Going to court to recover a debt is intimidating, expensive and time-consuming. Therefore, you should think carefully before embarking on this final stage of the debt recovery process, especially if you have not exhausted your alternative options for getting paid. This article outlines what you should consider before filing your statement of claim.

Consider Whether Your Debtor Can Pay

Even if you have a strong claim, if your debtor has no means to pay, you may get little from starting a lawsuit. Therefore, before commencing court proceedings, find out what you can about your debtor’s finances. For example, by checking their credit report and bankruptcy status.

Determine if You Can Prove Your Claim

Every good lawyer will tell you that ‘litigation is never a sure thing’. The more evidence you have to support your claim, the stronger your position will be. While evidence in the form of written documents is always best, it is not essential. The court will determine a claim without written documentation on a ‘he said/she said’ basis.

Calculate Your Likely Costs

The legal fees you can expect to pay can quickly exceed a small debt. The costs of pursuing a $2,000 debt can be the same as pursuing a $15,000 debt simply because the same steps need to be undertaken like preparing your evidence and attend a hearing. In addition to your lawyer’s fees, you should also expect to incur additional costs including the court filing fee and process server fees.

The court filing fee is paid to the court when starting the lawsuit. The amount of the fee will depend on how much you are claiming.

Process server fees are the costs of paying someone to serve documents on the other party. This involves giving them documents such as your statement of claim, either in person, by mail or by email. Litigation can be time-consuming. The time spent pursuing your debtor is time that you could otherwise spend on your business.

Anticipate Being Out of Pocket

If the court finds in your favour, your debtor will generally be ordered to pay your legal costs. However, you will not be able to recover all your costs. For claims under $20,000, and all undefended debt recovery proceedings (i.e. if the debtor does not show up to court), the legal costs you may recover are capped and calculated to scale.

Therefore, while you may recover more costs for larger claims, you should anticipate being ‘out of pocket’ for legal costs to some extent. We typically advise clients that they can expect to receive about 70-80% back of their total legal spend.

Negotiate a Commercial Settlement

In some circumstances, negotiating a commercial settlement will be the best case scenario. You may agree to reduce the total amount of the debt in return for the debtor paying it immediately. Alternatively, you may choose to accept payment of the outstanding debt by periodic instalments. A commercial settlement provides certainty and avoids expensive and time-consuming court proceedings.

There is no ‘correct way’ to engage in settlement negotiations. Written correspondence, informal settlement negotiations or a more formal mediation are all possible options to consider as part of the debt recovery process. However, it is important to remember that all settlement negotiations should be undertaken on a without prejudice basis to protect your legal position. Should they be unsuccessful, ‘without prejudice’ negotiations will not affect your ability to pursue court action at a later stage.

Key Takeaways

Going to court can be a valid action to recover a debt. However, before starting this final stage of the debt recovery process, consider whether it will be worth your while. Court proceedings are expensive and often you will be better off trying to negotiate a settlement.

If you need further advice about the debt recovery process, call LegalVision’s debt recovery lawyers on 1300 544 755 or fill out the form on this page.

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