How Not to get Screwed Over
August 6, 2012 8:18 PM   Subscribe features a video called "What it Feels Like to be a Freelancer." They also provide tips on how not to get screwed over, for freelancers, clients, and subletters alike. The site and video were brainchild of Docracy- aimed at offering free, open-source legal documents that are edited and fine-tuned by the community that uses them. They range from a variety of subjects, from personal [subletting, wills] to business [freelancers, consulting].
posted by FirstMateKate (25 comments total) 60 users marked this as a favorite
Still, go get a lawyer to look over anything you might download from the site.
posted by joelf at 8:27 PM on August 6, 2012

You break up with someone and they angrily throw out all your stuff.

Don't get screwed over:
Collect your things before you dump someone.

Or, try not to date those kinds of assholes in the first place*. This strategy has worked out pretty well for me.

* I mean, really, are you living in a rom-com cliche?
posted by axiom at 8:31 PM on August 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

Unfortunately, axiom, freelancers can get into those kinds of 'relationships' all too easily without seeing it coming - you'd be surprised at how many respectable-seeming companies, how many huge and liquid corporations, how many nice people in suits there are who see invoices and suddenly start with the "oh, about that..."

This a pretty great resource - thanks, FirstMateKate. Although many freelancers have probably already seen it, and I'm sure it's been linked here, I should mention that excellent bible of how-tos for freelancers stuck in a corner: Mike Monteiro's excellent "Fuck you. Pay me." It's well worth watching.
posted by koeselitz at 9:00 PM on August 6, 2012 [15 favorites]

Deal memo. Everyone needs a deal memo. I 've been a freelancer for over 20years and I don't work without a contract or deal memo and I've always gotten paid. Shaming on social media works almost as well as small claims court.
posted by Ideefixe at 9:23 PM on August 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

Unfortunately, in some businesses, everyone is a freelancer. Except now they call them "contingent workers" or something that isn't quite so humiliating. I recently escaped from one company that really screwed me over, but I can't reveal the details, pending the outcome of prosecution. No, not litigation, prosecution. In the interim, my consolation is that all the people that screwed me over, were fired and invited to reapply for their old positions as contingent workers, at lower pay and no benefits. Now the shoe is on the other foot.
posted by charlie don't surf at 9:25 PM on August 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

freelancers can get into those kinds of 'relationships' all too easily without seeing it coming

Yeah, everythings is all smiles until you are sent circling into Revision Hell, where you work forever and never get paid and it eats your whole life.
posted by louche mustachio at 9:52 PM on August 6, 2012 [3 favorites]

Freelancers (especially those early in their careers) should also watch/memorize this video called Fuck You, Pay Me. It's an experienced designer giving tips about about setting up creative businesses.
posted by kellybird at 10:23 PM on August 6, 2012 [5 favorites]

Yeah, on preview, what koeselitz posted. Oops!
posted by kellybird at 10:24 PM on August 6, 2012

One might want to invest in the new micro cameras and record your time with your new client, in case it goes tits up.

The last clown I had to sue in small claims had his lawyer do things like:
1) Miss the 30 day response window for discovery.
2) I filed an admit/deny and the same lawyer sent me an offer we'll tell you the answers to your admit/deny if you drop the case.
posted by rough ashlar at 11:28 PM on August 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

UK freelancers should know about Money Claim Online, the UK government's small claims procedure.

Basically this acts like a small claims court service, but all online. You fill in online forms and then your adversary receives genuine UK courts stuff through the post, and in most cases, gives in around that point.

I've used it to recover a debt, excellent service.
posted by colie at 12:47 AM on August 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

I've hired a lot of freelancers (~150) over the years and I wholly subscribe to the need for a contract.. but.. in my experience as a responsible contractor, there is a not insignificant minority of freelancers (I'd estimate as high as 20-30%% of freelancers, although thankfully not of projects due to us repeat hiring the good ones) in the field we hired for, technical writing, who did truly terrible jobs.

My team worked on projects to a ratio of 1:3 (our time:freelancer time) so a failed project cost us money too and it was not in our interests at all to see projects fail. So we spent a lot of time cultivating people we could go back to again and again and a lot of time supporting new people we hadn't worked with before, giving them full examples of previous freelancer work to reference our expectations of quality and workload, sample project plans and timelines, at the end of the phone support, detailed face to face project kickoffs and early stage reviews to nip things in the bud. Above all, the single most important thing we did was establishing what the project deliverables should be in micro detail so nobody got to change the spec or be surprised.

Our failures fell into three camps:

- acceptable failures (we differ on whether the project is done to quality, but it's close enough that we feel it is isn't worth keeping pushing. So we pay)
- skills gaps (the freelancer simply isn't skilled enough. We thought they were, but they're not. hey deliver something discernibly crap - i.e. we can take them through clearly the gap in why it is so poor - and we're all left holding the baby. Typically we have to rip up deadlines while this is going on. We compromise on final payment).
- bad faith (they know they've delivered crap, we know they've delivered crap. Examples include wholly plagiarised copy and paste work and things missing so much of the brief it is clear they're pulling a fast one. Often they sail through deadlines without delivering too too. We don't pay, and tell them we won't pay).

So I empathise with "fuck you. pay me", because there are assholes out there. But I also empathise with "give me what I paid for" Interestingly, our bad faith freelancers were the ones most likely to try the "fuck you, pay me" line. The skills gaps lot were the hardest to deal with because they have clearly invested the time, but the output is not what we contractually agree.
posted by MuffinMan at 12:50 AM on August 7, 2012 [4 favorites]

When expectations on both sides isn't managed - things go haywire.
posted by gomichild at 3:10 AM on August 7, 2012

MuffinMan - I think you kind of missed the point. If someone blatantly did not deliver on a contract, then you don't have to worry about payment, and "fuck you / pay me" as it's meant here doesn't even enter into it. The freelancer might talk tough or even use those words in that case, but that's not what we're talking about here.

The issue is the much more common scenario - in my experience - where specs change, contracts are fudged, and clients try to slide out from under obligations. Then, it becomes necessary to have a strict system in place with graduated steps toward legal action. That's what "fuck you / pay me" means.
posted by koeselitz at 3:29 AM on August 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

(As I said, it's worth actually watching the video.)
posted by koeselitz at 3:30 AM on August 7, 2012

kellybird and koeselitz, thanks for linking to the video. I'd seen it linked here on Metafilter before, but never watched it because (based on the title) I thought it was some angry fluff piece. It's too bad about the title, because actually it's good. Right now, I'm at 12 minutes and a lawyer is giving great advice. A little basic ("have a contract") but not what I originally anticipated at all.
posted by Houstonian at 3:40 AM on August 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

MuffinMan - I think you kind of missed the point

No, I saw the video, thanks, Koeselitz. And I agree with its premise of not having to beg to be paid, especially the bullshit about budgets being pulled. But I have had freelancers who genuinely believed they delivered on the contract even though they didn't. And ones who thought the spec changed, even though it didn't. And we have had the hard conversation where it comes to begging and you feel like Scrooge because you have to explain to someone that they've spent time on something and you're not going to pay.
posted by MuffinMan at 4:10 AM on August 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

Mike Monteiro (the guy who did the Fuck You, Pay Me video) also wrote a great book, Design is a Job, that every freelancer (not just designers) should read.
posted by Mick at 5:24 AM on August 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

It would be more appropriate in this economy if she took the drawing, said thank you and then turned and ran away. I've heard from more freelance photographers being stiffed due to the client filing for bankruptcy than anything else over the last few years. I'm owed $800 by the now defunct NFL magazine that was being produced by a custom publisher in Canada that literally seems to have disappeared. Come to find out they went belly up and I'm not the only one to have been screwed.
posted by photoslob at 6:54 AM on August 7, 2012

Still, go get a lawyer to look over anything you might download from the site.

I'm a lawyer and I'm of mixed feelings about this. On one hand, I see plenty of clients in awful situations because they tried to paper over a deal with crap they printed off the internet. On the other hand, it doesn't always make financial sense to get front-end legal advice, either for the client or for the lawyer.

I recently changed legal practices and now am in the kind of environment where we get frequent cold calls. I hear a lot of, "There's a guy on the phone (not an existing client) who wants to know if you can just take a quick look at this lease / software license / asset purchase agreement / employment contract for him." The answer is almost always no. Or rather, its not "no," but instead its, "Tell him I can meet with him but there is no such thing as "just a quick look" and I will need at least a $750 retainer to get started."

Why is this? Why wont' I just take a "quick look" for $50 or so? Because once the client meets with me and I look at his contract for him, then I'm suddenly his attorney with a fiduciary obligation and I suddenly own any and all problems that invariably WILL come up. Clients bring their agreements in for review because they want confidence and security. In order to provide that, I have to have the entire picture. I need all the facts, not just a piece of paper with some contract language on it. I need to walk the client through each and every possible catastrophic outcome. I have to warn them on not only how to protect themselves legally but also practically. I have to be prepared to answer dozens of "what if" questions. And if I'm not prepared to do that, or if the client really truly insists that they just want a "quick review," then my opinion letter will be so loaded with caveats that the client will really have zero sense of security in their document and, worse for me, I will have spent just as much billable (and likely uncollectible) time writing the caveats and disclaimers so that the client doesn't come back at me later with a malpractice claim. The upshot of this is that there is a baseline level of engagement below which it is not remunerative for any lawyer worth his/her salt to provide contract advice. And from the client's prospective, the same is true; if the deal is small, then the cost of buying that sense of legal security is going to outweigh the benefits.

I also think there is an illusion out there that there is such thing as an "iron-clad" contract, or that if your contract is good enough then you can have total security in the outcome of a deal. As someone who gets paid to dispense legal advice, probably the best advice I give a lot of clients in small-scale deals is to worry less about what's on the piece of paper and worry more about who they are dealing with.
posted by chicxulub at 6:58 AM on August 7, 2012 [10 favorites]

Come to find out they went belly up and I'm not the only one to have been screwed.

Did you talk to a lawyer? In many cases, this debt is treated preferentially, and as the company was winding up, you would have been paid at least part.

But if you didn't have a contract, and you didn't have a lawyer, you walked away from it.

Indeed, if you had a stipulation in that contract saying that the IP was yours until full payment, you could have walked away and possibly used the work again -- and if that work was sold as an asset in a bankruptcy auction, and used, you could have sued to gain payment (because without full payment, you owned it.)

Every time I hear "I was screwed", I ask "Did you talk to a lawyer." In fact, you may have been screwed from the start because you didn't contract correctly. But until a lawyer tells you that, you won't know, and if you won't talk to them, it's not being screwed, it's consensual. You are letting them screw you.
posted by eriko at 7:02 AM on August 7, 2012

Every time I hear "I was screwed", I ask "Did you talk to a lawyer." In fact, you may have been screwed from the start because you didn't contract correctly. But until a lawyer tells you that, you won't know, and if you won't talk to them, it's not being screwed, it's consensual. You are letting them screw you.

Did you read the comment directly above yours? Photoslob was screwed out of $800. The lawyer who posted next said there's about $750 of baseline work to do when accepting any client. How is this worth the effort? For $50?

Let's not go straight to victim-blaming.
posted by purpleclover at 8:49 AM on August 7, 2012

eriko - no lawyer I know is going to take my case for $800. About 5 years ago I caught a record label selling posters of an image of mine that they had simply ripped out of a magazine and reproduced. The copyright of the image in question had been registered within 30 days of publication. I spoke to a few lawyers who couldn't be bothered with my case. I was finally referred to an IP attorney who teaches at one of the local law schools and he told me not to bother because unless the infringement was worth more than $10k it wasn't worth his while.

So tell me again why I should speak to an attorney?
posted by photoslob at 11:23 AM on August 7, 2012

I agree with what MuffinMan is saying, and those are true complaints and very valid. But I don't think this is the place to discuss them. I know it wasn't your intention, but when someone says "here's how clients screw over freelancers", and you come along saying "yeah, well, freelancers screw over clients, too!" then it comes off as you trying to discount the validity of the first claim. Again, I know its not your intention. But there's not really anything to respond to that other than "...and?". Because it's similar to the topic, but not relevant.
posted by FirstMateKate at 2:07 PM on August 7, 2012

> Freelancers (especially those early in their careers) should also watch/memorize this video called Fuck You, Pay Me . It's an experienced designer giving tips about about setting up creative businesses.

Guuuuuh. A nearly 40-minute long video. Killin' me, people. Please provide transcript.
posted by desuetude at 11:11 PM on August 7, 2012

Please provide transcript.

Fuck you, pay me.
posted by photoslob at 7:36 AM on August 8, 2012 [3 favorites]

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