If you’re struggling to pay your student loans, working with a student loan lawyer or attorney can be invaluable. Student loan law is a specialized field, and that’s why it’s imperative to find a knowledgeable professional who you are confident can help with your issue.
Before you hire a student loan lawyer, it’s key to understand how your attorney can — and can’t — help with student loans, as well as how they charge for services. Here’s what to know in advance of hiring a student loan lawyer, including:
- How can a lawyer help with student loans?
- 4 questions to ask before hiring a student loan lawyer
- How hiring a lawyer can help with student loan trouble
Student loan lawyers can help borrowers with a wide range of problems. Some common reasons to request their services include:
- Dealing with a delinquency or default
- Considering whether to file for bankruptcy
- Needing expert advice on loan repayment or discharge
- Acquiring representation to deal with a loan servicer, debt collection agency or government entity
You should attempt to resolve any problems with your loan servicer before resorting to paying out of pocket for professional advice.
If you’re struggling to manage your debt, for example, you can find free student loan tools and information online. You can also connect with your college’s financial aid office, even as an alumnus, which may be able to provide resources to help manage your loans.
For serious concerns, or if you’ve already exhausted these avenues, hiring a student loan lawyer might be the best way to find a path forward.
When you hire a lawyer for any purpose, you’re hiring someone who is overseen by a state licensing board. You can confirm their credentials by visiting your state bar’s website and scrolling through its directory of attorneys. If you can’t find yours, the American Bar Association lists lawyer licensing agencies by state.
Not every lawyer who’s passed the bar is right for your case — it’s wise to look past general referrals and prioritize lawyers with student loan experience, instead. Here’s what to ask before moving forward.
1. Does your lawyer specialize in student loans?
If you don’t get a referral from someone, you’re likely to search online. Reviewing sites is a wise first step, but don’t stop there:
- Perform an online search to see if the lawyers are affiliated with reputable organizations like the National Consumer Law Center.
- Check lawyer review websites such as Avvo and the Better Business Bureau.
- Review the lawyer’s website to ensure they specialize in student loans.
“A general practitioner might not be best suited for student loan law,” said Simon Goldenberg, a debt relief lawyer based in Brooklyn, New York. “Student loans should be a primary part of their practice because of the nuances and the vast remedies available. If they’re not, it might take longer, it might be more costly and it might not get the best result for the client.”
While there are workshops available to help lawyers understand student loan issues, having real-world experience in the specialty is crucial. Be wary of lawyers who don’t have a background in student loan law but who seem confident your problem is similar to other clients’ issues that they’ve dealt with in the past. While there are similarities between consumer and student loan debt, if your lawyer primarily works with consumer debt, such as credit card debt, they may overlook relief options specifically related to student loans.
2. Do they have experience solving your specific student loan problem?
Student loan lawyers should be adept at handling problems with both federal and private loan debt. More importantly, they should have experience working with clients like you.
The best way to see if this is the case is to be the interviewer during your initial consultation. Ask your potential lawyer these three questions:
- How many clients have you helped who had a problem like mine?
- Can you walk me through an example of a similar case you managed?
- Given your experience, what outcome is reasonable to expect in my case?
If you have a student loan in default, for example, an experienced lawyer should at least be familiar with your lender and able to share examples of default cases they have handled in the past. Better yet, they should have dealt with your lender directly before.
3. What are their fees, and what are the fees for?
If you’re hiring a student loan attorney, money may already feel tight. That’s why it’s important to find a lawyer who is clear about their fee schedule. Avoid lawyers who might pull you in with a free consultation, then charge higher fees later on.
Plus, you’re going to have questions along the way. So think twice before hiring a lawyer that charges for every phone call you make or email you send to their office.
“Be wary of lawyers that charge hourly rates,” Goldenberg said. “Without flat rates, or a contingency payment plan, those hours might spin out of control.”
St. Louis–based student loan lawyer Stanley Tate also recommends clients pay flat fees for common services, such as:
- $200 for document preparation
- $350 for a 45-minute review of the case
- $600 for a 60- to 90-minute strategy session and customized debt plan
- $1,000 to resolve a student loan default
- $3,000 to negotiate a student loan debt settlement
- $4,000 for pretrial work
- $5,000 or more to go to court
If fees like those above are unaffordable for you, low-income clients could qualify for free legal advice or a pro bono attorney through the American Bar Association. (Learn more about affording legal aid here.)
4. What encouraged them to take on student loan work?
Learning how a lawyer got interested in this specialty is another way to assess whether he or she is the right fit for you. Hearing their own journey, or what inspired them to make this their professional focus, may help you feel understood and can be one more factor in determining whether this lawyer is a strong choice. If they have or had student loans, that could also mean a deeper level of expertise.
“If they resolved their own student loan problems, it could be a big help,” said Tate.
Hiring a student loan lawyer is a big step — and a big investment. Reaching out to a lawyer should be a final move after talking with your lender and doing your due diligence on loan management options. That, along with asking important questions about their expertise and experience, will help ensure it’s the best choice for your situation.
Anna Davies contributed to this report.