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I've been working on contract jobs for this client for about 3-4 years. He's never given me a W2 and just told me to file my own taxes as a freelancer.

I've worked on 3 projects for him, each time he's paid me through Chase QuickPay, with no contracts what so ever. I basically got paid on a per 'set of tasks' basis. In total, he's paid me about $11k, for 3 projects in 3 years. Not just regular websites, but actual html5/angularjs applications. One was basically an app store, 2 were storefronts for html5 plugins. So I had to develop the product applications themselves AND the website to sell them, as well as server API development and database management.

Each project, ended badly. We would disagree on many things, like task/project timelines, deadlines, payment schedules, work schedules, and he even commented on my own health issues (Calling me fat, calling me names, etc.) He's gone as far as screaming at the top of his lungs in an office. As a result, none of the projects were ever fully completed. We've made progress, but I can't call the projects complete.

I decided to drop him completely, as working with him has been nothing but a toxic and depressing experience. Now he says he's going to sue me, that I stole his money by not completing the projects. But I don't want to keep working for someone who will constantly insult me, badger me on a daily basis.

We have signed no contracts what so ever. He's sending me threatening emails about suing me in Small Claims court. Should I be worried?

I have all the code I ever wrote, dated, and also logged on GitHub/Bitbucket.

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    In the US, anyone can sue anyone for anything. That doesn't mean they automatically win. I'm not sure anyone here could possibly answer this. There's just not enough information. And this is really a question for an attorney, not other freelancers. Attitudes and what you may have aren't enough of the story. Email agreements can be seen as "a meeting of the minds" so, in some cases contracts. – Scott Jul 22 '16 at 15:52
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    Did you document everything you've done for this client? All the money you accepted for various milestones? What he said or did to you? If he's calling you names or commenting about your weight, I'd threaten to sue him, and see how he likes it... Especially if he actually gets served the papers explaining why it's not acceptable – Canadian Luke Jul 22 '16 at 16:14
  • 11k over 3 years for 3 full web applications? you need to raise your prices. – Joel Brewer Jul 26 '16 at 19:47
  • @JoelBrewer to clarify that, I was still in school when I started doing work for him. I had no experience in the market. I now know the value of my work and how to approach clients. – nkl Jul 26 '16 at 21:15
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He could sue, but that doesn't mean he'll win. This is a ploy to get you to come back and continue the abuse.

Until you get a summons, there's really little to worry about. In court, he's got to prove (without an attorney, since this is small claims):

  1. There was an agreement, or several agreements, of some type between you and him
  2. There was consideration (money changing hands) for some work done
  3. You materially failed to meet whatever was agreed upon (breach)
  4. Potentially, he experienced some tangible damage by the alleged breach

I've found that clients like yours tend to blow a lot of smoke (guess where!). You've probably got every email he's ever written to you and that you've sent to him, because this type of client doesn't write down anything otherwise. Hang on to those, but don't panic.

Going forward - get contracts in writing and save yourself a lot of headaches. Don't work with abusive clients, and don't ever let the client dictate how you run your business. It's really not worth the money in the long term so try and cut off this type of client as soon as you sense things are going downhill and the client is behaving in an uncivil fashion.

If you let stress-creating, INTENTIONAL interactions from a client slide once, you're just inviting a client to do it again.

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Disclosure: I'm not a lawyer nor have experience with the law in your country. The following is my views on the matter and should not be taken as legal advice. Please consult with an actual lawyer.


By definition, a freelancer is someone who exchanges work or services for money.

When you freelance for a client, you are the professional.

In order to exchange your work or services to a client, you first need to agree on what the client needs and what you can deliver for a specified and agreed upon amount of money.

The best way to agree with a client is to write up an agreement. A contract of some sort, outlining the work that you are proficient at and the desired outcome for your client. Most importantly, specify your rate.

You, as the professional, needs to specify the scope and document it in an agreement. Everything that is out of scope, you create another agreement for the client to sign. If the client does not accept the agreement, don't do the work.

Communication with the client is key.


You did mention that the client paid you on a "set of tasks". If you quoted on the "set of tasks", he agreed on your rate and paid you the amount, then you need to complete the "set of tasks" before walking away.

Make sure that everything you and the client agreed upon, is in order before dropping the client.

If the projects you have done for the client are still on a development server and the client is the reason that the projects are being delayed, for example when the client requests out of scope tasks, then you should bring it up with the client.

Finish the outstanding work, if any, then leave. Make sure your side is clean.

For future clients, use clear and precise contracts or agreements. Yes, it is more admin, but in the long run, it will help you immensely.

  • Well to be honest, when I first started working for him, I was still a sophomore in college. I had no experience whatsoever as a freelancer. Presently I know how to communicate and address the clients' needs (I've had many successful happy clients after him). And the "set of tasks" was never on paper, most of the time it was just verbal conversations or email conversations. Nothing was ever written to an agreement on paper. Deadlines were never strictly set, as the timelines were consistently pushed back and everything was on a "get it done when you can" basis. – nkl Jul 26 '16 at 21:18

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