Hastings Law Journal


Wayne K. Lewis


In response to the pervasive abuses associated with debt collection practices. Congress in 1977 enacted the first comprehensive federal debt collection statute, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), prohibiting a broad range of practices, establishing a private cause of action for the injured consumer, and providing for administrative enforcement primarily by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The FDCPA specifically exempts attorneys collecting debts on behalf of and in the name of a client from its broad definition of "debt collector." Because an increasing number of attorneys are engaging in debt collection as a significant part of their work, it is important to determine whether and to what extent attorneys are subject to FTC regulation of debt collection practices. This Article explores the parameters of the FTC's investigatory and adjudicatory power over attorney debt collectors. The Article first examines FTC jurisdiction, possible factors to consider in determining whether attorney conduct is subject to FTC regulation under the FDCPA, and the use of section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act as an alternative basis of jurisdiction. The Article then discusses whether federal involvement in attorney debt collection activities is appropriate or necessary. The practical limits on FTC authority are examined, and state standards of attorney conduct and state enforcement are reviewed. The Article concludes that although the FTC has jurisdiction over attorney debt collectors, neither the FTC nor existing state standards can adequately protect consumers from the abuse of such collectors. The Article proposes that state bar associations adopt and vigorously enforce the provisions of the FDCPA.

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