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An attorney called me... (response from customer to complaint regarding non-payment)
Thread poster: Luisa Ramos, CT

Luisa Ramos, CT  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 10:33
Member (2004)
English to Spanish
Jan 22, 2009

Back in November of last year, a representative from a first-time direct client hired me to translate certain number of short texts each month. We negotiated a reasonable rate based on that premise and because the ultimate client was a non-profit organization. The first job they sent me, however, was “a little different”, it had 16 000 words. We renegotiated the rate (higher) and I received the go ahead.

I finished the translation well before the deadline and sent it along with the invoice (for an amount between US$1500 and US$2000). I did not receive an acknowledgment from the representative, other than the “received” and “read” ones that Outlook itself collected.

The next few days the silence was thundering, if you know what I mean. I became suspicious and I began emailing the representative (no, she did not give me a phone number, my bad). Finally, she apologized and told me that the payment was being processed; a few days later she told me that someone else would be handling the payment. That someone wrote to me and told me that she did not have authority for that kind of money, but that he knew I had to be paid. He then asked me to review the invoice. By then, I was already convinced they were trying to get off the hook, blaming it on the representative’s lack of authority, so I agreed and I reduced it as much as I could, hoping that would get me at least some money.

Another week went by and there were no signs of my payment so I look up the company online, found it, and called. The person who answered the phone suggested I wrote a complaint directly to the owners of the corporation, which I did. They are a U.S. company located in Manila. That was one week ago.

Yesterday, I received a call from the company’s attorney. I have not had a chance to speak to him yet so I am posting this here to see what you all think my approach should be when I do. In my complaint I only mentioned that I had done a translation, that someone agreed that I should get paid and that I wanted my payment; no threats, no warnings, no nothing.

I have read many horror stories in these forums but nothing similar had ever happened to me. I guess I have been very lucky. I have kissed this money good-bye, but I want to be ready to talk to this attorney… who knows, maybe miracles exist after all.

Why an attorney? Why would they prefer to pay the attorney, probably more expensive, than pay me? What should be my approach? What are my options and/or resources?


[Subject edited by staff or moderator 2009-01-22 17:33 GMT]


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Vito Smolej
Germany
Local time: 16:33
Member (2004)
English to Slovenian
+ ...
anything on paper? Jan 22, 2009

Luisa Ramos wrote:

Back in November of last year, a representative from a first-time direct client hired me to translate certain number of short texts each month.
...
We renegotiated the rate (higher) and I received the go ahead.
...


Keep ready all the paper documents you may have.


Why an attorney? Why would they prefer to pay the attorney, probably more expensive, than pay me? What should be my approach? What are my options and/or resources?

If there's even just a hint of a fraudulent behaviour behind it, they may lose their licence and thus their access to the money pipeline.


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Suzanne Blangsted  Identity Verified
Local time: 07:33
Danish to English
+ ...
working for free?? Jan 22, 2009

How do you know it was a "real" attorney. Anyone can phone and state (s)he is an attorney.

In your case, I would send the company an e-mail or letter (with mail receipt requested) letting them know that you will hire a collection agency if payment is not received within 30 days. It will cost you approx. 30% of the billing amount.

That gives you a couple of weeks to find a good collection agency. You will need to prove your case to the collection agency with copies of interaction with the company, and you might be able to obtain a copy of your phone record also as proof, which you probably can download as it will show up in file with the phone company.

I think you are right in your assumption that they are trying to get your translation for free.

Lesson learned - always get "things" in writing. You should always get POs, important information, etc., in writing.

suz


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Luisa Ramos, CT  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 10:33
Member (2004)
English to Spanish
TOPIC STARTER
Thanks to both Jan 22, 2009

[quote]Vito Smolej wrote:


Keep ready all the paper documents you may have.

[quote]

Yes, Vito, but only email messages.
By the way, the non profit company is not my direct client.

Suz, he is an attorney indeed. He called me last night and missed me; I returned his call but missed him. Thanks for the advice about the collection agency.


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Ramon Somoza  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 16:33
Member (2002)
Dutch to Spanish
+ ...
E-mail is OK Jan 22, 2009

Luisa Ramos wrote:

Yes, Vito, but only email messages.


E-mail messages can be used in court as proof. There are quite a few people in jail because they forgot that.

Just make sure that you do not erase the e-mails from your computer and mail program, and when you print them make sure that you print them with the headers, which indicate the routing of the mail through the respective servers, the message ID, IP addresses and server names and the time stamp at each individual message "hop". The validity of the message can be confirmed by the court by checking one single mail server log that proves that the message went through it, and the checksum is validated so as to verify that the message was not manipulated at your end.


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Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 16:33
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
Some ideas... Jan 22, 2009

Luisa Ramos wrote:
The first job they sent me, however, was “a little different”, it had 16 000 words. We renegotiated the rate (higher) and I received the go ahead.


I suspect the client didn't realise that 16 000 words was not "a short text". And the fact that she did not have the authority to commit to such a high amount, makes me ask you this: did you negotiate a per-word rate without telling the client what the final amount would be?

People who are not in our business often don't realise how much money a translation cost (or how much work it entails). I can hear it in people's reactions on the phone -- they have little reaction to the per-word rate, even if the source text count is known, because they don't do the mental calculation, but when the actual calculation is made, only then does the penny drop.

So if you only told her "x per word", it would not be improbable that she failed to realise that the final amount would run into thousands of dollars.

Finally, she apologized and told me that the payment was being processed; a few days later she told me that someone else would be handling the payment. That someone wrote to me and told me that she did not have authority for that kind of money, but that he knew I had to be paid. He then asked me to review the invoice.


Here is my guess at what had happened: She saw the invoice, panicked at the amount, and ran to her boss (who will always be on her side). Her boss pulled some strings and handed the problem over to the accounts department. The accounts department wants to solve the problem, so they're trying to be honest with you and negotiate with you. However, your final invoice is still much higher than they had hoped... so they tried to stall you. You weren't stalled, though, so they decided that their attorney may be the best person to negotiate further.

Yesterday, I received a call from the company’s attorney. I have not had a chance to speak to him yet so I am posting this here to see what you all think my approach should be when I do.


I'm very cautious when talking to legal people. All I say is not to commit to anything. Remember, you've already dropped your price.

What is the situation in America -- if the client was employed by the organisation, or if she worked on their behalf, can they force her to pay the money, and/or can they fire her simply because of this whole affair? AFAIK in my own country, they can't, but something tells me that in America things are different. So, do you want to be responsible for the demise of this poor woman? No, I take that back...


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Luisa Ramos, CT  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 10:33
Member (2004)
English to Spanish
TOPIC STARTER
Good advice Jan 22, 2009

Thank you all for your good advice. Samuel, thanks for dissecting my message. I can picture it in my mind that is exactly what happened.

Now an update. After trying to reach the attorney and talking to his partner, and briefly explaining the matter, I waited a few hours and called again. This time, he answered the phone. I introduced myself, mentioned the company, the case number he left in my voice mail, and asked him what could I do for him. He said I caught him unprepared, that he did not have the file with him, and that he would call me in 5 minutes.

I am still waiting.

I don't want to call him, I feel I should not. I believe he will not call me, either. But... I would like to know whether I have even the slightest chance of being paid. Maybe they thought they could stall me, as Samuel said, or even scare me to death so that I would not return their call (I did, three times) and abandon my claim. I don't know what to believe.

Any ideas what may be going on or what to expect? Should I call him again, should I just sit tight and repeat my emails or calls, or should I find a fortune teller to catch a glimpse of the future?

[Edited at 2009-01-22 23:22 GMT]


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Anjo Sterringa  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 16:33
Member (2003)
English to Dutch
+ ...
Why would you be waiting? Jan 23, 2009

I have no idea why this (expensive) "attorney" was pulled in - it does not really matter, and why sit and wait until something happens if payment is clearly overdue and you have even reduced your invoice for some reason.

I would send them an e-mail message with a summary of the events and the lack of any results (payment) so far. I would indicate that I saw no other option than to put the collection of my payment into the hands of a collection agency if I did not receive payment of my invoice within one week.

Maybe you could say that you are willing to accept payment in instalments, although I would leave that for a telephone call after sending the message.

You are entitled to payment, they owe you the money - they did not complain about the service so it looks quite straightforward to me.

Good luck!


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Per Magnus  Identity Verified
Local time: 16:33
English to Norwegian
Don’t reduce your invoice. Jan 23, 2009

That someone wrote to me and told me that she did not have authority for that kind of money, but that he knew I had to be paid. He then asked me to review the invoice. By then, I was already convinced they were trying to get off the hook, blaming it on the representative’s lack of authority, so I agreed and I reduced it as much as I could, hoping that would get me at least some money.


Why would you reduce your invoice? If they are fraudulent they will just go on until your invoice is zero. The way you describe it you are in your full right to collect the money. Don’t let an attorney intimidate you.

Good luck,
PM


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Nadejda Vega Cespedes  Identity Verified

Local time: 16:33
Spanish to Russian
+ ...
Why are you even considering taking anything less than the full amount? Jan 23, 2009

Luisa Ramos wrote:

That someone wrote to me and told me that she did not have authority for that kind of money, but that he knew I had to be paid. He then asked me to review the invoice.


I must be missing something. How did the guy justify his request to review the invoice? You agreed on a price, you did the job, there were no complaints, why on earth offer a discount? Because the guy who got in touch with you is not authorized to spend that kind of money? Then why did he contact you at all? He is not your client, the company is. They should appoint somebody with sufficient powers to take care of your payment, that's it.

As to the attorney, do you want anything from him? If not, why chase him? He doesn't owe you money, your client does. Contact the company's top management instead, sometimes it works. Good luck!

[Edited at 2009-01-23 10:25 GMT]


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Tomás Cano Binder, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 16:33
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
The attorney is just to delay the matter... Jan 23, 2009

...in my opinion. The fact that he calls you but does not have the file on the desk (attorneys always have everything on the desk if they are handling something) sounds like delaying the matter to see whether you get discouraged and drop the claim. I would not. And I would not reduce the rate any further than the initially, lower agreed rate.

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Luisa Ramos, CT  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 10:33
Member (2004)
English to Spanish
TOPIC STARTER
Not more wandering, waiting or delying Jan 23, 2009

It has never crossed my mind to quit pursuing this payment. I appreciate the encouragement received from all of you regarding the steps to take. As I mentioned in my original post, I have never encountered a similar situation. Your uniform advice has provided me not only the steps but the reasoning and the wording I will use. Thanks a lot.

Nadejda, they list themselves as being in California but they are in Manila, Philipines. All of a sudden they appeared so far away and out of reach that I thought I would rather collect a discounted invoice than no money at all. But I will use the attorney's intervention to go back to square one and demand payment in full of the original amount.

I will post the results.


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Luisa Ramos, CT  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 10:33
Member (2004)
English to Spanish
TOPIC STARTER
Collection agency it is Jan 30, 2009

Well, after receiving your advices I wrote to the owners of the corporation. I included a chronology of events, rejected the attorney's intervention and demanded payment in full of the original amount. They did not reply and I have not received my payment. I will engage a collection agency as soon as Monday. If any of you knows about a reputable agency please send me an email, I would not like to stumble upon a similar stone and end up hiring some crooks. In addition, this is a large and reputable company so I need to hire someone to whom they pay attention.

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English Chinese Medical Translator - Jimmy Deng  Identity Verified
New Zealand
Local time: 04:33
English to Chinese
+ ...
Warn them first Feb 1, 2009

Luisa,

Judging by your last post, it seems you did not tell them your intention to engage a debt collection service. If that is the case, I would highly recommend that you do it now. If that does not work, then engage a collection service.

According to the laws in my country (New Zealand), the collection fee cannot be added or transferred to the debtor unless otherwise agreed in the agreement beforehand. I don't know your country, but it might be the same. If the warning works, then you don't need to worry about the collection fee.

The warning itself sometimes can work wonder.






[Edited at 2009-02-01 09:06 GMT]


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Luisa Ramos, CT  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 10:33
Member (2004)
English to Spanish
TOPIC STARTER
Warning was included Feb 1, 2009

Jimmy, thanks for your suggestion. My letter included the warning about the collection agency.

This is what I said: "I will not contact Mr. xx again nor will I answer any questions from him, or return his calls. This is not a legal matter. This is a collections matter. Your company failed to pay for a service received. I look forward to receiving payment in full of my original invoice amount within one week. I am a professional, I expect to deal with professionals. Otherwise, I see no other option than to put the collection of my paymend into the hands of a collection agency." (Last sentence drafted and suggested by Proz colleague Anjo Sterringa.)

Now I am as afraid to contact a collections agency that may turn to be a bad one as I am of not recovering my money.


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