Is legal action possible?

Hello, I am new to these forums but found them while searching for a place with answers to my problems. Here is my current situation, and I appreciate all feedback regarding:

I am a web developer and took on a client at the beginning of this year who wanted an E-Commerce website built for his new fashion line company that he was starting. As it was a small-business and had not gotten off its feet yet, as well as the fact that I was still a junior developer taking on one of my first clients (but knew what I was doing from a development standpoint), I did not have him sign any contract … big mistake I know. He was a friend of a friend and I had worked for close acquaintances of his in the past. Anyways, throughout development he always took days or sometimes even a week to respond to emails, usually ones where I asked him specifics of what he needed for certain areas of a site, or logins for his various hosting or social media accounts that were needed. In the end, this development project extended many months longer than expected, mostly by lag on his end.

I have been finished with his website for quite some time now, and over the past 2-3 months in awaiting his OK to begin the launch process, he constantly stalled things, citing things like “I will get you the new server logins soon” or “we’re working on getting the new content ready”. Now it is December and after telling me about new investors and the server switching to a new one, I can see he has a very similar looking (he provided the .psd design) website now loaded onto his domain name, and has not responded to my emails about “needing to talk”. Is there anything I can do …

I realize this is my own fault by not making him sign a contract in the beginning, but I have exchanged over a hundred emails with him throughout this process regarding development. Web design firms quoted me on similar projects regarding E-Commerce functionality at anywhere from 10k+ - 25k, and I had plans to cut him a very good deal since this was solo-developed and he is a new business. Now I’m only left with one question … is there any type of action that I can take to recoup on the hundreds of hours I spent building this website? Please help me, and again I appreciate all feedback.

You could always send him an email stating that you need to talk and state that if he doesn’t then you will have to take legal action. See if he will call your bluff.

Well given your case and details realistically it looks unlikely any action can be taken. Two points to consider : A : There is no contract and hence oral communications might not hold in court. B : You have mentioned that the site developed and online now is similar to the PSD. But it suggests that he has got it developed elsewhere which again would mean he has not used your version on the server. Given that I am not sure what kind of legal action can be taken.

Most developers do not take advance payments or part payments at each stage of the project. If you had taken part payments, this issue would not have occurred. Also for ecommerce site though budgets are on the higher side around 25k budget for a small site seems too high so if you have given a quote in that range, then he might have got a much better quote elsewhere and went with that. I feel a good quote would have been in the range of $30-60 (per hour) for such a project based on experience. Total hours I guess would be somewhere around 100 -150 hours.

You might write a friendly letter stating that hours have gone into the project and some kind of compensation would be fair deal, but with no contracts in place I am not sure how you could recover / implement the same.

Yes, without a contract I’m afraid it’s pretty much “lesson learned”.

BTW I think @jaagare; meant “Most developers do not take advance payments or part payments at each stage of the project.”

The only positive I can think of is that having received no compensation, the work is yours.
i.e. You can use it as an example in your portfolio etc.

@Mittineague - Yes thats right. Thanks for correcting. I did mean : “Most developers take advance payments …”

It appears you have nothing but the satisfaction in this: whomever created that other site is most certainly facing precisely the same dilemma.

Welcome to the forum. I hope we can help you as you continue your career as a Web Developer.
I am confident you will approach your next client a bit differently. The lesson learned is the most valuable thing you gained here. “Good judgement comes from experience. Experience comes from poor judgement”

You get the “Spot the Silver Lining” award today!

A clearly defined contract is preferable, however it is most certainly not a requirement should you wish to pursue legal action. The OP has stated that he has hundreds of emails, so there is definitely a ‘paper trail’ which can be used to prove what was agreed between him and the client.

This seems pretty clear cut and if he has an email or emails that prove that the client instructed him to build a web site for £xxxx, then he most certainly should not just walk away from this, there’s still a good chance he can recoup some or all of the money owed.

OP - it’s time to send a letter to your client, sent via registered post. This should be formal, clear and concise, written with no emotion - not ‘friendly’, but not angry - be strong and firm. Lay out what is owed to you (include an invoice), payment terms, a reminder of what work you performed (include a copy of the relevant email/s) and timeline for payment (e.g. 30 days NET) and most definitely lay out exactly what you intend to do should no payment be forthcoming - i.e. legal action.

This may be all you need to prompt the client to cough up what he owes you, or certainly mark the beginnings of some kind of negotiation. If he ignores you, follow through with another letter, i.e. a final warning before legal action. Consider having a lawyer draft up this letter.

Many of these kinds of issues normally get resolved without the need for full legal action, but remember that small claims court might also be an option.

That’s the big IF, indeed. From what I understand from @TT19991; 's post, they never talked about money: