Will I win this small claim, customer refuses to pay me for freelance job?

by admin on March 23, 2011

I am a graphic designer. I accepted a freelance contract to put together a publication for small publishing company for 00 (worth 3k industry standard but I needed the money).
I had them sign a simple contract. They failed to fulfill several of the agreements. They were late in paying the "starting fee". The duration to complete the project was reduced. They were terribly disorganized and unprofessional, sending me material up to the night of the deadline, never providing a proper master list etc. They had me ship directly to printer without reviewing/approving it themselves (despite my recommendation).
As a result, 1 editorial was omitted that I had received and should have included. I was notified of this after sending the first 30 days past due billing notice. I responded at that time, explaining what must have happened and apologizing. Now after more than 60 days past due they have failed to pay and demand I discount my price. I feel that they were equally responsible for the error, and I fulfilled my obligations under the contract. I completed the job as agreed even with the reduced deadline. There were no specifics on accuracy/quality etc.

If I go to small claims what are my chances of winning? I’ve been told by the better business bureau that I met my obligation, despite the omission (since there was nothing in the contract) but I’m worried this will get dragged out and I’ll never get my money.

I can’t afford an attorney. Does anyone know of free legal resources (online or otherwise) that can help small business owners?
The contract was simple but clearly stated the job to be delivered, the ship deadline, the date(s) payment(s) were due. No specifics on what was to be included in the publication or who was responsible for editing. I know this guy (also a small biz) is struggling financially because he mentioned it during the project. Now he is trying to blame me for loosing this customer.

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    { 5 comments… read them below or add one }

    I Buy And Sell Houses March 23, 2011 at 4:16 am

    First, I’m not a lawyer, so this isn’t legal advice.

    Second, it’s impossible to predict what can happen in court; even lawyers will tell you that.

    However, I do have 35 years of writing, editing, and publishing experience–newsletters, magazines, etc.

    OK. Most of what you describe has no bearing on the issue.

    The key sentence in your question is: "They had me ship directly to printer without reviewing/approving it themselves (despite my recommendation)." It was their responsibility to review what you sent the printer. It sounds as if they waived that responsibility. If so, then you should be off the hook. Additionally, didn’t the printer provide a blueline or PDF proofs to them? If so, that would further strengthen your case, but even without that, if they declined to review the material, then the responsibility is on them.

    As a side note, if you’re discounting $3,000 jobs to $1,500 and don’t have enough money for a lawyer (look, you can get some legal coverage from outfits like PrePaid Legal for about $40 a month), then you might want to rethink your current career path. You’re probably an excellent designer, but it takes business savvy–and the guts to stand up to toxic clients–to stay in business.

    Good luck.

    Pocket Protectorate March 23, 2011 at 4:16 am

    If I were you, I would negotiate with them on their offer to reduce the price and get this over with, and chalk it up to "lesson learned" because to pursue this is small claims court would cost you more in time and money than what they owe you…do the math…

    Your time is worth money…when you do the math, you’ll see that the best thing to do is try to be reasonable (even if you don’t feel it) and get them to pay you by reducing the price…you’ve already lost too much in this situation, so let’s not throw good money after bad…

    That’s what I would do…if I were you…(Son of an Attorney…that would be his recommendation…)

    (Also: Don’t ever let the customer or client see you act angry or say anything in anger…rule number one…always sound and "be" reasonable and accommodating (even when the situation makes you want to punch somebody in the nose…This is all advice my own Lawyer Dad gave me when I got out of college…)

    MonaLisa Overdrive AM VT wannabe March 23, 2011 at 4:16 am

    It is impossible to say without reading the contract. If you state clearly what you were being paid to do, and when you were to be paid, you should not need an attorny, and will likely win an uncontested settlement. However, that doesn’t guarantee they will pay you, and good luck collecting from the deadbeats.

    ROOSEVELT P March 23, 2011 at 4:16 am

    Yes you will win, but you will need a lawyer because if you do it your self, it will drag out. I filed for a small claim and tried to deal with it myself but it dragged out for 2 years. I got a lawyer and he took care of it in 4 months. I garnished their wadges and finally got my money back.
    Also it depends on if they owe more than you will pay out of pocket to settle the case.

    Good luck.

    andy p March 23, 2011 at 4:16 am

    First of all, I have to say that I am an attorney and I have to agree with some of the other comments. Specifically, there is no guarantee you will win. But it sounds like a pretty simple case because you are not getting paid for the work performed.

    More importantly, I wanted to comment on the comments this thing can be dragged out over time and you need to hire a lawyer. I do not necessarily agree with that comment because Small Claims Courts are just that ~ courts for small claims. They are designed to handle these types of disputes in a quick and efficient manner. They are also designed for people to address these disputes without having to get a lawyer (this does not mean you can’t get one, or the other side can’t get one because they can).

    I suggest you contact the local Justice of the Peace office for Fort Bend County. I am sure they are even on the web. When you call, they will tell you the method and manner of filing a small claims. You might be surprised how quickly this can get resolved. I am not saying it will be resolved in days, but it might take 60-90 days.

    Anyway, I hope this helps.

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