The inaugural Debt Collection Forum (DCF) was held March 21 – 23 in St. Louis, Missouri. Delta Outsource Group was responsible for organizing this new industry conference. Billed as a forum that would “provide real world solutions and strategies,” DCF did not disappoint. The National List was the DCF Law List Sponsor, and NL Executive Vice President, Randy Nicola, attended and submitted this report.
DCF went “outside the box” and invited Consumer Protection Attorney, Sergei Lemberg, to speak during one of their sessions. The four-hour session was titled “2020 Collections. What Will Collections Look Like in 2020.” It included an all-star lineup of industry experts covering all aspects of debt collections: Bob Hunt, VP & Director @ Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia; John Bedard, Creditor’s Rights Attorney @ Bedard Law Group, P.C.; David Kaminski, Creditor’s Rights Attorney @ Carlson & Messer, LLP; Roger Weiss, President & COO @ CACI (certified collection agency) and David Mertz, Chief Compliance Officer @ Global Debt Registry.
Sergei Lemberg’s Bio
In more than a decade of practicing law, Sergei Lemberg has earned a reputation as a tough and tireless advocate with a passion for helping regular people fight for compensation they deserve. He stands up to carmakers, insurance companies, debt collection agencies, robocallers, and other big businesses. He has been recognized as the “most active consumer attorney” each year since 2010. Mr. Lemberg has been lead counsel in a number of class actions. He has been interviewed on consumer law issues by myriad media outlets, including FOX News, ABC News, MSN, the International Business Times, the Los Angeles Times, Newsweek, and Consumer Reports. Mr. Lemberg frequently speaks at industry events, including events held by PACE (Professional Association for Customer Engagement) and the National Conference on Consumer Finance (Class Actions and Litigation).
Based on his reputation, I was not sure how the audience would receive Mr. Lemberg’s presentation. I know some people in the collection industry were disturbed by having a consumer lawyer speak at a Debt Collection Conference, but those in the audience were very polite and courteous.
Mr. Lemberg said his firm only works with consumers who have a legitimate case, and he “isn’t looking for a quick buck.” Lemberg’s firm has a three-tiered : When a consumer calls in, they speak first to a para-legal and then to a litigation para-legal, before the case is referred to a lawyer, who then makes contact with the consumer to set up a case.
One of the first questions Lemberg was asked was, “Why does a consumer reach out to you?” The exact words of his reply were, “They are pissed off.” He reported that 90-95 percent of the people who contact his firm feel they were treated unfairly and with disrespect, to the point of being harassed.
Possibly as a follow-up, Lemberg was asked, “What is the collection industry doing wrong?” His response was that the number one problem and the biggest violation is frequent calling, despite the fact the consumer has said, “Don’t Call Me Anymore.” The calls keep coming even when they have advised the collector, “I have limited resources.” This is the number one reason Lemberg’s firm decides they will handle the case.
One convention attendee asked, “If the consumer, refuses to take your calls, how else can we communicate with them?” Lemberg suggested to ask the consumer. “How would you like us to communicate with you?” He further explained, “It could be through texting or email, as long as the message is not duplicated or automated. It must be set up manually. You can email or text as long as the consumer has given you permission to use those resources.”
Lemberg was asked, “How do you market yourself?” He said he buys words on search engines and pays per click. “Half of our business comes from pay-per-click and the other half from blog-generated websites.” He was also asked, perhaps somewhat discourteously, “Do you coach consumers on how to ‘trick’ bill collectors so they are in violation and can be sued?” Lemberg said that is not a practice of his. He added, “Ninety-five percent of the consumers just want to stop the phone calls and five percent sue just for the money.”
Even though some people in the collection industry were disturbed by inviting a consumer lawyer to speak at DCF, frankly, I could not disagree more. Anytime we have an opportunity to gain knowledge and understanding on how the other side thinks, I think we should take advantage of it. We just might be able to avoid a simple but overlooked violation, and be able to save ourselves and our company time and money.
Kacey Rask, NL VP of Business Development added, “I was very interested to hear Randy’s report on this session, and I was slightly jealous I couldn’t attend. With so many consumer complaints and suits being filed against our clients and member attorneys, this session provided forward thinking and allowed insight from both sides on what our industry is facing. By contributing to this session, Mr. Lemberg stepped into the shark tank, which included some of our industry’s leading collection professionals and their peers. This was a great opportunity for our attorney members and clients to ask the hard questions and possibly take away information that could keep them from harm’s way based on a consumer complaint.”
Randall W. Nicola, Executive Vice President, The National List of Attorneys.