Taking a break from my RMAI CRCP series, I recently tuned in to the National Creditor’s Bar Association (NCBA)’s educational offerings focused on how the collections industry is being impacted by the current COVID-19 situation.
As we’ve previously learned, and likely experienced, individual states and municipalities are implementing different orders, rules, regulations, and reopening plans. The result of this changing patchwork of processes and protocols leaves more questions than answers for how to best navigate our work at this time. For instance, in Illinois, the courts are currently open; however, for instance, Cook County courts which are the largest courts in the country, are summoning people for “date certain” trials, but only continuances are being handed down at this time. In addition, with the enforced social distancing in place, many of the hearings can’t logistically occur. Add to this already ironic situation the lack of established processes, and we are seeing individual judges offering judgments without precedent causing even more of a patchwork landscape of process and protocol. The processes for bringing new cases to bear could be said to be even more difficult, as the county is requiring service only by the sheriff’s office. Simply put, it’s a mess!
From a legal standpoint, it can be frustrating since new cases cannot be brought, cases already brought to court are not moving at all, and creditors are also being required to stop processing claims. Questions loom large on how to proceed with our business:
- How will courts be reopened?
- How will suspended cases be restarted?
- How can we process a 6-month backlog of cases?
- How can we move forward considering the insufficient judicial resources (e.g., training for judges & clerks on new technology)?
- How will the lack of court budgets for new technology be addressed?
- How long will lack of uniform court procedures for appearances and hearings last and how can we fix this issue?
With Great Challenges Come Great Opportunities
Hopefully, these challenges and the lack of actual hearings will create time to write new courtroom procedures. This is a great opportunity to establish remote hearings as the norm. Additionally, the lack of in-person proceedings may open the doors to other methods of communication with consumers. Given our current situation, some of the consumer debt communication method restrictions we’ve recently seen may actually swing the other direction. Not only will cases move forward with ease on consumer contact methods, but this contact could also actually give some power back to the consumers. For example, allow the use of online dispute resolution, avoiding the courtroom altogether. Such a change in process could allow electronic exchanges of notices, documents, and other communications directly with consumers, simplifying the process for everyone.
Access to Justice Commissions
Using his extensive knowledge, Markoff suggests that in all of this, our industry doesn’t have a voice; however, the way to help bring about some of these changes, represent our industry, and determine the best way forward in our new normal for everyone is to work with your state’s Access to Justice Commission.
For those who aren’t aware, forty states have Access to Justice Commissions (AJCs). AJC’s mission is to advance new statutory, policy, and practice changes that support the development of quality indigent defense and civil legal aid delivery systems at the state and federal level; promote less lawyer-intensive and court-intensive solutions to legal problems; and, expand research on innovative strategies to close the gap between the need for, and the availability of, quality legal assistance.
Markoff suggests this is where the consumer groups, judges, clerks, and lawyers write the policies and procedures. Being part of the process will ensure that our industry has their voice heard. Our interests will be represented in the establishment of new policies and procedures brought about by not only the Access to Justice Commissions but the catalyzing need for new procedures in light of COVID-19. Our industry has the same goals as the courts and consumer groups in many regards: we all want to move and resolve cases expeditiously, process cases in an efficient manner, avoid unnecessary court appearances, and have uniform court procedures throughout the state.
With great changes come great headaches but also great possibilities. Our unprecedented societal situation in setting up our new normal will change our industry. How we adapt and respond to these changes is the current story being written.
Actions speak louder than words, and I am thrilled to be placing myself and Tag Process on the side of education, consumer advocacy, and more efficient processes and procedures to benefit our work and industry moving forward in this new landscape. Through my Certification education, I’m positioning Tag Process to be at the forefront of the collections industry, working towards suitable outcomes for everyone in the consumer debt collection industry. Reach out today if you have questions, ideas, or want to work with a leader in the industry.
This information is not legal advice and may not be used as legal advice. Information discussed or contained is not an explanation of the law and is presented for educational purposes only.