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How To Handle Lawyers Threatening You (hustlebear.com)
164 points by jason_tko on Dec 15, 2010 | hide | past | favorite | 68 comments

I once had a shady service provider that did a terrible job, so I canceled the service when about 1% of the service had been provided. (Legally, this is as specific as I should be.) They wanted payment for 100% of the service and sued me when I refused -- no joke. I suspect this is how they make a fair amount of money.

So, rather than pay for my own attorney, I just bought Google AdWords for their name (which, luckily, was too general to be a real TM). I set up a simple page that explained how they behaved and how they were indeed suing me - complete with scanned documents.

They took it up with Google, who just asked that I rephrase my ad. I did. Then they called me, saying they would sue me for slander. I laughed. Then they called me, asking what I wanted to take it down ASAP. I said: drop this nonsense. Never call me again. I'll do the same.

Worked like a charm.

If I had gone the traditional route of finding an attorney, it would have cost thousands. I think my total cost on Google was < $100.

Out of curiosity, how did Google ask you to word it?

I had to change it from basically "Don't use company X; click here to read why not" to something like "Thinking of using Company X; click here to read my story". Google wants your add to promote your service/content, not demote someone else's.

They also don't allow things like, "Pepsi tastes better than Coke" for what it's worth.

Or, to put it another way, they want people to have to click before reading your story.

This vaguely rings a bell. Did you post about it on HN or Reddit at the time? I seem to recall someone posting scanned letters from some attorney trying to sue them for something spurious.

> and sued me when I refused -- no joke

So they sued you. Didn't that cost you?

Nope. They served me, I had x amount of days to respond. I had the website up in just a few days. Meanwhile I had requested that the trial be moved to a different location, where the service was rendered, which if I remember would have taken a few months just to be considered by the court. Long before any court date they had dropped everything.

It's a not a good idea to speak to opposing counsel yourself. If you think the legal threat is baseless, send a brief polite email to that effect, and ignore everything afterwards. If you think they have a claim, talk to a lawyer. And have a plan for who to call if you get served.

This is the approach I've used on the Bedbug Registry for about three years. We get about two intimidating letters a month from some fairly large hotel chains.

Making legal threats directly to an attorney is about as good an idea as the lawyer threatening that he will hack your server. Resist the temptation to get in over your head.

Context matters. In the author's context (disclaimer: I know him and think he's a good guy), the lawyer is representing a businessperson who is bankrolling them usually in order to help get the businessperson's way in business/money.

In that case, forcing the businessperson to run their lawyer clock and lose money by hour and getting nothing pragmatically useful back goes a long ways. In your case, you're up against bureaucracies with deep pockets, so that strategy wouldn't work as well. Also, savvy businesspeople tend to recognize "intelligently crazy" and become a lot more wary when coming across that personality type.

Someone at the HR/legal department might not flinch at at burning $20,000 in legal fees for a moral victory if they're antagonized, but in the commercial real estate world, they'd back off from that. You gotta understand the context and leverage and desires of everyone involved - in this article's case, it's not about antagonizing the lawyer so much as sending a clear message to their client ("I'm going to force you to pay lots of money in legal fees and not even flinch") - usually at that point it's not worth bringing a case, because the opportunity cost of many burnt hours and running your lawyer clock while the other side isn't running theirs is scary. And it doesn't even guarantee you'll get anything. Context, leverage, motivations - always gotta consider those. This advice is very good in the relevant contexts.

This article is so chock full of speculation and all around horrible advice it's hard to pick just one thing to criticize. If this guy's crap has worked in the past, its probably worked because he actually facts of the case in his favor, not because of these shenanigans.

I feel sorry for those who take legal advice from people who are not lawyers.

> This article is so chock full of speculation and all around horrible advice it's hard to pick just one thing to criticize.

I always thought "This is so wrong I'm not going to criticize it" was a pretty lame way to disagree. Also, there's no speculation - it's real world stuff that worked for him from a guy who is rather successful...

Edit, one more:

> I feel sorry for those who take legal advice from people who are not lawyers.

Actually, I disagree with this. Don't just take advice from lawyers on dealing with lawyers - their advice tends to skew a certain way (usually towards more billable hours). Advice from successful businesspeople on dealing with lawyers is very valuable too.

Well there are no real details or specifics of any kind in this article. So that right off prevents me from making any type of analysis of the merits of what this guy is actually doing.

Then there is the speculation as to the mental state of the opponent and the attorney. The part about attorney's hanging up on the guy because he's "crazy" and it's "not worth pursuing legal action" is just complete crap. The facts, the potential damages, and most importantly, this guys ability to pay determine whether or not it's worth the time. If an attorney has hung up on him, its because he's a crank.

Look, it's a simple cost-benefit analysis. This guy probably has situational facts that support his case, such that it's not worth it for the opponent to pursue litigation. Or it's possible he couldn't pay the damages anyway and the opponent couldn't take possession of the property. There's lots of possibilities... depending on the facts. You would never know that from the frothy tone of this piece.

Finally, there's the speculative gem that it will never get in front of the judge. Trust me, all those pesky "case numbers" and "laws" that the attorney has been compiling are really going to suck for this guy once a judge sees them.

I could go on and on, and take this one paragraph at a time. But it's not worth it. Long story short, take legal advice from lawyers. Likewise, accounting advise from accountants, design advise from designers, and so on.

I think we're in agreement on a lot of things, but maybe you missed the context that it's about commercial real estate? In those kind of deals, legal threats are really common.

> Finally, there's the speculative gem that it will never get in front of the judge.

But it's not speculation - we're talking about a guy who made millions of dollars as a broker for massively large deals for half a decade, who never saw a case go all the way to court. In this context, forcing the other side to keep paying legal fees while you laugh it off works well.

I agree with the rest of your comment - context matters - but I think you might've missed the context written about here.

> I feel sorry for those who take legal advice from people who are not lawyers.

You've kind of missed the whole point of the article. He's not giving legal advice; he's giving practical advice regarding a situation that at heart has nothing to do with the law.

There are cases where the law really matters, but the kind of bullshit 'lawyering' he's talking about is probably 90% of what certain types of contract lawyers do for a living.

The main thing to be aware of here is you have to know when you're dealing with that other 10% that might in fact be a real, legitimate legal dispute that could in theory go all the way to a trial. [edit: and if you don't realize before you get the call that you're in that situation, then I really do feel sorry for you...]

I showed this article to my girlfriend, who is a lawyer, and her response, to paraphrase, was 1) it sounds like the guy got lucky and ran into some crappy lawyers, 2) if someone treated her like that she'd give away hours just to fight him -- "because now my heart would be in it," and 3) he's going to be f---ed the first time he makes a legal mistake.

She did agree that one shouldn't be intimidated by lawyers (or anyone else) but this isn't the way you go about it.

Your girlfriend would only be treated `that way` when she's the type 3 lawyer in the article.

My take was he was saying to use these techniques exactly when the "facts are in his favor," or at least when he is pretty sure the other side is just bluffing. He does say, near the end, If you have clearly done someone wrong, then you deserve to pay for it. I’m not writing this to help assholes.


> its probably worked because he actually facts of the case in his favor

I think that's the point. He makes it pretty clear that he considers the chances of this actually reaching court as close to enough to zero.

> not because of these shenanigans.

The 'shenanigans' obviously saves at least a short consult and by refusing to dignify the claim with a proper legal response (and doing so confidently) he may be saving an extended and costly engagement.

Of course if the claim actually does go to court you've disadvantaged yourself considerably.

Not that I enjoyed this post that much, but when you says 'all around horrible advice it's hard to pick just one thing to criticize' it sounds to me like you don't have any valid criticisms. If the criticisms were strong, you would think the weak points would stick out clearly no?

This is only effective if you are prepared to put up when they call your bluff.

Two more points:

1) It's almost impossible for people to not be emotional when someone is threatening them with a lawsuit and that's why it's always better to have your lawyer communicate on your behalf.

2) The part I do agree with is (which he didn't say, but it came through loud and clear) DO NOT be a pussy when someone threatens you. And, DO NOT ignore them. If they are crazy or being irrational, a logical response from you won't help. If they found a lawyer dumb enough to represent them, you need to be ready to bring out the full nuclear assault in your response.

I've been sued before, named in other people's suits, threatened hundreds (literally) of times with suits and while I often take his approach, I'm ready to put up if I have to. And I've learned that if I put up, you better be prepared for the full nuclear response that I will dole out. Once I'm being sued or named in a lawsuit, the handshakes are gone and only the swords remain. I will drag every email, text message, conversation, witness you have ever dealt with related to the matter.

Of course, if I'm in the wrong, I'll settle immediately. And I hope I never have someone so upset with me over something legitimate that they feel a lawsuit is their best recourse. To date, I've never been sued over anything legitimate and I've never lost a suit against me. The other party has always either settled, withdrawn their complaint, or never moved to a full-blown lawsuit.

I think the author makes it known that when you respond like that, you better not be bluffing at all. It's puffing out your feathers AND getting ready to do battle in court. The key is don't lie down and take it from somebody if you're not in the wrong (he qualified this at the end, unfortunately it should have been at the start methinks). I agree with the rest of your post, though.

I wrote an article once for a regional magazine. The title was "Why everyone hates lawyers" As part of the gig, I got to interview some prominent lawyers at the regional level.

I'll never forget the answer one gave me, "Look Daniel, lawyers are not like doctors. A doctor helps you fight a disease. Lawyers, on the other hand, fight other people. Every time you employ a lawyer in litigation, if he is successful, somebody else suffers. That means that there are going to be a lot of people out there who don't like lawyers"

Lawyers exist to fight. That's their job. Even if they don't have a case ("If you have the law on your side, yell about the law, if you have the facts on your side, yell about the facts. If you have neither, just yell"

I don't know if I would go making phone calls, but I would sure as hell poke back at a lawyer if he poked at me. I would like to think that folks like us with lots of ability to assimilate technical details could at least make some kind of showing -- perhaps enough to run them the ones off who are just bluffing.

> Lawyers exist to fight. That's their job.

Lawyers fight? We are not from the same hood...

Ah. That really hurts.

Lawyers are fighting and downvoting is spanking. Naughty boy will not say bad things about honorable professions again. I promise.

More. Please. Hurt me.

MOAR fighting.

Are you guys getting tired? Come on fighters you can do it.

> Are you guys getting tired? Come on fighters you can do it.

Actually, there's a maximum number of times you can downvote someone, presumably so people can't vendetta against someone if they get their feelings hurt. So, maybe they can't do it.

Sidenote: I think Steve Pavlina created a joke word for people who are totally normal and in control, and then flip out randomly over nothing online in a comment thread - "Kittywompus." I'm not sure where the word came from (maybe he had a cat that was relaxed most of the time but then flipped out occasionally?), but it's definitely a real phenomenon.

I still don't understand the roots of it myself, on the rare occasions I get upset online I close my laptop up and go out for a walk... it's like a circuit breaker, "oh shit, I'm losing the ability to think clearly, I better get out of the environment" - I think most people have something like this, but maybe a few lack this circuit breaker?

Last I checked, the votes still go against your karma. It just doesn't display anything below -4. I think this was intended to prevent hive mind downvoting.

I think you are looking for the "greater internet fuckwad theory" from Penny Arcade. http://www.penny-arcade.com/comic/2004/03/19/

Take me to the cleaner. Go after everything I own. Leave me with no karma. Fight.

Sorry, but your behavoir is not desired here. Go to reddit.

I didn't just dowmod, I flagged your account.

I like his point that they are probably bluffing if they send a big wordy letter with lots of precedent cases etc. A friend of mine (who is a lawyer) told me something similar; when they see a letter like that they expect they're probably full of crap. His reply is normally much more curt: "Please confirm that you are authorised to receive proceedings on behalf of your client". If I got that, I'd be worried.

I'm not sure I follow. How does asking "Please confirm that you are authorised to receive proceedings on behalf of your client" frighten people?

It seems to suggest to me that you're getting ready to fire back, in a legal manner. Getting ready to call their bluff, as it were.

It's unemotional, calm, collected, and the absolute right thing to do. You want to serve proceedings but are making sure first they go to the right people. There's no bluffing, bragging, intimidation, it's simply getting down to business. I can see why that would be a lot scarier than threats to some people.

Reminds me of the follow case involving British satirical magazine Private Eye (this quoted from Wikipedia):

"An unlikely piece of British legal history occurred in the case Arkell v. Pressdram.

The plaintiff was the subject of an article relating to illicit payments, and for a change the magazine Private Eye had ample evidence to back up the article.

Arkell’s lawyers wrote a letter in which, unusually, they said: “Our client’s attitude to damages will depend on the nature of your reply”.

The response consisted, in part, of the following: “We would be interested to know what your client’s attitude to damages would be if the nature of our reply were as follows : Fuck off”."

In UK legal circles a polite way of telling someone to fuck off is to refer them to Arkell v. Pressdram.

This probably only applies to litigation lawyers, most, if not all of the lawyers I've worked with have been extremely polite and correct. They've also all had an excellent grasp of manipulation techniques and human psychology, and would see right through this bluffing behaviour in a second. Maybe it's because my experience has primarily been with M&A, contract and tax lawyers. Or maybe it's differen in Europe.

It seems that this guy enjoys behaving this way foremost, and has spent some time coming up with reasons to justify his behavior as rational as a result. Some of this may in fact be good advice, but I wouldn't be inclined to trust his word on it. I highly doubt he only acts this way towards lawyers.

This seems like a really easy way to dig yourself into a deep hole. Why not build a relationship with a decent attorney if you're in the habit of getting intimidating messages from lawyers regularly?

As a lawyer, I can tell you that if you are getting a letter a week from lawyers threatening you with legal action, you are doing it wrong. Most likely, the lawyers in this article are dropping the case because the author has no money. Without "deep pockets", it's not worth it to sue.

If you do get a letter from a lawyer, the first rule is never telephone. Do everything in writing.

You basically have three choices: ignore the letter, respond to the letter in writing, or hire your own attorney to respond. A letter from a lawyer is usually a shot across the bow. Sometimes it ends there. If you get sued, you must hire an attorney right away.

You can try writing your own letter, but it is better to hire an attorney. If you think the letter has no merits, ignore it and wait to see if they sue.

Rather reminds me of The Pirate Bay's legal threat response archive.

I'd add that lots of lawyers of the type described are emotional, irrational bullies. Don't give them a reason to have a personal vendetta against you.

I think you just want to appear to them as a bind alley with no money at the end so they'll just move along to greener pastures. Better than just yelling profanity back at them might be a hard-core "we don't negotiate with terrorists" kind of stance.

Wow, feel the fear. Grow a pair!

If you already have counsel, I was under the understanding (IANAL) that it is against conduct for the opposing counsel to talk to you directly. If they continue to call you while you're moving to get counsel and harass you, aren't they in violation of ethical standards or something? Naturally you have to retain counsel in a reasonable amount of time.

Anyone else getting 403 Forbidden?

Yup, Google Cache doesn't have the page, but Bing cache does: http://cc.bingj.com/cache.aspx?q=http://hustlebear.com/2010/...

Yep - but I figured that was the answer on how you are meant to handle things :)

Yep I'm getting the same. Guess his server wasn't prepared for publicity.

Yeah, I'm getting that too.

Please do not follow this very bad advice. The best lawyers make an effort to keep the tone civil. If you go to trial you will see your own sarcasm presented and judges are human. Acting as.the OP suggests could get very expensive.

Great read, I leaving a comment so I don't loose track of this article!

aka How to Threaten Lawyers Handling You.

I faced off against a guy with this sort of attitude once. The case did end up in front of a judge. The judge laughed at the guy, and threatened to hold him in contempt of court. The day before the contempt hearing, we settled for double what my client had been seeking.

Another guy, a doctor, threatened to report me to the bar association. I responded by reporting him to the medical board. His license was suspended for making threats. Last I heard, he'd been forced to declare bankruptcy.

Another guy simply refused to cooperate with a lawsuit. I guess he was trying to prevent the case from going to trial. Problem for him was that if the case had gone to trial, we wouldn't have won nearly as much as we ended up winning in the default judgment (which does not require the other party to show up).

Most lawyers who handle litigation do so because they enjoy litigation. You try the stunts this guy recommends in his blog post, and they will eat you alive. So take his "advice" with a grain of salt.

"I faced off against a guy with this sort of attitude once. The case did end up in front of a judge. The judge laughed at the guy, and threatened to hold him in contempt of court."

There was no suggestion of keeping this attitude in court. And there was a huge disclaimer only to use it for fending off assholes with no real case.

I think what you're not getting is that within his field of work, the sums of money on the line are not high enough to justify most litigation, so it's all bluffing. The plaintiff tries intimidation first, which is cheap and probably works on a large number of people. Those that don't fold immediately probably aren't worth it. The author is simply suggesting that you put yourself in the latter category.

> a doctor, threatened to report me to the bar association. I responded by reporting him to the medical board. His license was suspended for making threats.

So, threatening to report a laywer to the bar association is not allowed by the medical board?

Even if you have the right to do something, you can't threaten to do it just for personal gain. That's extortion. Oddly, there's an exception for threatening a lawsuit unless you get a settlement (if it isn't clearly baseless).

I think the point was that threatening is not allowed by the medical board. If you have a legitimate complaint, I guess you are free to report the lawyer.

I should clarify: I greatly simplified what happened.

At the time, I was a law student assisting a lawyer in a medical malpractice case. The doctor threatened to make negative statements about my moral character to the bar association in what I assume was an attempt to prevent my admission to the bar.

On its own, that would not have been enough to get him suspended. However, it was the final straw, and it was the straw the board chose to mention when they suspended him. I always thought it was weird that they went with that as opposed to the crap he'd put his patients through.

Okay. That makes more sense. I also assume your other examples were also grossly simplified as well, and that all the opposite sides were, in fact, in the wrong.

Which, I think is contrary to the point of the original article. The original article makes the assumption that you are, in fact,merely getting bullied, and that the lawyer approaching you is threatening you.

Your stories would have more weight if you were bullying people who had done no wrong at the request of your client.

I am Judd and I wrote this article.

A few points I'd like to clarify:

I'm not advocating bluffing, I'm advocating standing up for yourself. That's ultimately what this article is about, and perhaps why it's getting the reaction it has.

Attorneys are smart to intimidate people into settling large amounts of money over absolute bullshit. Because too often it works. Most people who work hard to build their life and savings are too confused and afraid of the law to adequately fight back and defend themselves.

Attorneys are hated because they're in a great position. They get to attack you with no repercussions. In fact the more fighting there is, the more they benefit. You will need to get creative to gain leverage and find their pressure points.

Once someone is attacking you and you're in a fight, you either grow some balls and take some risks, or you bend over.

I will repeat: If you've done someone wrong, you deserve to pay. This advice is not meant for someone in the wrong. This is about standing up to legal intimidation as a negotiating tool. From my experience that is what most legal action has been about. If you've ripped people off and they're suing you, I hope you get fucked, and I fully support the lawyer that will help do the fucking.

I would never tell a moderately reasonable attorney to "eat shit and go fuck yourself". I tell that to the hardcore condescending assholes. I've done it many times. It has NEVER defused the situation. They always get pissed and riled up. That's fine with me because they were already uncooperative and hostile to begin with. This is not a bluff technique, I'm making it clear that being a dick is not a productive way to deal with me. And since, in my experience, their cases have always been vague or based on bullshit, their ONLY options left after that are to pursue trial on a weak case, or become friendlier.

If you're willing to look a monster in the eyes, you just might find out he has no teeth.

Thanks for writing this, it was entertaining and somewhat educational. Mostly because to those of us who have never been sued, being sued is kind of a huge scary unknown, so hearing other's stories, even anecdotal ones, sheds a little bit of light on what to expect.

The whole time I was reading your article I kept thinking about the recent stories and discussion about kids being bullied. I've tried to teach my kids not to pick fights, to play nice, but to always stand up for themselves and other kids who are being picked on. That's how I read your article; don't pick fights, but always stand up for yourself.

cool, thanks! yeah, that's what I was going for

I found this article fascinating, as it disagrees so completely with my experience. The best lawyers I know are unfailingly courteous.

My take is that this was written from a perspective where there has never been anything really significant at stake to make a legal claim about. Small claims are usually personal; negotiating a $MM settlement is usually not.

I'd also like to be clear that I don't even consider the attorney the bad guy. Someone hired him to reek havoc and terror to get his way. The attorney is just doing what he's paid to do. It is the attorney's client that is pursuing justice or injustice.

Attorneys have gone through extra years of school at considerable expense, and endured grueling hours to pay their dues. They want to get paid for it. They don't usually care if they damage or ruin your life unjustly.

That's why people need to know how to stand up to them

Wow! Tim Ferriss is on a roll today...

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