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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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?



  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?


    • 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.


  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!


  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.



  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.


  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.


    Was it worth it?


  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.


  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


  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.


  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 :)


  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 :)



    • 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.


  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.