type of debt. Student loan discharge requires more steps and more work than a standard bankruptcy. Furthermore, student loan creditors have successfully perpetuated the myth that student loans are impossible to discharge in bankruptcy. Many bankruptcy attorneys aren’t aware of the best ways to overcome this myth. So, why would the attorneys want the extra work if they aren’t going to make any extra money?
Step Number One: Familiarize Yourself with the Relevant Student Loan 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 the relevant laws. The Internet provides a good resource for doing this. There are often websites, such as this one, that provide a broad overview of the concepts you’ll need to be aware of. Your local library may also have resources that focus on providing expertise in particular areas of law.
Remember, you’re not trying to become an attorney here. You just want to arm yourself with the knowledge to help you feel comfortable presenting your case to a prospective attorney.
In our bankruptcy example, you might have found our article explaining some bankruptcy basics. You would discover that it isn’t impossible to discharge your student loans. There are a couple of ways to approach discharging your student loans in bankruptcy.
Step Number Two: Explain the Relevant Facts of Your Case
One of the most frequent mistakes we see people make when they’re explaining a legal situation is that they skip over important facts and focus on irrelevant details.
Going back to our bankruptcy case. You learned that one of the ways to discharge your student loan in bankruptcy is to prove that keeping the student loans would be an undue hardship on you. If you want to convince your attorney that your student loans cause undue hardship, make sure you focus your thoughts on the things that matter.
Things that will probably matter:
- Your current debts and expenses. A list of all your debts would provide an attorney with a starting point to see the financial obstacles you are dealing with.
- Dependents you have to care for. This could be kids or parents that require your care. An attorney would find things like child support and other essential costs of care to be important details.
- Your income earning potential. If you are disabled, or otherwise unable 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. An attorney will have better luck arguing your case if you can show the roadblocks you face.
These items matter because they provide evidence that shows why it would be an undue hardship to keep your student loans.
Things that don’t matter:
- You think your school screwed you over. This probably wouldn’t matter to a bankruptcy attorney when it comes to proving your undue hardship. You may have a legal case, but it is a matter for a different attorney and a different court. Whether or not your school promised you a job when you graduated has nothing to do with whether or not your debt presents an undue hardship.
- Your lender calls you all the time and you don’t like it. Multiple calls from Sallie Mae every day is not fun. Them calling your friends and neighbors is not cool. Their unwillingness to work with you can be very frustrating. However, this has little value in proving undue hardship. Your lawyer is not your therapist. The only thing that needs to be discussed on this matter is that you have tried repeatedly to work with your lender, and they refuse to accommodate your financial situation.
To be clear, your lawyer could use these stories and experiences when they are making your case. They may even lead to a separate lawsuit. However, when you are trying to convince a bankruptcy attorney 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
Legal research can be both expensive and time-consuming. If you can find cases, ideally in your court’s jurisdiction, you can save your attorney some time and convince them that you have a winnable case. This is another place where the research you did before can come in handy. Make note of any cases that you see (don’t forget to note which court the case was in) that sound similar to your case. These cases may not be relevant to your case, but an attorney might find them to be a helpful starting-off point.
In 2012, the Get Out of Debt Guy, put together a detailed analysis of the surprising success rate of student loan discharges. Although student loan bankruptcy cases have been decided since then, articles like these are great at providing how the case law has developed. Conveying this information to your 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. Many attorneys prefer to stick to their niche and not 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. (Also, it never hurts to stroke someone’s ego when you are asking for help.)
Discharging student loans in bankruptcy is more difficult than just about any other type of debt. 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 to find the right attorney. However, if you do your homework, you can find the right attorney. And as an added bonus, you can take control of your financial future and be an effective advocate for yourself.