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

180 Comments

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. 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?

    Cheers,
    D

    Like

  2. Tim,

    Here’s the thing. As a lawyer, I don’t find that letter especially threatening or rude. The tone is pretty standard for a lawyer letter. Heck, half the legal universe would have written the phrase “GOVERN YOURSELF ACCORDINGLY” across the bottom of the letter in all caps.

    I wouldn’t have written it that way in an initial contact to an unrepresented party, but the tone is pretty standard. I’m not saying that’s right – again, I wouldn’t have written this letter. In fact, I *hate* this sort of demand letter, for all the reasons that you’ve pointed out and more. I have a policy that I explain to all my clients of never threatening someone until I’ve actually *drafted* the complaint that I intend to file.

    That said, is it really fair to place all of the blame on the call center for the fact that they hired a tool to be their lawyer?

    So, okay, they were rude (by proxy) and didn’t realize that you have the power to hurt them. Now you have hurt them, some. Maybe. Feel better?

    Like

    • Always helpful to hear about real life situations. Learning from this, if I ever run into a similar situation going forward, will probably do everything I can not to get removed from the book but instead discuss with the author to see if a clarification of the services could be added or something…anything to get more specific traffic AND keep the free publicity.

      Lawyers letter and request or demand of anything pretty much stops the situation in its tracks no matter how its worded…a discussion or e-mail with Tim and possibly getting him to post a “clarification of their services ” would have just been even more free publicity. Good old hindsight.

      Thanks for the real life read.

      Like

  3. Wow, some businesses just don’t get it. I’m dumbfounded by how poorly they handled this–something that they ought to be thanking you for. They understand neither business nor personal etiquette.

    But rather than just be negative, I’ll recommend CMD Outsourcing Solutions, a Baltimore call center company I’ve worked with. They mostly target middle-market businesses when it comes to lead generation and the like, but their people are super friendly and I’m sure they’re happy to turn away any not-a-fit prospects politely and with a thank you!

    Like

  4. Tim, would you recommend your entertainment lawyer to me? I’m trying to find an entertainment lawyer I can trust for music production contracts.

    thanks,
    Bill

    Like

  5. WOW! I would guess their marketing people had no idea this letter went out.

    What a boon for them to get all these hot leads for FREE. The average price per lead for a business like this has to be in the hundreds or thousands. Foolish, foolish business decision.

    Like

  6. Wow! The contact form could have a few more fields on it to help with specifically targeting their demographic. I currently have no use for Protocol Marketing’s services. But I KNOW SOMEONE WHO DOES!

    That last sentence is what has harmed their business. We all may not have a need for a particular product or service, but we may know someone who does. Is anyone here going to recommend that company to an associate or close friend? Tim has USED them, recommended them to his readers, and for his trouble, he received a nasty-gram from their lawyer (good thing it didn’t come in an email…).

    It was a stupid move. Because now anyone who does a Google search on Protocol Marketing will find this article, given Ferriss’ large audience and blog traffic.

    *sigh*

    Was it worth it?

    Like

  7. I find this humorous in the extreme, and I will not be surprised if you get contacted by representatives at the company apologizing and hoping that you’ll say some nice things about them. Thanks for sharing and giving me a chuckle.

    Like

  8. I have a book coming out in 6 months. I called and emailed a VERY well known non profit foundation and left a message that I would like to speak with them about donating the book royalties to the foundation. (no one replied) Their website is outdated and it actually looks abandoned.

    Two weeks later got a frigid cease and decist letter from their attorneys threatening me for buying a domain that “may” be similar to their Trademark. Ok, no problem, I understand and will use another title. When I called back, they claim no one at the foundation remembers getting my email or voice mail weeks earlier.

    Left me with such a bad taste in my mouth, there’s no way I could, in good conscience, dream of gifting them such a donation, in fact, I want nothing at all to do with them. Found another charity that is thrilled to work with me on it.

    I am convinced people who treat others like this (with the first contact being the Bully approach) will become extinct. The first communication does not have to be so ugly, especially when someone is clearly trying to help you.

    What’s that saying, “you meet the same people on the way up that you will meet on the way down.”

    Live Your Dreams,

    Jill Koenig

    Like

  9. Pmen – I think it was Richard Feynman who said that if a scientist can’t explain their research so that a normal person can understand, they’ve failed. If a lawyer can’t communicate with people who aren’t lawyers, they’ve done more than fail. They’re worthless.

    Like

  10. I’m dealing with a guy who’s trying to sue me using a lawyer’s threat. Are you worried about any sort of retribution for publicly posting the letter?

    I wouldn’t mind publicly humiliating the guy trying to sue me, but I’m not sure if that’s the best route. . . but it would sure feel good :)

    Like

  11. @Pmen,

    Fair enough.

    Believe it or not, I didn’t do this to hurt them. That might be a side-effect, but this is a trend in American business that makes me sick, and I wanted to point this out as an example.

    Why threaten litigation when a simple “ummm, do you mind doing…” would work 99% of the time?

    It’s the bullying that bothers me, and if this is their way of doing business, I want others to be aware.

    I can deal with stupidity. Laziness I can also deal with, but less so than stupidity. Rudeness I have zero tolerance for.

    Hope that helps :)

    Tim

    Like

    • In response to Pmen and Tim:

      I’m only a law student (2L) so I can’t really offer much on what experience incites the belief in the legal world that lawyers need to speak like this. If it IS the norm, maybe the legal community needs to reflect very heavily on the role of lawyers in business.

      Tim: I also noticed you suggested Getty Images in your book. I’m not sure if you know, or if it really matters, that Getty Images has been pursuing an aggressive IP-infringement lawsuit campaign suing small businesses (usually asking for about $600-1000) for using images that they got through a website developer who apparently did not have the permission to pass on the image. The letter they send out has the exact same language, I read through the copy sent to a family member just last month.

      Like

  12. Protocol has been removed from my copy of the book and from my short-list of call center providers. I will be sure to let my fellow entrepreneurs not to bother Protocol, because they are clearly too busy to handle our business.

    Like

  13. Hmmm… I was going to just laugh this post off. But, it’s actually only one of about 100 posts in my rss feeds today worth reading and commenting on (no I don’t read more than 2 or 3 of them).

    It seems a sign of our times:

    You’re wrong……. No, we’re right…….. TAKE THIS YOU _______!

    What’s missing? COMMUNICATION is MISSING. There are so many other avenues this could have taken that it’s funny and scary at the same time. Unfortunately it mirrors the world (or at least the U.S.) as a whole. It’s all “US” against “THEM”, but at the core we all really want the same things.

    We want.. Prosperity. Freedom. Love. Health. Peace….

    We just may have different views on “obtaining” them (note: you don’t really obtain most of them, but I’m at a loss for another word). Instead, the vast majority of people stick to their own dogma, and refuse avenues of communication which could forge new ideas and directions which could potentially be win-win’s.

    I could, and may [elsewhere], go on elsewhere. But I wanted to chime in since it’s something that’s been on my mind A LOT lately.

    -Tim

    Like

  14. Tim… you’re lucky they aren’t suing you to pay for all their lost time fielding calls from potential customers. Ha! No but really: thanks for the great post and for getting the conversation out in the open where it belongs. More companies need to recognize how the social web changes how we do business.

    Like

  15. Wow, what ignorance. It would be interesting to see what would happen if this actually went to court, considering you didn’t libel them.

    Many companies would be thrilled to be mentioned in a bestselling book such as yours.

    Like

  16. I haven’t seen too many legal documents aside from the usual mortgage papers etc.

    Given the detail that lawyers are known for, I am surprised that this one is actually real!

    Paragraph II on page one is missing a period.
    On the second page, paragraph II, there is a misuse of the word ‘insure’. It obviously should have read ‘ensure’.

    I would have assumed the document was a fake, but I’m no lawyer.

    Like

  17. That’s a “quality problem” to have. I wish more people would harass my company like that. Maybe they need to shift their business model slightly or find a partner to offload the flood of people calling them, looking to spend money.

    Haven’t you gotten a stack of lawyer letterhead like that by now?

    Like

  18. Hola Tim,

    Your point is well taken (we catch more bees with honey). I hear you and thanks for using this circumstance to extend some helpful advice, you’re doing a great job.

    Adios,

    Dinastia

    Like

  19. Great point. You emphasize what great brands should all learn how to do which is how to turn a bad situation into a good one. This point I touched on my last post regarding word of mouth.
    Great personal branding Tim!

    Like

  20. Great post Tim!! It’s so true that a simple call and talking to human being can solve so much. Also, the advertising costs they save by you mentioning them in your book is UNREAL!! They might et the award for one of the dumbest businesses of the year!!

    They must not know who “Tim Ferriss” really is :)

    Lee

    Like

  21. Tim-

    Please cease and desist from writing an interesting blog. It takes too much time out of my day to read and I can’t handle all of the beneficial new thoughts and subsequent life enhancing activities your writings provoke.

    If your response is not forthcoming (and a satisfactory response is what I am looking for as determined by me ) I will have to take appropriate action to compel your compliance with my demands (per my determination).

    Jaq – Esquire Mag

    Like

  22. Tim, great advice. Conciliation works, on both defense and offense. Additional suggestions that may be useful in defending your rights, aikido style:

    1. When communicating with a lawyer, CC someone with both the authority and the incentive to cooperate. Corporate attorneys are generally not evil, but rather are given bad incentives: minimize liability, not maximize gain. Presented a situation with a 90% chance of a $1000 company gain, but a 10% chance of a $100 loss, many lawyers will say no — though anyone else in the company would say yes. A one-line email to them from the CEO or VP bizdev can get them off your back instantly, in my experience.

    2. If conciliation fails, and before a direct battle, consider the intermediate step of exhausting your opponent. If they have in-house counsel, it costs ~$400 an hour to fight you. Send the attorney short emails emphasizing your desire to cooperate, but asking litanies of questions that require detailed answers. Prepare a draft solution to the problem, and send it to them. Ask for redline in return (attorneys love redlining things, and they get longer with each draft, consuming ever more hours). Send a second draft. Move things forward a bit each time. The goal is not to delay them in time — that would risk legal action — but instead to cost them so much money that someone with better incentives notices what’s going on. After a bit of this, contact someone with direct cost responsibility (e.g. the controller or COO), and complain that their legal counsel has probably spent more debating this matter than its entire value to their company. This too has worked for me.

    These approaches can be particularly useful in a recession. Companies get scared, and start looking for crazy ways to cut costs — Protocol Marketing seems headed down this path. In both approaches above, the goal to communicate clearly, to a person with the right incentives, that cooperating with you has higher NPV than fighting.

    Like

  23. Tim, great post! I agree that these threats with lack of communication is just bad business. So much of this comes down to ego and lack of people skills. How hard is it to be nice to people? I bet your right on that the CEO didn’t even know it was being sent out. If he did, then he is the douche bag!

    You can use my name and business in any book you write, no attorney will send you a letter! I’ll send you a bottle of wine and a card saying thank you!

    Like

  24. Hmm…I contacted BrickWorks India due to the recommendation in the book. They were happy to take me on as a client, plus they were very grateful when I told them I got their name from 4HWW.

    I would have thought this sort of advertising is pure gold. I am never going to contact this call center. Period.

    Personally, I dont even go near lawyers any more. I last used them about 10 years ago for a business partnership break up, and they caused more angst and resentment than if we had all just sat down over a cup of tea and sorted it out without their input.

    Like

  25. Tim,

    You are a gentleman and a scholar! Who among your readers wouldn’t make a few minor adjustments to pre-qualify those callers, and then just lavish you with gifts and praise for sending all those free leads??? Better yet, they could have even given a free trial of their services to one lucky reader as a small way of thanking you for the publicity. How amazingly short sided of them.

    Please keep us informed as to how this plays out, as I am very interested to know what fallout those photographed letters have. If there is none, then you have just given us ALL a tool to fight the bullying and sometimes frivolous and intimidating letters from the Big Boys’ law firms. Knowing we don’t have $50-$100,000 to spend in a legal battle just to prove we “are right” they EXPECT us to cave.

    Thanks for the free legal/SEO/anti-bullying advice. I can’t wait to Google them and see what comes up!!!!!! Justice is served!

    Warmly,
    Electra

    Like

  26. I’m from Denmark – however, the last 8 years I’ve lived in Brazil, China and the USA (currently USA).

    In Denmark, we always thought that the joke that “the US has more lawyers than rats” was kind of funny – although we never really understood why this was the case, or if it was actually just a friendly way of knocking our overseas friends.

    I’ve lived and done business in Brazil for five years – and there, it’s the same deal – lawyers in everything, and as much as I hate to admit it, it is quite difficult to do business without one there.

    Is it a trust thing? I don’t know – I’m not going to second-guess anything, but the example Tim brings up here makes the same question as always pop up in my head: Why did they ask a lawyer to contact him? It sure wasn’t lawyer to pointed out the problem in the first place – so why didn’t that person just call up Tim or wrote him an e-mail or letter? I mean, not only was the result not very good, it also cost them a lot of money to use a lawyer.
    In my head, the assumption must necessarily be bad-will from other people – why? are you like that? no you’re not – so why do think other people are?

    Just questions – no answers ;-)

    /Anders

    Like

  27. Love the swagger on this issue! I think you’re right to say that ‘standard’ legalese like this can have a big negative impact on all involved– I’ve seen more than one silly issue get up-leveled because it rubbed non-lawyers the wrong way. It’s absolutely time to re-think our approach to lawyers and how we let them speak on our behalf.

    Like

  28. Sending them free prospects! Man, how could you do that. :( Who wants business anyway?

    If you are really going to change it, I’d start a call center if you’d recommend me. ;)

    Like

  29. Hi Tim!

    I really appreciated your Q&A section and Biz Tech and answering my question about if we should give away free information to make the world a better place. You have been an inspirational trail blazer who have changed the way we look at work and life.

    Great insights, as always. Style does make content. It reminds me of what William Bernbach said about the truth:

    “The truth isn’t the truth until people believe you, and they can’t believe you if they don’t know what you’re saying, and they can’t know what you’re saying if they don’t listen to you, and they won’t listen to you if you’re not interesting, and you won’t be interesting unless you say things imaginatively, originally, freshly.”

    I look forward to meeting with you at AKA soon as my body continues to heal what others had said would be impossible. Michael almost cried when he read your note to him. Learning to walk for the first time at 40 certainly isn’t easy, but as you have shown, anything is possible!

    Thank you. Thank You. Thank you.

    Cheers,

    Like

  30. What a silly thing to do. They could have asked nicely via a phonecall. They could have risen to the occasion & made a fortune on the increased business. Fair enough, if they don’t want to deal with small customers, but people who do deal with them in sufficient quantities will make money if their costs are low enough – that’s how Woolworths ended up making their money. Instead of removing the (to them) spurious extra business inquiries they’re bothered about, they would appear to have lost your business plus any other legitimate business they would have gained through your recommendation – and now gained a bad rep, ripples of which will continue out across the net, causing them all kinds of unintended bad consequences.

    And they call themselves a marketing company!

    Like

  31. Zero tolerance for rudeness. Not a single “Please” in the letter.

    I agree that the CEO probably had no knowledge of this. If a #1NY best seller were giving me that level of publicity, I’d rather work with you to make sure the information was accurate. Certainly I wouldn’t demand that it be removed. Especially in this economic environment.

    Like

  32. Well, well, well… What a completely ridiculous business move. In this day and age the corporate world is about as fierce as it ever will be. We need all the leads and help we can get to bring in new business.

    These guys don’t have a single idea…

    If you are interested in outsourcing tasks such as Customer Service, Outbound Telemarketing, or grabbing a Virtual Assistant (or two!) of your own, [Tim], drop me an email…

    We’ll take care of you, that’s a promise!

    Like

  33. Tim,
    Wow! I can’t believe they would turn away a golden opportunity like that. Free advertising from a reputable source. I wish I would be bless with that for my business. Being recommended in a book that’s a NY #1 bestseller automatically gives prospects the image that your the obvious expert.

    I am in a service based business – Martial Arts School so I didn’t need a call center but after reading your book, I decided that I wanted someone else to answer the phones but didn’t want to train staff

    In Martial Arts, most calls are prospects that are scheduled for appointments. I found this great answering service called PATLIVE that uses a script and schedules the appointments. Current students can press a prompt and leave a voice message. I batch all callback at 4pm.

    It works great! No more telemarketers wasting my time, no more ball and chain of sitting around all day waiting for calls, etc.

    I was told by other martial arts school owners that my conversation rate from lead to appointment would go down. They were wrong – it went up. I believe it’s because it give you positional power.

    For $100-150 / month, it freed my day up. Instead of answer phones from 9am to 4pm, I have the whole day free. Yes, for $100-150 / month, I freed 7 hrs/ day or about 140 hrs/ month.

    If you are in a service based business that takes appointments, find an answering service.

    Thanks Tim for writing 4HWW. I reduced my work hours from 50 – 60 hr per week to about 16 – 20 hrs per week and my business has been hitting new highs in profitability every month. During the days, I started filling it with exciting activities and learning new thing.

    Tim Rosanelli
    [URL in name]

    Like

  34. In all fairness to Counselor Wagner, this letter is pretty standard to lawyers. In even more fairness to his clients, I’m sure they had no idea that this was the tone he was going to take.

    A couple of observations:
    1) Wagner is an old school attorney. After reading the letter, the first thing I checked was to see if he had a website and email and (not to me surprise), he didn’t. He also labels his fax number as facsimile. I’ve used some old school lawyers like this before and in some circumstances they are great. (I’m thinking of one I used to closed condos) However, these guys specialty is not PR and the old adversarial tone that is a mark of the legal profession takes over. I’m willing to bet he was fairly reasonable on the phone.

    2) In law school, the best classes I had were taught by working attorneys and they often lamented that sometimes the adversarial tact was counter-productive and they often warned us not to be the attorney that kills the deal. One attorney, teaching a class on internet and the law, specifically mentioned taking the soft approach (i.e. a phone call or nice plea letter) first in many situations, to avoid having aggressive correspondence become public (and this was 5 years ago).

    3) One of the best way to get this to change is Public Shame, which is what Tim is doing and what I have seen other bloggers do. Eventually, lawyers will get wise to the situation and think about it first, though I may be expecting a lot of my compatriots. (Plus, I bet Tim hears from Protocol soon)

    4) When you get a letter from an attorney like this. Don’t panic. If it sounds blustery, it is. Usually because they don’t have much to stand on.

    Like

  35. Dear Tim:

    I am very glad to read your article “The 4-Hour Workweek”. I benefit a lot from your book. It encourage me to think how to make my own live, and more important for me to think what I want to get in my life.

    Let me introduce myself: my name is Linda Liu, I am living in Shanghai now, and it is interesting that I do the same work as you—medical sales.

    I wish that I can get more advices from you about how to work 4 hours one week.

    I am looking forward to your answers!

    Best Regards!

    Linda Liu
    2008/10/29

    Like

  36. Working in the call centre industry I cannot believe this type of response! It is totally baffling to why any body would take this kind of action, particularly in the current climate.

    We would do our upmost to thank people who would even suggest going out of their way to pass on our details to prospective clients and spread awareness of our company.

    So if that is the case, please recommend Meridian’s International Telemarketing services….we promise we won’t send you threatening letters!

    Like

  37. @pmen, the tone does seem standard for a legal notice, but I think the point is that the situation did not warrant a cease-and-desist letter. If I were doing business with someone and accidentally did something to piss them off, I’d hope that they’d inform me politely and personally instead of sending a lawyer, blasting me on their blog, or from a mutual friend with whom they gossiped about the situation.

    Like

  38. Every action generates a force of energy that
    returns to us in like kind . . . what we sow is what we
    reap.

    And when we choose actions that bring happiness
    and success to others, the fruit of our karma is
    happiness and success.

    Karma is the eternal assertion of human freedom.
    . . . Our thoughts, our words, and deeds are
    the threads of the net which we throw around ourselves.
    ? Swami Vivekananda

    Check this out. I picked up Deepak Chopra’s “Seven Spiritual Laws of Success” after learning that it’s a favorite of Farrah Gray (Reallionaire, both of whom are also on my short list of mentors now ;-) and his words makes so much sense to me — not to mention all the practical ways to deal with your own and someone else’s baggage in the chapter on the Law of Karma (which I didn’t realize is equivalent to the Law of Cause and Effect!) See Chapter 3, “What about past karma and how it is influencing you now? There are three things you can do about past karma.”

    I was inspired to blog about it just this morning (perfect timing, methinks) thanks to a Buddhist friend on LiveJournal who is perpetually struggling with her own and significant others’ baggage. Click my username above to read my blog for a change of pace (scroll down to the post entitled “Intention, Detachment and Good Karma, baby!”) and tell me what you think about my vision for the Dream CO-OP Learning Centre while you’re there! ;-) Couple with Matt Hern’s Purple Thistle Centre in Vancouver, it’s got “The 4-Hour Workweek” written all over it!!

    Hasta luego, Amigo ~
    Penne & the CanDo! Crew :o)

    iLearn in Freedom Network

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  39. Gah, the perfectionist in me is balking at typos and grammar — Got in a hurry and hit submit before proofing :P

    *No idea what generated the question mark before Swami Vivekananda
    *Farrah Gray (author of “Reallionaire”…)
    *Coupled with Matt Hern’s Purple Thistle Centre (.ca) in Vancouver (see Matt’s Keynote Speech at this years, Alternative Resource Education Organization Conference in NY – video section of the iLiF Network – click username above.)

    There’s more, but that’ll make me feel a little better about my rushed post this morning LOL Have a great day, mate!

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  40. To paraphrase Elliot Spitzer’s advice after rattling Wall Street, don’t say in an email (letter) what is better said over the phone, and don’t say over the phone what is better said in person.

    Sage advice from a man who should have practiced what he preached.

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  41. Excellent post. We had the same thing happen to us from Getty Images. Had they handled themselves without being such asses we might actually have used them, but now we will never use their services or those of the small companies they have purchased.

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  42. Correction to my post above: “If they have in-house counsel” should read “UNLESS they have in house counsel”. Sorry.

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  43. Don’t be letting the CEO/company off the hook to easily. He (or someone who works for him) is the one who chose to to call their lawyer before trying to resolve this their self.

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  44. For some reason, the proverb of using a hatchet to remove a fly comes to mind. I would think that the logical next step, if you find yourself deluged with solicitations for business, would be to find a way to serve those new customers.

    If forty people show up at your lemonade stand asking for coffee, would you sue the guy who sent them to you, or find a way to make coffee?

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  45. Tim,

    I wonder if you didn’t have a New York Times best selling book if the letter from the attorney would have ever happened in the first place. It just seems so counter intuitive for me to ever imagine reprimanding someone who is recommending my company (for any reason).

    With the success of your book- and the calls that they were getting- why wouldn’t they open a 4hww division to handle the demand.

    Anyway, off to Buenos Aires to tango:)

    Rob
    Jet Set Life

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  46. Shame on them, and way to go Tim!

    That lawyer deserves a good spanking. If he wants to be a bully, he should try out for the UFC.

    It’s so sad.

    Some people would kill for the publicity they had in your book.

    Bad management and a dummy lawyer…

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  47. Let’s face it: they missed out a chance for a new business.

    Tim, if you’ll ever be so kind to announce a service I deliver that I don’t and I get more potential customers than I can handle, I just would start this effing business, re-read T4HWW to get it on autopilot quick and send you flowers, no lawyer.

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  48. This post reminds me of the chapter about letter writing in the book How to Win Friends and Influence People. It’s a classic for a reason.

    Thanks for sharing.

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  49. Did you ever think this might be a marketing ploy on their part; because let’s face it, there is no bad publicity. And now you just plastered their name all over your website. They will not take any further action so their name remains in your book and they just got a nice quarterly sales boost… This is Fing Brilliant…… Tim, I would take their name out of your book just to spite them.

    Good Luck,

    Dana

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  50. I am guessing that Attorney Wagner *did* let the client know what he was going to say, although maybe not word-for-word. The problem with lawyers is that few of us can marry the legal aspects of what we do to the real world goals of our clients. Client says “I am getting all these stupid unqualified calls from Ferris’ book!” If client is saying this to a marketing genius, mg will say “Great! We will figure out a way to harness this!” If client say this to lawyer, lawyer says “Your rights are violated – I will stop this!” To a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

    I will never send a rude letter. If I send a *stern* letter it is because my opponent has already been given a fair and ample warning and they blew it.

    Ah, lawyers! When are we ever going to learn?

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  51. Several quick points:
    1. Great blog, thanks for sharing. I always look forward to new posts.
    2. Disagree w/Pmen, this is the type of letter litigators write. Transactional attorneys generally are more polite and focus on problem solving and building consensus.
    3. I use similar letters as “bad” examples in law school courses I teach and marketing book for lawyers I am working on. Most attorneys don’t realize that in addition to being a profession, practicing law is also a service industry and what you do/say, how you present yourself and your reputation count! Although it results in a small part from standard law school training, sadly most lawyers tend to be antagonistic. A good quality in a litigator, but not as a human, and some attorneys forget to strive be both.
    4. As former inn/restaurant owner I was always amazed at properties that put up no vacancy signs when full. I would rather take time to talk to someone, recommend them to another place because more likely to get their business in future rather than steer them away without them having a chance to learn about your business. Ditto for them, should have put new script and designated lines to handle calls, politely turn away but at least capture potential future client info. Even if too “small” for them now, if treated right, when their business grew they would be prospective clients. Everyone is a prospective client. They lost huge marketing potential and a lot of future business. Amazing how many businesses inadvertently (and sometimes intentionally) tell potential customers we don’t want your business. What the point then of running your business?

    Thanks again for the entertainment – know it wasn’t entertaining for you and you are rightfully indignant.

    Regards, Bob

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  52. Tim, well said. I philosophically agree that lawyers are necessary in the world, but would love to have a magic wand and wave 80% of them somehow into a productive role elsewhere in society as 20% of them, at most, are actually needed to represent the truly just and truly unjust – the great majority of litigious activity has GOT to be frivolous.

    So, you’ve hopefully gotten one of the needless, bad ones fired by what is likely a decent enough call center firm – or you wouldn’t have put them in 4HWW.

    And maybe just maybe William C. Wagner, Esquire (geez, enough with the ‘esquire’ title) will learn a lesson and turn from the frivolous dark side and go do good in the world with his considerable skill at robotic wordsmithmanship.

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  53. Tim, Congratulations! You’ve now discovered the Sermon on the Mount! Last year, in the post “The Karmic Capitalist,” (as I commented on it when I found it) you rediscovered the law of the Tithe, and your whole career has been devoted to rediscovering the concept of the Sabbath! At this rate, you’ll have rediscovered or reinvented the entire Bible within the next five years. Is that a frightening thought?

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  54. This could be a lesson in “anti-marketing.” Or “How to put yourself out of business with one simple letter!”

    If there’s a “Darwin Award” for companies, this one is a winner!

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  55. Couldn’t agree more that digital media and social networking has changed the dynamics of customer/partner/public relationship management. Those companies who fail to understand or simply ignore the new rules of engagement won’t be doing their brand name and reputation any good. Example: Protocol Integrated Direct Marketing.

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  56. At the risk of incurring the wrath of your legal department- I sent a link to this article to my list :)

    For me, the article was a stark reminder of how my former business partner was given to abrupt, and abrasive interaction with people. He perceived threats and
    offenses everywhere. His insecurity drove him to seek to control the
    people around him. Just as in the article, he alienated one would-be
    evangelist after another, until finally any prospective credible referral
    partners gave up and left. He had zero tolerance for any information he
    didn’t absolutely control- including positive information about us and our
    business. He would routinely fire off letters (I debated about reprinting
    one of them here, but decided the your article was sufficient to make the
    point) to people demanding they do or don’t do this or that in the rudest
    possible way. Mr. former partner also frequently lacked the requisite
    authority or simple respect to compel compliance– even assuming compliance
    was desired which it often wasn’t except in his head. I could no longer be associated with him for obvious reasons– it hurt my own credibility and professional image.

    In business, as in life, you’re going to deal with difficult issues; and
    you’re going to wish people had or had not done this or that. You’re going
    to want to get your way. You’re going to be tempted to respond abruptly in
    the wrong way, sometimes even to the wrong person or persons to an
    irritation. My advice is: don’t. Take a breath. Assess the situation accurately, and deal with it appropriately.

    Paul Strauss
    Access Group, Naperville, IL

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  57. Some people in marketing and PR believe that no publicity is bad publicity. They go to the extreme of saying that even if someone has said something bad about a company, which was certainly not the case here, it is OK as long as the person who has said it is widely known and the business will get public exposure from it. Of course, there are limits to this theory.
    However, anyone can put my name and contact information in their book; blog etc and I won’t complain even if there are inaccuracies. Inaccuracies like, instead of saying that I am the world’s best small business accountant you may say I am the world’s second best small business accountant :)

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  58. People do NOT confront rudeness enough in the business world, and sadly it is Corporate America that needs to learn the biggest lesson. Fear of reprisal keeps most people from confronting rudeness. I have lived in other countries and coming back stateside to work in Corporate America was a bit of a shock. I am hoping…no, I WILL be fortunate enough to live outside the US again in a few years. (Your book is an excellent source on planning my corporate exit).

    BTW, I have my Sharpie out and will “strike” said sentence from P.201. I can always count on you to be insightful, while cracking me up at the same time. :-)))

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  59. Tim,

    I guess they have learned what I’ve learned in my dealings with the government as an immigration lawyer – be careful about whom you attack…”The ass you kick today may be the same one you kiss tomorrow” or something like that. Proceed accordingly.

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  60. This is absolutely incredible. Most businesses dream of having FREE positive publicity driving people, AKA potential new customers, to their doorstep. Also, if what you said was so incorrect with respect to their current business, then why couldn’t they SEE a new opportunity. WOW!

    Thanks for sharing this experience.

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  61. When you have a pit bull at the gate, everyone – the mailman, your customers, your friends, your neighbors, are treated as a threat. For years I ran a site dedicated to hobbyists which heavily promoted a certain brand. One day that brand hired a new team of lawyers who promptly sent threatening cease and desist letters to everyone and anyone who discussed their product or had photos of their product on their “fan pages”. Eventually their “fans” went away, and so did their business.

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  62. if someone gave me a golden glowing mention that resulted in mega-traffic looking for a particular service – i would have provided it, given it’s legal and didn’t involve me taking my clothes off!

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  63. It’s a sign of success! Nobody ever tried to knock down a man who wasn’t standing.

    I wish you growing success as will likely be evidenced by an increasing amount of ridiculous attorney’s letters.

    Jeff

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  64. I remember one thing from a sociology course in college. (Yes, just one thing.) The higher the status of the parties in an interaction, the more “law” will be involved. This could mean ceremony, bureaucracy, or actual legal action. And the more law is involved, the more value — be it time, money or reputation — is at risk.

    That’s why the size of a lawsuit *always* has more to do with the parties involved than with the merits of the case.

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  65. Tim, that was HYSTERICAL!

    Perhaps, however, you underestimated the intention of the lawyer, Grasshopper.

    If, like some folks believe, any publicity is good publicity, then he achieved quite a feat. Especially since you graciously noted that his client probably had no idea what was going on AND that you’d used their services in the past.

    The best part was the cheeky ending!

    As a lawyer, I know how much fun it is to bash lawyers for headlines. So, bash away, then hire us when you get into trouble.

    Oh wait, you’ll NEVER get into trouble if you keep practicing those killer martial arts moves!

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  66. Rule Number One – Pick up the phone before you send a threatening letter or email.

    Not only would they have gotten a better response, he would not have incurred the legal fees and what will now clearly be a loss of potential business based on all the comments here.

    Life is not hard…I scratch my head when folks like this make it so.

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  67. WOW,

    Someone should email them all these comments. The real signs of being an idiot were displayed by their legal garbage. What a bunch of ignorant lawyers who put their ties on too tight!!!!! Haha, this should be on the press somewhere for most expensive legal letter ever written.

    Posts from Cuxhaven,

    Jose

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  68. I have to say, it would have been a priveledge for our company to be published in a great book like 4hww. I wonder why they chose not to adapt and use the massive amount of leads created? Could they not have at least been filed in a database and sold to another company? Many companies are just begging for leads right now! Come on, use it wisely.

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  69. Any company that would allow their legal counsel to write such an inappropriate letter is permanently scratched from my list. They will not be getting any calls from me.

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  70. They say you can tell the character of a person by the way they treat those they don’t need to treat well. Well within your supercilious attempts to feel productive and effective you often filter out what you’d probably call useless emails, one of which being my own.

    [Note from Tim: Brian, please understand that I get more than 2,000 email per week, and that doesn't count Facebook/LinkedIn/etc. messages. I have assistants filter for me, as I am physically incapable of replying to these e-mails all personally. It's not an ego trip. Sometimes good emails are filtered out by accident, and this is an unfortunate side-effect of having systems in place - mistakes do happen. I hope you can understand my position, as I can understand yours. All the best, Tim]

    A need to be validated? Perhaps, but what human doesn’t want to feel acknowledged as worthy by other human beings. Now suddenly an individual uses similarly (to your own) effective methods to handle their all important issue (using a threatening letter to make sure they avoid any possible slack rebuttal for time effectiveness, perhaps you’re familiar with this ambition) and suddenly you whine. I like you, you’re a cool guy even if rather weird (your interpretation of breakdance); I incessantly recommend your book, but I can’t help but feel karma has shown you if not only me that what you give, you get. My past frustration is has been requited. I rejoice in my understanding of the world. I wish you better fortune now this debt has had its reckoning. Hopefully that disrespectful ego trip of yours hasn’t been made too much a habit of. Say it with me, Servant Leadership. Implied with lighthearted spirits, of course. Stay adventurous!

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