Questions commonly posed to paralegals

In this article I will address some frequently asked questions paralegals who specialize in small claims court representation receive.

I have a judgment. How do I collect my money?

The small claims court does not collect a judgment for you. You must take steps to collect. There are four methods available through the court. They are: writ of seizure and sale of lands, a writ of seizure and sale of personal property, a garnishment and a judgment debtor examination. How much information you have on the debtor will determine which is the best method for your case.

A writ of seizure and sale of lands effectively acts as lien against real estate owned by the debtor. You are allowed to force the sale of the property. However, the cost to you to do that is so much that forcing a sale is rarely pursued.

A writ of seizure and sale of personal property is, in my opinion, a last resort. The sheriff is not allowed to enter a person’s home to seize anything. In the case of an individual debtor this method is usually restricted to seizure and sale of a car. To seize a car you will need to do searches to prove the debtor owns the car outright. It cannot have a lien against it. The sheriff will want between a $1,000 and $3,000 deposit before seizing and selling a car.

A garnishment is a court order forcing either an employer, a bank, or a company who owes money to be a business debtor for accounts receivable to pay the money to the court. If you have the necessary information, this is the best tool to force payment of the judgment.

A judgment debtor examination allows you to ask almost any questions of the debtor regarding their past, present and future ability to pay. Used properly by someone who knows what to ask this is powerful method to collect information to help you enforce the judgment. However, since debtors don’t always show up for the scheduled hearing, you should only use this if you don’t have information on the debtor.

How much does a paralegal charge for a small claims court case?

Like every profession, different people charge different rates. You usually get what you pay for. The lowest priced paralegal may not be the best choice. Some of the factors paralegals consider in determining their price are: their years of experience, whether they specialize in that area, the difficulty of the matter and importance of the matter to the client, and special circumstances, such as the loss of other retainers, postponement of payment, uncertainty of reward, or urgency.

Paralegals may charge based on an hourly rate, a flat fee for a particular portion of the case or the entire case, or on a contingency basis.

An hourly fee seems straight forward. However, small claims court cases often do not proceed as planned. There could be unexpected motions to the court, an amendment of a claim or defence, the need to defend a claim by brought by the Defendant, or more than one settlement conference.

In a flat fee also known as a block fee arrangement, the paralegal may take the risk by changing a known and agreed fee in advance that unexpected things don’t happen that require more of their time than expected.

A contingency fee is where a paralegal’s fee is based on a percentage of the amount recovered from the debtor. The paralegal is entitled to request the client pay the out of pocket expenses in advance. Since the paralegal is taking the risk here and delaying payment of any fees until money is recovered, you could pay the most fees though this method.

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