We’ve moved. Back40’s new address is 2513 S. Kelly Suite 120 Edmond, OK 73013

Certified letters are rarely good things

Earlier this month, I received a certified letter from a big city law firm. The letter carrier deftly interpreted my immediate reaction (sad face, slumped shoulders, uncontrollable twitching) and told me that not all certified letters are bad. I wanted to stab him with the pen he just handed me, but he looked defenseless in his little blue shorts and pith helmet. Cooler heads prevailed, I calmly signed the receipt and avoided a federal assault charge.

The letter strongly requested that I add a “copyright/developed by…” on a website we recently redeveloped for a new client… non-compliance will bring down the legal wrath of all 50 attorneys listed on this law firm letterhead… and so on.

Angry Developer

Angry Developer who hired this law firm could have called me and saved themselves a few bucks. A little advice for Angry Developer: If a client is leaving you, don’t pick a fight with the ex-client or the ex-client’s new developer. That’s gonna leave a permanent mark.

As of this writing, no “copyright/developed by…” has been placed on the website in question. This issue is between Angry Developer and his now super-angry departed client, not me, the web developer. So why was I involved? I have to assume it’s the lawyer’s job to blanket everyone remotely associated with the issue with a certified letter – I wonder if Cox or Cisco got served too? The website in question obviously was delivered via their bandwidth and equipment.

Time heals. Webfest doesn’t.

Just when I had put this unfavorable event out of my mind. I attend a web conference and the topic of contracts brings it all up again. Thanks webfest 2011. Webfest is a student-run web industry conference put on by Francis Tuttle Technology Center. This was the first year of the conference and they had over 100 regional students attending.

They invited yours truly to be part of the industry panel. They have to do something with me, as I don’t code, program or design (much) anymore. Hey, could someone wheel the old guy up to the panel. From what I understand, the conference was a great success and they will be doing it again next year. I suggest you attend.

So there I was ready to enjoy an upgraded presenter lunch when a question from the audience brings the whole legal issue back to my frontal lobe. Several presenters then share horror stories that emphasized the need for iron-clad contracts and strong legal counsel. I have a different take on this subject, especially for the intended audience – developers just starting out. I would have spoken-up and joined the conversation, but I was too hungry. Old people get cranky when they’re hungry. So a few days later, here’s what I think.

Back40 has been in the business of building websites for 11 years and we’ve used essentially the same website agreement for 11 years. (Notice I use the term ‘agreement’ and not a ‘contract.’ I’d much rather sign an agreement, than a contract – wouldn’t you?). Has that agreement worked perfectly? I say, darn close. Have I ever been screwed over in business? You betcha. And it will probably happen to you too. If you have clients, competitors, vendors and employees – some of those humans will do you wrong. I accept this as part of being in business.

Acceptable loss

In addition to our web development work, Back40 Design owns and publishes a monthly publication, the Edmond Outlook. In one form or another, I’ve published monthly magazines since 2003. Perhaps I’m jaded, but by selling advertising for all those years, I have gotten used to write-offs.

This isn’t to say that it’s not costly, frustrating and even gut-wrenching to have clients that won’t pay you (or worse – when they steal your intellectual property). I figure I have two options to deal with these type of reprobates:

  1. Tighten every exploitable loophole in my agreement and set an appointment with my lawyer.
  2. Chalk it up as a learning experience and move on.

For the record, I have visited with my attorney on an issue or two (Yes, I have one. I finally got an attorney in 2008). But overall, I figure its better to have an acceptable percentage of lost income due to bad clients than an overly complicated agreement and a lawyer actively chasing down “no pays.” In the long run, I have found this acceptance to be a better choice – emotionally and monetarily.

Advice for developers:

  • Let it go, unless its a really big deal.
  • Call it an agreement; not a contract.
  • Have a lawyer but use them as little as possible.

Advice for new developers (like many at WebFest):

  • Find a free resource for an agreement, use it, tune it.
  • Get work and make websites.
  • If you get burned, get more work and make more websites.
  • Go to the WebFest 2012 at Francis Tuttle.

I honestly hope Angry Developer’s legal issues get resolved and Angry Developer does not incur anymore more professional legal fees. Now if someone would please wheel me away from my laptop, I’m done blogging for now.

Web designer talking to client
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