It’s oftentimes bad enough for workers who file Social Security Disability claims and then must endure long waits for approval as their bills pile up. Too often, they also must deal with aggressive debt collectors who make their lives even more miserable.
Lawrence Disparti has practiced Social Security disability law for years and has seen this kind of scenario unfold with great frequency. So in 2011, he and attorneys Paul R. Fowkes and Ryan Hasanbasic decided to create a law firm devoted solely to assisting debtors dealing with collectors.
“We just saw a need out there,” he says. “There were really no attorneys who were filling that void of helping people with this issue.”
For Disparti, the firm and its work on behalf of debtors is a new way of continuing to represent workers and other individuals who have been injured through no fault of their own. After receiving his undergraduate degree in economics from the University of South Florida in 2000, he went to Stetson School of Law and got his J.D. in 2002.
He immediately joined his family’s law firm, became the managing partner in 2004, and has overseen its steady growth. His own practice has focused on Security SecurityDisability, personal injury, and insurance coverage litigation.
After the economic downturn of 2008, he saw people’s debt problems escalate and began to realize that there was a need for a new kind of legal service to assist them.
“People had access to a lot of credit and were buying a lot of things. All of a sudden they’re out of work or the interest rates on their credit cards are 20-plus percent and they’re in a situation where they can never get ahead of the game.”
It’s been an atmosphere ripe for expansion of the debt-collection industry, and Disparti has seen individual debt collectors resort to questionable—and downright illegal—measures in their attempts to collect.
“We have stories of threatening phone calls, telling people the sheriff is on the way unless they get payment with a credit card right now over the phone so they can stop the sheriff,” he says. “They just make that stuff up.”
Commonly, he says, people don’t realize when collectors may have crossed the line and broken the law as it’s laid out in state and federal statutes regulating collecting practices.
“Sometimes people sort of get lost in the situation and may not realize that the letters they receive might contain some law violations,” Disparti says. “People think it has to rise to the level of overt harassment, but it could simply be a few words on a sheet of paper that are illegal.”
Many times, the legality or illegality of a collector’s actions is not clear. “In many cases, it’s how we, the attorneys, interpret what happened to our client. Then we compare it to the laws and regulations and build a case that way.”
The firm, he said, has a policy of exercising aggressive action on behalf of its clients.
“We take the approach of hit them hard, hit them early, and see how they react,” Disparti said. “We get better results for our clients that way as a result.”
He says that fighting against overzealous debt collectors on behalf of people in dire financial straits has been fulfilling.
“We kind of level the playing field,” he said. “People don’t know what their rights are, they’re getting abused by these debt collectors, and we’re able to step in and kind of turn the tables against the collectors.”