Is a Lawyer a Debt Collector, and Should You Sue the Lawyer If You Can When Sued For Debt?

As many people know, original creditors are treated differently than debt collectors. The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) applies, by and large, just to debt collectors and gives original creditors a relatively free ride. So where do lawyers fit in? And should you sue them if you can?

Lawyers Can Be Debt Collectors

Lawyers are not protected under the FDCPA. They can be, and as a practical matter the one suing you probably is, a debt collector. However, if the lawyer is representing an original creditor and acting in its name, he will be treated as an original creditor. If you are being sued by a debt collector, chances are good that the lawyer is also a debt collector, you can pretty much count on it. He can be sued for things he does wrong.

Before you go suing the lawyer, though, there are two things you should know: one has to do with your legal rights, and the other is more of a practical consideration.

Respondeat Superior

There is a concept in the law that makes people responsible for the things people who are acting as their agents do. This is known as “respondeat superior.” With a few exceptions, an employer is liable for the actions of an employee. That means a client is responsible for the actions of his or her lawyer. In general, this means that a debt collector is responsible for anything that its attorney does. Or to put it differently, you don’t need to sue the lawyer to attack the debt collector.

Should you do it anyway, though?

Tactical Considerations

Whether or not it makes sense to sue the lawyer is not an easy decision. I know you take the lawsuit personally-it represents a large threat to your personal and financial well-being. Naturally you want to strike back, personally, at the human person you see on the other side. The question is, though, is this the decision most likely to give you the most benefit? Is it most likely to cause them to drop the case and leave you alone?

I don’t know. Most of the time, the lawyers suing you regard your case from a purely business perspective attempting to maximize their profit and minimize the cost of suing you. And much of my approach to debt litigation has been to suggest that people exploit this business perspective by making your case unprofitable. That is relatively easy to do, although of course this isn’t always enough. If you sue the lawyer, you change her motivation. Then, instead of it being a merely business decision, you increase the personal stakes for the lawyer. It makes things unpleasant for the lawyer, no doubt, but it also motivates them to work much harder in many cases. You have multiplied your enemies.

A Final Legal Consideration

If you are suing the lawyer, your claim is not exactly a “counterclaim.” Instead, what you would probably do is counterclaim under the FDCPA against the debt collector and bring a third-party suit (within the same lawsuit) against the lawyer. The pleading is just called a third-party suit and names the lawyer as third-party defendant and states your claim in the same way the counterclaim did. Then the lawyer has to be served a summons. None of this is specially difficult, but it is time-consuming. Given the questionable benefit of suing the lawyer, I rarely thought it was worth spending the extra time. You’ll have to decide what makes sense to do in your case.