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Nine months ago I agreed to exchange my services as a designer in return for free consultations from the client (who is a doctor). We agreed that we would exchange our services by matching hours for hours (eg. I would give him 12 hours of my service in exchange for 12 hours of his consultation).

During the course of this period, I had been in for a few consultations, roughly amounting to 4 hours of his service rendered to me. Meanwhile he had made some small steps with beginning the design project, but it was moving very slowly.

Today I get an email stating that he worked with another designer to do the job, and since I haven't performed any work for him, he's chosen to invoice me for the hours he's rendered to me. We have no contract but we have a series of emails outlining what would be exchanged, and money wasn't stated as a form of potential compensation.

I am wondering if the client has the right to claim for monetary compensation if they are backing out of the arrangement, or if I have some kind of power to offer an exchange of other services as originally agreed?

Doesn't this also amount to a breach of an agreement on their side, and therefore they aren't entitled to anything at all as a result?

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If you two have no contract, then what is he breaching? on the other hand, the mutual understanding is valid in front of the law.

I'd say that he was not acting correctly, from what you wrote. He should have given you more tasks. And if not being satisfied, he should have told you that. So if this comes to the arbitration, I'd say that email are enough of the evidence.

But bare in mind that we are not legal counsellors, and maybe you should ask someone "more law related" about this.

  • Don't forget - an oral agreement is still a contract. But there is no breach on the doctor's part -- he's simply pushing the boundaries a bit. – Xavier J Jul 29 '14 at 18:27
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The doctor can't unilaterally modify the terms of your original agreement.

Your agreement gives you both the option of using one anothers' services, with no specific mention of cash compensation. You've exercised your option, but the doctor has not. It's that simple. There's no breach but there is a little funny-business going on here.

The doctor can sell his rights under the agreement to someone else (so the other party could then utilize the hours), but cannot force you to pay any money. It's been his choice alone to not exercise the option.

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    I think this is a valuable answer, but the options vs rights status heavily depends on the specific language used in the emails... – daaxix Jul 25 '14 at 2:36
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In the US he would essentially be in breach of contract, but you still used his services.

A judge would probably rule for you to do something like pay for the 4 hours at a cost equivalent to your no profit rate, in other words what the traded hours are worth to you (likely discounted off of the doctor's asking rate).

US law typically attempts to resolve breaches and conflicts in a fair manner, so you really do owe him.

With that being said US law would also specify that the doctor has a duty to mitigate your damages. What this means for you is that the doctor needs to provide the remaining 8 hours of service that was agreed to for a rate equal to your zero profit costs.

If you only had a verbal agreement, however, good luck with enforcement.

If you have at least emails documenting the agreement, then you have a good case...

Negotiation

Even at something like $250/hour (for $1000 invoice to you) I would advise against taking this issue to a court, simply because it will cost you far more than that in terms of time, even small claims would probably not be worth it. If it is significant (more than $5,000 to $10,000) then you may want to pursue court action.

I would advise that you negotiate with the doctor, since he doesn't want to continue the relationship and you have essentially 8 hours of discounted service remaining.

You should (in an assertive but polite manner) ask if you could pay for just 1 or 2 hours and let that be the end of the issue. There may be a little back and forth, but most reasonable people will negotiate something that is agreeable to both of you.

No matter what jurisdiction you reside in, once you come to an agreement, make sure to document it in writing, with signatures, etc.

  • There's no breach. A breach is a situation where a party fails to perform per an agreement. The doctor has performed, but is also trying to modify the agreement after having performed. It's more a situation of "buyer's remorse" than anything else. – Xavier J Jul 29 '14 at 18:52
  • It is in breach if he is saying that he no longer wants to offer his services in exchange for the OP's services, which I'm fairly certain is the case. – daaxix Jul 29 '14 at 20:20
  • No, no, no. Unless the agreement specified that the arrangement would go on forever, the doctor is not in breach because the commodity being traded is in a unit that is severable (hour). That said, the doctor may decide to not contribute more hours but it does not relieve the OP of his side of the bargain. This is just like when you visit a grocery store after viewing an item in a sale paper - if the store runs out, you can't force the store to provide you the item at the same price later (though it'd be nice). – Xavier J Jul 29 '14 at 22:23
  • If you signed a contract with the store stating that they will provide you with the item at a specific price, then yes they would be in breach. It depends on the specific language contained in the emails which were exchanged... – daaxix Jul 29 '14 at 23:01
  • @codenoire Are you in the EU or US? Your terminology is something I've never encountered in US contract law. – daaxix Jul 29 '14 at 23:11

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