Advice from A Dinosaur

As someone with extensive experience in this industry (yes, I affectionately refer to myself as a “dinosaur”), I reflect on the valuable advice I’ve given to new bail agents and the wisdom I received when I started two decades ago. Here are some insights that may prove helpful to new agents:

County Variations: North Carolina has 100 counties, which translates to 100 distinct ways of conducting bail business. Each county jail operates differently when it comes to posting bonds. Procedures might involve interacting with jailers or magistrates. To navigate this, seek guidance from your supervising bondsman. They can provide insights specific to the county you’re working in.

Local Nuances: Remember that every clerk, District Attorney, and School Board Attorney also has their unique approach. When in doubt, don’t hesitate to ask questions. Seeking clarification early on can save you significant headaches down the road.

Contract ClarityAlways have a contract with your supervising agent. However, don’t just sign blindly. Understand the legal implications of what you’re committing to. If any doubts arise, consult an attorney. The last thing you want is to unwittingly bind yourself indefinitely. Ensure that your contract allows for a reasonable exit strategy if circumstances change.  When entering into a contract, it’s crucial to conduct due diligence on the other party. Here are some key aspects to consider:

Employee Turnover Rate:  Investigate the company’s employee turnover rate. High turnover can indicate underlying issues.

Business Longevity:  How long has the company been in business? Longer-established businesses often have more stability and experience.  Consider their track record and whether they have weathered economic cycles and industry changes.

Reputation with Law Enforcement and the Judicial System:  Research their reputation in legal matters. Have they faced legal challenges or lawsuits?  Look for any red flags related to criminal activity, fraud, or unethical behavior.

Fee Awareness: Be crystal clear about the fees you’re paying to your supervising agent or employer. These fees can take various forms:

  • Flat Fee: A straightforward fixed amount.
  • Premium: A percentage of the total bail premium charged to the client.
  • BUF Deposit: Some arrangements involve a BUF (Build Up Fund) deposit.

If there’s a BUF account, it’s crucial to know where it’s held:

  • Is it managed internally by the supervisor?
  • Or is it held with the surety company?

This distinction matters! If you’re contributing to a BUF, ensure that the money is held in an account associated with your name. Transparency is key. Can your supervising agent or employer provide you with regular monthly statements? It’s unfortunate that some agents have mistakenly believed they had a BUF account when, in reality, they did not. Remember, clarity and awareness protect both you and your career!

Some pointed advice I received when I started in this industry remains as relevant today as ever: “Always worry more about what is going out the back than what is coming in the front.” It’s simple yet profound.  Remember, not all money is good money. Whether your part of a large company with multiple agents or a one-person operation, consider this: if you find yourself chasing skips and paying out more than you’re writing bonds and taking in, it’s time to reevaluate your bond underwriting strategy.  That initial $1,000 you received for a $10,000 bond may feel satisfying, but when that $10,000 payment to the courts comes due, it won’t feel quite as great. Prioritize sustainable practices over short-term gains.

Thorough documentation is your lifeline when it comes to locating defendants. You can never have too much information. A mere name and phone number won’t suffice when tracking down someone who’s intentionally evading capture. Here are some essential practices:

File Management: Your files are invaluable. Even if you submit them to your supervising agent or employer, keep a personal copy. Remember, it’s often still your responsibility to track your clients, even if your working relationship with your supervisor ends.

Powers and Seals: Regularly reconcile your powers or seals with your supervisor or employer. Human error happens, and paperwork can get lost or misplaced. Imagine misplacing a $5,000 power—you’d have to pay the premium and BUF based on its full face value. It’s far easier to locate missing paperwork soon after it’s misplaced than a year down the line.

Remember, meticulous record-keeping ensures smoother operations and fewer headaches in the long run.

Always stay proactive in managing your license renewal and keeping your contact information up-to-date with the Department of Insurance. While some offices may have staff handling these tasks, ultimately, it’s your responsibility. Losing your license or facing fines due to outdated information is avoidable with timely updates.  And here’s a critical point: If your working relationship with a supervising bondsman ends, immediately notify the Department of Insurance. They need to be informed promptly.

Thoroughly document all collateral transactions! The Department pays close attention to collateral-related complaints, as they rightfully should. Here are essential steps to follow:

Collateral Documentation: Ensure meticulous records for any collateral taken. Document every detail—both incoming and outgoing. This practice is your safeguard.

Interest-Free Accounts: When holding monies, comply with state statutes by keeping them in non-interest-bearing accounts. This ensures transparency and adherence to regulations.

Timely Collateral Returns: Return collateral within the 15-day time period. Promptness matters, and it’s a professional obligation.

Remember, precise documentation protects you and maintains trust in your business practices.

Another crucial aspect to consider is ensuring that all your paperwork is approved by the Department. Here are some key points:

Stay Current: If any detail in your paperwork changes, promptly resubmit it for approval. Even a logo alteration requires this step. Keeping your paperwork up-to-date is essential.

Written Approval: Always seek written approval from the Department. Retain a copy of this approval for your records. It serves as a critical reference point.

Department Scrutiny: In case of any complaints or issues, rest assured that the Department will closely examine your approved paperwork. It’s often one of the first things they check.

Remember, meticulous compliance ensures a smooth process and avoids potential complications.

Bond Forfeiture Motions: If you’re handling bond forfeiture motions, consult your supervising agent on the correct filing procedures in your specific county. Their guidance is crucial to avoid unnecessary complications.

Legal Guidance: If you’re not receiving advice from your supervising agent, seek assistance from an attorney who can guide you through the filing process. Avoiding mistakes now can prevent objection hearings later.

Remember, seeking professional advice ensures smoother proceedings and minimizes risks.

Bail agents are an essential service that plays a crucial role in North Carolina. We contribute significantly to reducing jail overcrowding, which eases the burden on taxpayers. By ensuring defendants appear for court, we save resources spent on apprehending them later.  When we pay a bond, we have a positive community impact.   Those funds directly benefit our county school systems. Every aspect of our profession serves the citizens of this state.  Let’s treat our profession with the respect and value it deserves. Never underestimate the importance of our services. Time and again, it has been proven that Bail Works!

Respectfully Submitted,

Julie Henderson

Respectfully Submitted,
Julie Henderson