How Not to Use a Lawyer – A Personal Case Study (Plus: Protocol Marketing correction)


Ah, lawyers. It’s a love-hate relationship.

Just this week alone, I’m working with a literary attorney (publishing), an entertainment attorney (TV), and a corporate financing attorney (angel investments).  All three are great.

Yesterday, though, I received the threatening letter below from Protocol Integrated Direct Marketing, whose call centers I recommend in the 4HWW. WTF?

Click to enlarge…

But what did I say about Protocol specifically? Here it is, after an group intro where I indicate providers can also be compensated per-minute:

“Protocol Marketing: One of classic sales-oriented call centers. I’ve used them for years.”

I used them as a start-up CEO and felt the recommendation was valuable to readers. Blasphemer! Even if a correction were needed somewhere, the legal bitch slap isn’t needed.

My response was simple: I called the lawyer and told him I would both have the mention removed and also announce the correction to readers (that’s this blog post).

I suspect the CEO, Don Norsworthy, is not aware of this letter, as he would have no doubt approached it differently. He would recognize a few things:

[Postscript: Don got in touch within 24 hours after this post and here's the scoop: the entire management team had been on an offsite while this transpired. When Don tracked down the e-mail thread resulting in this letter, none of the proper channels had been CC'd. He was a polite gentleman and even declined when I offered to publish a response on the blog, stating that he was calling to apologize, not to have anything published. It was precisely the best response from someone heading a $100-million+ per year operation.]

1. How you say something IS what you say.

Ever heard “it’s not just what you say, it’s how you say it”? I would go further: how you say something is what you say. A simple call or e-mail to Random House with “we’re getting too many calls for the wrong services; would you mind changing it to the following?” would have sufficed. Have a normal human conversation and don’t come off sounding like Robocop (video above).

But what if you need to be forceful? If someone’s motives are clearly bad? I’ve dealt with this as well. First of all, if their actions are done with obvious malevolent-intent or law-breaking, you can be more forceful. Second, for those cases that fall in the middle, it’s possible to be forceful and clear without being rude. For example:

“It’s come to our attention that [action your want them to cease in neutral terms]. I’m sure you are unaware, but this causes [negative consequences for you], which results in [other problems]. We thank you in advance for removing/stopping/correcting X as soon as possible [notice how less abrasive this is than 'immediately', but it achieves the same effect] and confirming when this has been done. Legal action is always a last resort, but if we do not receive confirmation within one business week, we’ll be compelled to take appropriate next steps. Your fastest correction and confirmation is both important and appreciated.”

2. It’s counterproductive to threaten someone until you determine their incentives to refuse compliance.

In other words, what do I gain by refusing to remove them? Nothing. In fact, it’s in my readers’ best interest to make it accurate or remove it. Threatening me with Darth Vader-speak like “compel compliance with [our] demand” just pisses people off, and I could have still been a strong proponent of theirs. Too bad, so sad.

3. It’s better to steer the golden goose rather than kill it.

If I’m sending them enough calls to “inundate” their phone lines (ironic in itself, since they’re offering call center services), it would be in their best interest to just make the description more accurate, no? It’s free advertising in a #1 NY Times bestseller to be published in 33 languages. How much advertising cost — or cost-per-acquisition (CPA) — does that save them if it’s accurate? Knowing the revenue model and having worked with call centers, I’d guess hundreds of thousands of dollars at a minimum. To save what? A few thousand dollars in filtering out mom-and-pop callers at $.90 per minute? That’s just penny-wise and pound-foolish.

4. Don’t mistake symptoms with root problems, or confuse correlation with causation.

There are no “income investment requirements” that I can find listed anywhere on their call center site. It strikes me that their main problem could relate to a system-wide issue with pre-qualification. The blurb in the 4HWW is just a symptom — any successful PR or marketing that brings people to them will produce the same filtering bottleneck. Fixing the root cause is better than threatening the person who makes the root cause come to the surface.

If they have a problem with “closer”, Protocol might also consider removing the following from the second paragraph of their main call center page:

Whether you need a salesperson to close deals or specialized technical support services, Protocol’s contact center services can help.

Confused? Me too.

5. If you threaten someone in a digital world, it might become what your prospective customers see first.

Principle one: Better not to threaten people whenever possible. Principle two: Google someone before you threaten them. If their PageRank and SEO beats yours, recognize that the public will see what they say first and foremost. Principle three: if someone is sending you business, and you threaten them because of a positive description (even containing inaccuracies), you are disincentivizing all partners, journalists, and customers from evangelizing for you if it becomes public. Given the new dynamics of personal branding in a digital age, being nice should be company policy, if not for cheap Google insurance.

Oh, and being rude sucks.

Be firm when necessary, but be nice whenever possible. Long-term, it doesn’t pay to do otherwise.

In conclusion: Protocol, I’m sorry for endorsing you and reflecting my experience in a positive description. I was wrong and you are right. Readers, please pull out your Sharpie and strike Protocol from pg. 201.

Ah, lawyers. Use them wisely or the problem you create could be bigger than the one you solve.

Anyone have suggestions for good call centers that won’t threaten me for recommending them?

To lighten the mood, a photo from the American Apparel factory, which I visited last Saturday. More pics here.

Posted on: October 28, 2008.

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Comment Rules: Remember what Fonzie was like? Cool. That’s how we’re gonna be — cool. Critical is fine, but if you’re rude, we’ll delete your stuff. Please do not put your URL in the comment text and please use your PERSONAL name or initials and not your business name, as the latter comes off like spam. Have fun and thanks for adding to the conversation! (Thanks to Brian Oberkirch for the inspiration)

180 comments on “How Not to Use a Lawyer – A Personal Case Study (Plus: Protocol Marketing correction)

  1. Tim, I don’t know, it seems a stupidity move otherwise.

    How to translate it in English? “Falem bem ou mal de mim, mas falem de mim…” or in German somehow like “Wer da spricht!”

    It seems otherwise maliciously calculated from them. Their attorney bullied you, and you came to react with more free marketing for their name. It took a central point at least for this blog, even though, a negative one. Good or bad, it is marketing again.

    Though, I like the emphasis highlighting that they’re a call-center that could not handle demand, consequently it reveals an obvious internal lack of feasible plans for scalability. I do not mind much bullies sickening a company “short-term” until caught and laid off, but it hurts reliability in a service, anyway. I would not trust them again.

    Whether their attorney antecipated things or not, the real ugly side has been exposed through it, and it would happen soon or later.

    Apologies? Apologies after all? Too late, huh? I remember… I also apologize, but first after I punched…

    Bis denn
    Até mais

    Love you



  2. Tim, Thanks for taking this stand! Lawyers need to get that business as usual where they abuse power and knowledge for $$$$$$ just isn’t going to fly anymore. I’m sure they were being paid by the word. Yes, we need attorneys at times but representation doesn’t have to mean recklessly pull out all the stops. I read recently in the news where more attorneys are looking for work these days and that the market is saturated with lawyers now. Probably due to lack of cash in the economy but I hope there is transformation in the works if people continue to take a stand and get the word out.


  3. Tim: On the issue of how you say it…. you’re on the money. Any compliment offered with a sarcastic or cruel tone is no compliment. And an apparently snide remark offered in a sexy or seductive tone of voice is well just sexy and seductive. But this carries over to more than tone of voice so we should watch not just what we say but how, what medium we use etc. Those factors are more important than mere choice of words.

    On the related issue of business behavior, we all need to take a lesson from this. Try cordial business intercourse first and maybe again before resorting to threats of litigation.

    As a lawyer an communications expert I say let’s cut one another some slack and see if we don’t feel better and make more money.

    David M Frees III, Esquire


  4. The other lesson to learn here is: if you find a good lawyer – hang on to them! The vast majority of lawyers I have met are really bad at their jobs, and this is one example. Sure, you can run to them when you need some boilerplate language slapped together in their word processor for $250-$500 per hour + $1.50 per photocopy (and what other profession charges for office expenses like photocopying?).

    Unfortunately the entire legal system was developed by lawyers to keep them employed. You can do hardly anything legal without the help of someone who is entirely overpaid.

    If you can find a lawyer who can think on his or her feet and actually looks out for the best interest of your company – there’s a winner.


  5. It would seem that they should start a branch of their business that catered only to the callers from your book. If Protocol Marketing is reading these comments: I’ll run the department for you and make you millions. Email me through my website linked through my name.



  6. It sounds like they need to read your book in it’s entirety. Then they would know how to scale up and down on the fly. Geez, want some cheese with that wine….Waaaaaa!


  7. Hey Tim, that is insane! Who wouldn’t like to have free advertising? We offer contact center solutions to small business and entrepreneurs. I would love to have their problem, too many people calling?? Feel free to put us in your book =)


  8. This proves the old addage: If you are gonna be stupid you better be tough.

    Rule number one in using lawyers: They are the servant, NEVER the master. Make certain they know their boundaries and stay under your control.


  9. Mr. Preston,

    I doubt that lawyers appreciate being treated as slaves. I would prefer to know my lawyer, his limitations and his strengths intimately.

    Thank you Kindly,



  10. The important take-away from this post is that every time owners use outside service providers, they place their reputation in someone else’s hands. As “outside counsel” for many smaller companies, I consider myself entrusted with a company’s reputation every time I send something out on their behalf. My tone and civility is directly atrributable to my client and I should be held responsible and accountable for the effect of my actions on their behalf. The demand letter Tim received is an old-school form letter that I abandoned within the first year of my practice. Mr. Wagner appears to have been practicing for about 32 years and his letter reflects an approach that was in style about twenty years ago. These demand letters are more often than not counterproductive. They serve to put the other side on the defensive and immediately shut down lines of communication instead of fostering a solution. That being said, unfortunately his letter remains a sort of industry standard.

    Outside service providers should understand the culture of their client. Whether its a CPA, attorney, marketer, etc., clients should demand that the provider spend time getting to know the business and management. On-site time with the company fosters the sense of team. Using low bidder, one-time service providers results in letters of the kind that started this post.

    Attorneys should always ADD value.


  11. First think about how the “problem” begins. Someone complains about somthing. Think about what that might be.

    Next think about the “action” stage.

    The question becomes: Who does the “company” (see below) trust/like more to address this problem?
    Tim Ferriss or their lawyer? And, even more important, what option will be easier and cheaper? Path of least resistance. Never underestimate its appeal.

    The ‘company’ = the person responsible for addressing this “problem” – who is merely a “representative” of the organisation, and at the same time an individual with his/her own thoughts and feelings

    Commnication is indeed required. But which type of communication is most powerful? Email, phone or in-person? The lawyer, or his colleagues, have no doubt employed the third type… extensively.


  12. Sheesh. As you said Tim; It’s better to steer the golden goose rather than kill it.

    I would have thought that there wouldn’t even be a need to steer the golden goose; just do something with the god-sent golden goose-eggs (ok – sent by your book not the gods, but you know what I mean). Without much effort, their response should have been to create a product or service that could be profitably delivered to these callers.

    Send me hundreds of callers any day, from anywhere, of pretty much any profile once it’s consistent. If i can’t or don’t want to serve them excellently and at a profit, I will partner with someone who would die for their business and who would deliver more than they need; and I take a cut.


  13. I’m going through a PayPal battle with someone right now over $1,100 and its like … sheesh.

    A simple phone call could have avoided all of this, thats all it would have taken. Why not call me and say “I have a question about these Web 2.0 accounts” instead of disputing the charge on PayPal??

    I sent over my evidence to PayPal and the chargeback lady was laughing at me!! She said “Don’t you hate it when people do stupid things?”

    Try to talk it out if possible.


  14. hi tim!!!!!!!!
    i think that sametimes the lawyers wanto to feel themselves so important.
    iam a law student in argentina and i really want to left my job maybe they fired me because that…
    this month is being very very hard for me and this is only de beginning.i am desesperatly looking for my muse.
    thanks for the inspiration!!!!!!


  15. Yo Tim,

    it is already removed from my copy, but they are still listed in the INDEX. They will receive NONE of my business. Thanks for this information and keep up the good work!


  16. So you client comes to you and says I have a problem…then goes on to explain it. As a lawyer your job is to act in the best interests of your client. What does that mean? Well, to begin with because your clients thinks they have a problem, as their attorney if you accept that premise without examination, then your failing to act in your client’s best interests. Second, if careful examination reveals that your client does in fact have a problem and in the majority of situations many attorneys will tell you that before you offer to punch someone in the nose, a client or the attorney should communicate directly with the other party (please note that I didn’t write adversary) and explain their grievance and in most situations ask for help in finding a solution. Finally, as rule for daily living and especially in trial practice reacting from fear will undermine you every time. Perspective demands patience. Look at your situations from a variety of angles. At least, take a few moments before acting. Sometimes, we have examples from lawyers that reinforce a stereotype about the profession that I in my heart of hearts want to believe is a false impression but unfortunately enduring. This is apparently one of those times. Unfortunate but a good example to learn from and a short case study in how we should endeavor to do business.


  17. You’re correct on all points, Tim, communication is indeed one of the most critical aspects of any relationship, business or otherwise. The other bummer is, I had plans of calling these folks up myself at some point as well.

    It’s all about tone, right?