How do I hire a US lawyer from abroad?
December 13, 2016 5:44 PM   Subscribe

I live outside the US, but I need to hire a lawyer in the US to sue a business for unpaid debts totaling a bit less than $10,000. Is there anything I need to be aware of related to my not being in the US, or can I just contact any lawyer in the same state as the business I need to sue?
posted by bakerybob to Law & Government (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
The only thing that comes to mind immediately is that you should be prepared to send and receive faxes. Smaller law firms may be reluctant to work with international clients, larger firms may charge you extra. Shop around a bit before making a final decision.
posted by b1tr0t at 5:51 PM on December 13, 2016

You should be aware that as the plaintiff you may at some point be required to travel to the U.S. to testify at deposition or in court in order to proceed with the case. You should be prepared to discuss your projected ability/inability to do this with your prospective lawyer. Your prospective lawyer will likely also insist that any fee disputes be taken up in a particular U.S. jurisdiction.
posted by eugenen at 5:59 PM on December 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

IANAL. I would suspect that you will be asked to provide the firm with a retainer prior to them accepting you as a client, so have money ready. If the business has a judgment entered against it in your country, get that paperwork prior to shopping around. I'd disagree with b1tr0t re: faxes -- nowadays, scanning documents with PDFs are usually what's done, so if you don't have a scanner, either buy a cheap one or master one of the ones that goes on your phone. Not 100% necessary but good to have: look up the corporate record of the business you're going to sue on that state's government website. Try searches such as "business search" "Wyoming" or whatever state it is. Sometimes it will be on that state's Secretary of State website. Nine times out of 10, it will be free -- don't pay a third party for the information.
posted by WCityMike at 6:02 PM on December 13, 2016

My biggest concern is the amount you're suing on. I recommend that my clients be very careful in suing if there is less than $50,000. The transaction costs (lawyer fees, court costs, etc...) are likely to be far greater than than the $10,000.

Anyway, as far as California is concerned, you can just hire a lawyer in the same state as the business you're going to sue. I would be quite surprised if that's different elsewhere in the USA.
posted by bswinburn at 6:17 PM on December 13, 2016 [3 favorites]

Just FYI: your story is EXACTLY a scam that people try to run on lawyers in the US all the time, so you should expect a fair degree of skepticism. And frankly, suing on $10k is a questionable proposition. If the business had it, it's hard to imagine that they wouldn't pay an undisputed bill. And if they don't have it, all you'll get is a judgment that you won't be able to collect (though you might spend thousands trying).
posted by spacewrench at 6:32 PM on December 13, 2016 [9 favorites]

$10K is often, depending on the jurisdiction, within the limits for small claims court and, as such, you may not even need a lawyer.
posted by DrGail at 6:49 PM on December 13, 2016 [3 favorites]

I'm in Canada so can't recommend one, but I'd suggest looking for a collection agency based in the state where you want to collect. You'll have to pay a percentage of what they collect (I've seen rates from 25-50%) but collectors can be quite effective just by threatening legal action, and they often have legal services available as part of the package if it gets to that.

And using a local collector should get the attention of the debtor in a way that you probably can't from outside the country.
posted by bowline at 8:14 PM on December 13, 2016 [9 favorites]

I agree with the idea of using a debt collection service. Best would be if you could sell the debt to someone up front for a percentage of the 10k before collection (if anyone is willing to do this). Actually pursuing the litigation would cost a substantial portion of your $10k, so if you could get more than half of that without filing a lawsuit yourself, I would take it. I would be wary of signing up for something where you get paid only after they collect, unless it's unavoidable - they will inevitably settle the case for much less than the face value of the debt, so you're going to take a significant haircut on the $10k even before the collector takes his percentage.
posted by Mid at 10:45 AM on December 14, 2016

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