I recently was in the mockup stage with a client (with whom I didn't enter any contract or anything) and provided him mockups of designs. I asked for an upfront (very small just because he was first client and I had to plan for worst) but he hesitated to pay me and wanted to pay me only after providing design. He continue to be so fussy about every mockup I sent and was always demanding big big changes. So I continued to be patient listen to him and deliver him mockups. He also continued to be like öne last chance I am giving you or else you are wasting my time. And that he is a busy person.

Then one day it just went beyond my patience and I decided to quit this work. I asked him to pay at least something for over 6-8 mockups that I sent him. But he hesitated and it made me so angry that I sent him an email infuriated and told him to stop being so uncooperative, fussy and arrogant with future freelancers.

Somewhere I remember mentioning that he was stupid that he didn't appoint anyone else to talk about the project when he was so busy. Because he was never clear about what he wanted and even on asking him, he was confused or hesitating to reply.

So in reply to that email he threatened me that he will take legal action if I misbehave like this. Seriously, after all the efforts wasted and he paid me nothing, he wants to take legal action against me?

Can he really take legal action against me? And will he? On what grounds? How should I have handled this situation to prevent this?


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    Not as far as I can see. He is using it purely as a threat, to be honest he sounds like a awful client, send him another, polite well structured email that because you do not have an contractual obligations with him you feel you are "no longer able to meet his demands" and that "you are immediately stopping all development"
    – tim.baker
    Nov 22, 2013 at 10:19
  • I have replied and apologized for "wasting his time" and didnt want to write anything more. Thought was better to get off the scene... He was willing to pay me a small gift for the time I spent with the understanding that I also wasted his time, and I didn't accept the money because of all that happened. So he replied a thank you and best wishes. So I guess everything is ok now?
    – anon
    Nov 22, 2013 at 13:17
  • As much as you can be yes! Always a relief when things sort themselves out
    – tim.baker
    Nov 23, 2013 at 11:07
  • @tim.baker so nothing heard from him yet since 3 days so you sure everything is settled right? Just so confused right now lol
    – anon
    Nov 23, 2013 at 14:26
  • I wouldn't ever expect to hear from him again.. I'm not a lawyer but it to me it doesn't sound like anything to worry about
    – tim.baker
    Nov 23, 2013 at 16:31

6 Answers 6


No matter what is the behavior of the customer, being aggressive and insulting never helps. In some countries, it can, indeed, allow your customer to take legal actions against you for defamation/slandering.

Another consequence is that the insulting e-mail can find its way to internet. What if, a few years later, a potential customer—a large corporation, decides to check about you before asking you for your services? What if they ask your actual customer what he thinks about you, and as an example, he forwards them your e-mail?

In order to avoid those cases, follow two guidelines:

  1. If you don't want to maintain relations with a customer who pays (for example because he's a jerk), ask for more money. Make him abandon you because he don't have enough money. Never abandon a customer yourself.

  2. If the customer doesn't pay, there are two cases. Either you have enough leverage to force the customer to pay or you are able to take legal action. Or you can't, in this case you're screwed.

  • +1 Once uploaded, most things have a pretty long life span in Internet
    – Sithsu
    Nov 25, 2013 at 19:12

Never, ever send an email when you are angry. Nothing good can come out of this. Calm down, sleep a night about it and send a professional, cooperative message then.

You have lost this client. If it would have been a good idea to keep it is an entirely different matter, but the way this ended is bad for you, simply because clients talk. They talk about you. It's in your best interest to have them talking positively about you so you get known and get contracts. Best case now is that he won't talk about you.

It may be a good idea to apologize to your client.

For all legal matters, consult a lawyer.


Other answers have said "Don't be angry at a client", and whilst that is good advice, it doesn't answer your question.

No, there is no legal basis for him to take any legal action against you. You were not under contract and under no obligation to produce any work for him paid, or unpaid. You are better off without this client.

With regards to the content of your email, the other posters are correct - always act in a calm and professional manner. However, you could have mentioned exactly what you're going to do with his wife and mother in a sauna - and he still wouldn't be able to take legal action as what you want to do with his wife and mother would be entirely opinion-based and not applicable to any libel/slander laws.

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    The point was not legal actions because of the work, but because of the defamation. Whether there is a legal basis for persecution depends on where you are. Don't believe general statements about law that don't even consider your location, ask a lawyer.
    – Sven Amann
    Nov 22, 2013 at 9:55
  • Definitely sounds like it's cool. And you didn't take the money either. I guess it's a "lesson learned" and move on :)
    – Moo-Juice
    Nov 22, 2013 at 13:40
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    Good answer. To address the comment, person-to-person email is not defamation because it's considered a one-on-one conversation (unless you CC'd a bunch of people). I can call anyone any name I choose if I'm speaking to them. I can't go around telling everyone I know "John Doe" is an "xxxxxxxx". And defamation is spoken, it's liable if it's written, such as email. But I agree, doesn't sound like there's any basis for any legal action (although I'm not a lawyer).
    – Scott
    Nov 24, 2013 at 18:09

Yes, he can take legal action and sue you and... LOSE. I mean, what he will sue you for. For yourself being impatient, rude, non-being-slave-enough?

Also, does he know you full name and address? He has to put something in it.

In the future, if things like this happen, just reply to him "Yes, please sue me. Can you also give me you full name and address as I want to sue you for slavery with is forbidden by every world's law?". I bet you will never hear from him again.

Now, you had a baptism of fire. Be smart in the future. Always work hourly with weekly payments or have money deposited into escrow service like Skrill for example. Then limit the number of changes you are willing to make. You are hired for your artistic abilities. If the client know what colour better suits some object, then why doesn't he do the design himself?!

I bet the client is some teenager who wanted to have his own slave. Just like the guy contacted me this morning and asked me "I have a debug task for you. Do it and then we will talk about you continuing working on the project. Yes, sure I will do it, I replied. I predict it will take X hours so please deposit the money to the escrow". He did not reply a word :)


No. It does not sound like there's is any basis for legal action (but I'm not an attorney). You can't sue people for arguing with you, calling you names, or being unpleasant when speaking (or emailing) in a person-to-person conversation. If all your communication was between only you and the client, there there's nothing he can do. Now, that being posted, if you were to write a blog post, post on a forum, email others stating "The Client" is "stupid" or "arrogant" or other less-than-favorable things, then yes. He could then possibly have grounds for a liable case. But you'd need to speak to an attorney if you did indeed do any of those things.

Some tips....

  1. If a client is hesitant to pay for anything at any time, chances are they aren't going to pay you. Or, if they do pay, it will be after a long delay with excuses and possibly badgering for discounts.
  2. You probably know this, but always have an agreement in writing regarding the work to be done and the fees associated with the work. This doesn't have to be a contract. It can be emails. If emails clearly detail the work to be completed and the fees to do that, and the client responds agreeing, then there's your written contract.
  3. As others have posted, never type angry or annoyed or frustrated. Those attitudes always get conveyed in the email, even if you think they aren't. Always take a beat and wait to reply if you are upset.
  4. When a client is repeatedly being unclear and asking for multiple iterations and then being evasive when speaking about payment, those should be huge red flags. If for nothing else, for you to stop, take a step back, and organize the project yourself. If you've already gone above and beyond what you feel is sufficient, then send an email stating you are happy to continue working on revisions but are unclear about what the final target is to be and that is causing undo changes. Then detail what the current changes are which the client wants. And ask, "Does this encompass any and all changes at this point? If it does not, please detail what has been missed or any additional items I may not be aware of." Basically, stop working and start talking. DISCUSS the changes rather than implementing them. The goal should be to have a written list of items which is all inclusive. That way, if new items are added you can refer back to the list and state "That's not on the specification sheet we agreed upon." (scope creep)
  5. When scope creep occurs, and it does to everyone. You have to make a business decision. Is it worth allowing the creep without issue? Is it creep well above and beyond anything reasonable? How much more do you need to charge for the creep? Is the client prepared to pay for the additional creep? How does creep effect delivery date? Is the client prepared for any delay the creep will cause in delivery? These are all important matters to discuss with the client when creep occurs. Don't ever actually work on creep until you've discussed it and you can't undeniably cite creep until you address #4 above.

Without knowing what legal jurisdiction you are subject to, no-one can offer anything more then the broadest answers:


n. the act of making untrue statements about another which damages his/her reputation. If the defamatory statement is printed or broadcast over the media it is libel and, if only oral, it is slander... Damages for slander may be limited to actual (special) damages unless there is malice... Most states provide for a demand for a printed retraction of defamation and only allow a lawsuit if there is no such admission of error.
-- Definition from law.com

To sue you successfully he has to prove you damaged his reputation by publishing untruths about him or speaking to others untruthfully about him -- and that you did so with malicious intent if he's going to get any serious money out of you.

From the situation you described, that seems unlikely. As noted above, if you were to send another email retracting your assertions that he is "uncooperative, fussy and arrogant" with freelancers, and too "stupid" to delegate, that may establish a good shield for you against any legal action he may take on the matter.

Personally, it sounds like this guy is full of hot air. Unless you know he has sued people before, I'd hire a lawyer to send the retraction on your behalf as a physical letter in the mail with big scary law firm letterhead.

A barking dog tucks tail and runs at the scent of a wolf.

But that's just me. YMMV

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