My client won't pay - should I get a lawyer that specializes in Internet issues?

Discussion in 'The Business Aspects of Web Work' started by designguy, Mar 11, 2012.

  1. designguy

    designguy New Member

    Hi there, my name is Martin from Germany and I did a website for a client in Ireland. I have a signed contract that outlines everything but the client (a very small family owned bed and breakfast business) did not want to pay the full amount. They abandoned me and finished the site with somebody else :numbness:

    I sent the invoice, then served an order for payment. But now the client has stated opposition which means it will now go to court and I'd need a lawyer. The case is about 600 euros.

    How can I find a lawyer who is familiar with web design issues? Has anybody of you had to go get a lawyer for design related issues and could you please recommend me any help?

    Many thanks in advance,
  2. paul

    paul Ninja

    Hi Martin, Irish person in Munich here.

    Do you have Rechtschutzversicherung (legal insurance) ? I ask because it may cost you a lot more than 600€ to get this money. There is a small claims court in Ireland, for cases up €3,000, which is cheap to file, more details here Courts Service of Ireland I'm not sure if you have to be resident in Ireland to file.

    Is it possible to take the website back from your client ?
    Have you communicated to your client that you are consider legal proceedings ?

    Do let us know how you get on !
  3. designguy

    designguy New Member

    Servus Paul -- ich komme ursprünglich aus München :very_drunk:

    I don't have any legal insurance. The European Order for Payment was served. The client sent in her opposition. So now it goes to the local court and I need a lawyer.

    My contract with the client is very clear. I delivered exactly as promised. The client walked away from the project and did not pay her final amount. She even set up another website with a similar domain name. My work is still online (I have full control over domain name and hosting). So I believe I'd win the case.

    In Germany it works like this: if you lose the case you pay your lawyer, if you win you don't. Usually there's no upfront payment for the lawyer, as opposed to the USA where you pay per hour ... so how is this in Ireland and has anybody gone through such trouble before?
  4. achieve

    achieve New Member

    I think that your biggest problem is that because the amount in dispute is relatively small, that most solicitors / lawyers will not be interested in taking on your case. This is a sickener, and has also happened me in the past. I now have a policy of requesting a third upfront for all jobs where I do not know the client.
  5. designguy

    designguy New Member

    I had received 50% upfront. In my last two cases the amount of dispute was similar to 600 euros. I will now go ahead and call a list of solicitors in the area of the court (Tralee) and inquire. I'll let you know how it continues.
  6. MOH

    MOH New Member

    Unfortunately the small claims court doesn't cover debts, so don't think it's of any use here.
  7. designguy

    designguy New Member

    I called a couple of solicitors in the area of the district court (found them on and got a referral for a solicitor that handles debt and smaller cases like mine. So that solicitor offered me to send a "demand letter" to the client. Such letter, coming from a lawyer should certainly make a bigger impression than a European Order for Payment form sheet where the client can just check the "I oppose" checkbox. So I hope that this letter now will be really strong in its tone and the mere fact that it's issued by a local law firm may get the defendant to eventually pay.

    Such letter will cost me 36 euros with no automatic followup costs. I certainly will give it a shot. Cross fingers!
  8. paul

    paul Ninja

    Daumen gedrückt (german for fingers crossed is thumbs pressed).

    Is the company using your design still ? You might be able to resell your design on something like Themeforest and at least make some beer money.
  9. e-view

    e-view New Member

    Any updates on this?
  10. designguy

    designguy New Member

    Well the lawyer sent the demand letter and the defendant got a lawyer on her own. Her lawyer aggressively counter claimed "damages" - stupid tactic by some lawyers. So since it was now on the level of lawyer against lawyer it went to the districts court. My lawyer registered the case with the court. Later I got an invitation to show up .. in Ireland .. personally! The court said they'd need "evidence" (although all evidence was in the contract and in other paper documentation).

    So then I checked the price for going to Ireland from Paris -- umm, that costs more than the claim!. I then quietly dropped the case by sending my lawyer an email. I never paid him for the demand letter. That was early fall 2012.

    Well, THEN, months later, exactly on January 3 I get an email from my lawyer. He said that the lawyer of the defendant said that the defendant was willing to pay the outstanding 500 euros and get the rights to the domain names (and the site). Since then I've not heard back. I'll keep you posted.

    I have some comments on this - I'll write them in another post.
  11. designguy

    designguy New Member

    Doing small business with an Irish company as a non-Irish EU web designer

    1. The EU policy and the policy of all intelligent countries is such that SMALL business should be supported, because it's small and medium sized businesses that make the economy stronger. BUT, why the heck am I forced to personally show up in Ireland in a case like this? They even had the nerve to tell me that they don't have laptops to do a Skype video call. If the case would have gone to court and I would not have shown up - hehe - the defendant would have automatically won the case :-o

    This means in reality that if somebody from outside Ireland wants to do a small deal with somebody inside Ireland (I'm not talking about consumer rights here) -- so if the deal fails and the vendor, who let's say sits in Germany, starts to do a legal process, then the defendant can just deny everything and get away with it because a trip from Germany to Ireland including lost time and hotel costs would be so much more.

    Bottom line: I advise anybody who reads this to not do small business with companies based in Ireland, because if it comes to court and even if your contract is water proof - you'd still pay more for the trip to show up in court even if you'd win in the case. Note: What MAY help could be to set the place of jurisdiction in the contract to your home country (which I forgot to do).

    Furthermore: The "European Order for Payment" was kind of silly and useless (remember, the defendant just checked the "refuse" box). I could have saved that fee and gone straight to small claims court and start with a demand letter.

    2. Another lesson from this is that it's always a good idea to not only host the site on a server where only you as a developer has access, but also sub-lease the domain name registration (and mark everything up, of course). In my case the defendant had to set up another domain name and create a completely new site, hosted somewhere else (totally stupid from the point of view of the regular Internet Googler who will get pointed to all existing sites). Fortunately the two domain names that I had registered are very very good (SEO wise and also easy to remember).

    It's funny that my defendant contacted me on the first day of January. I think she hoped that with year's end the domain name would be released. She apparently had not heard about a WhoIs query. Whatever. I could just let everything go into the Universe but now I'm thinking to renew domain name registration and put it up for sale...
  12. link8r

    link8r New Member

    Hi Designguy

    I'm deeply sorry for your situation and I'm sorry too that the project costs outweighed the collection costs but I don't think, to be fair, that this is particular or peculiar to Ireland.

    I think this is a big problem for all Knowledge Providers across the EU and the world.

    From my point of view, the first thing is, we have our terms of service, which forms our contract. That lists out, in greater detail, the below summary:

    1. The legal jurisdiction is Limerick, Ireland (which is ours)
    2. All work provided, including intellectual property (created, borrowed etc) remains ours until paid for in full
    3. Once the contract is accepted, the full value of the contract falls due

    What this means, basically, is that I should be able to get a local court to accept the case, in the event of a disagreement, the amount is due anyway - it sounds unfair but really it just gives us a fair footing. To go into court and argue about subjective things: For example, a client who's website traffic went up 10,000% but nobody wanted to pay $500 for a bag of coffee isn't my problem (bad example but still) just isn't really going to fit into my itinary.

    For the sake of Balance - we worked for a German tour company who were based in Spain. They paid 30% up front and paid for 4 months. After achieving the desired #1 ranking in the UK, they cancelled the project and we never saw another red penny. That's not a slur on any country - there are just bad and inexperienced business people across the world....
  13. designguy

    designguy New Member

    We need to distinguish between criticizing court systems and criticizing clients

    The project costs did not outweigh the collection costs. Yesterday my lawyer sent me an email saying that he had received the outstanding money. I never had any costs, except postage and the time that I had spent (oh well). What I meant was that there would be higher costs if I had to show up in court personally.

    Regarding the necessity to show up personally in the court for a clear breach of contract (a breach that can easily be proven by paper work) is simply silly. I had similar cases in Germany and I had to never show up personally. I believe that Ireland is somewhat protective and less "open" like Germany (a transit country for centuries).

    Maybe it's different for courts in Dublin but to hear that the court in Tralee states on their website that a no-show results in automatic loss of the case, plus not even provide video conference ("we don't have a laptop" -- I can send you a copy of their email if you don't believe this) is just so lame. Sorry, maybe it's such a small backward, protective community or it reflects the island mentality of Ireland as a whole?

    We need to distinguish between criticizing court systems and criticizing clients.

    I agree: There are weird clients everywhere, no difference here between Ireland, Spain, Germany, France... The only way for small design guys like us is to keep as much of the service in our control until the last euro-buck is collected. And to get as much payment upfront as possible (50% for a small gig). In my case the contract and all paperwork was practically worthless!

    I lived in Greece and did business there for several years (90's) as photographer. They gave a damn about copyright (you cannot enforce it anyway - sloppy legal system), so they bought pictures by the slide (including full buyout - no other option), like on a market - straight forward. I loved it actually - things were at least clear. :positive:
  14. link8r

    link8r New Member

    I am really pleased that you are in receipt of a payment. Can your solicitor seek to have their fees paid by the client as well?
  15. designguy

    designguy New Member

    Good question. Normally, if it would have been settled before court and I had won the case, all fees would have been paid by the defendant. In my situation, because I canceled to resolve the case in front of court, and although the defendant in the end complied with my demand, I have to pay my lawyer's fees. But it's better to get at least something out of this than nothing. So it's a win-win situation for me and the lawyer.

    To give you an idea: Demand was 500 euros (second half of my invoice - I had received 50% up front) and I had to pay him 134.50 euros which includes the initial court fees. So I walk away with a chunk - not bad.

    I have not received the wire transfer but it should work out. Cross fingers :ghost:
  16. link8r

    link8r New Member

    Another term we have is that all legal fees are payable by client. Sure, you can't get a court enforced fee recovery order but you are incurring extra costs by the client.
  17. designguy

    designguy New Member

    I found this cool video from the series "San Francisco Creative Mornings" where the owner of a web design studio talks about getting paid. Full of wisdom (and funny).

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