Why Legal Action Should Be Your Last Move
You should be legally protected, but you shouldn’t use the law as your first line of defense.
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There is a misconception that when you are a business owner armed with contracts and knowledge of the law that you should come out swinging with the legal club whenever a client steps out of line.
Each client situation should be viewed as a learning experience. It is a small business owner’s responsibility to ensure the photography relationship is set up properly and handled appropriately. Accommodation of a client is beneficial to facilitate a happy client experience and potential word-of-mouth, but must be balanced against the “doormat” effect on the business. Some clients will push the envelope, whether out of pure ignorance of their actions and words or to selfishly receive as much as they can for their monies.
So why not legal action first?
By jumping to legal action as a first response, the defensive walls go up around the client. The majority of the time the legal action may be overkill for the infraction that has been committed. This is not always the case, sometimes legal action is your first step in solving an issue, however, instituting preventive tools and measures in business can keep a photography business owner from needing to jump to legal action as the first move.
Jumping to legal action can be like putting gasoline on a fire and lead to an explosive situation. This may not always be the case, but any time legal action is involved, so is time and money. By moving to the legal “clean up” instead of preventive measures and communication, the business can greatly suffer under the burdensome activity of moving through the legal system.
In fact, as a lawyer and business consultant – I generally recommend not jumping to legal action right away. Always start with examining the communications and situation, reaching out to the client, and only after you’ve exhausted the tools and measures in place should you then pursue the legal path.
There are many physical tools and measures that photography business owners should be knowledgeable of to prevent client issues and maintain a happy professional relationship. These will act to help further the client and photographer’s relationship hopefully without the need for legal action.
There are a variety of tools available to photographers that can serve as protection, for the focus of this article we’re going to look at contracts and the use of deposit/retainers. Other protection tools may exist, if you have any in your business – leave them in the comments!
Contracts set the expectations of the relationship, inform the client of the proccess and policies and give the parties protection.
Always get a contract signed prior to a session.
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In fact, it is recommended to have this contract done prior to even showing up at the location the day of the session. The reason is to give the client the opportunity to read and understand the terms, as well as raise any questions they may have with the you BEFORE you take the time to setup a shoot and arrive on site. This also allows the Photographer to reserve the session date on their calendar and allow the shooting time to be a fun and “business administration” free meeting.
Just like the contract should be done prior to the session, so should the deposit/retainer (See: Should I Use Deposit or Retainer in my Contract? to determine which language and policy to use in contracts and policy). These monies are used to protect and reserve the spot of time on the photographer’s calendar.
The deposit/ retainer also serves as a gesture from the client, in conjunction with the contract, to cement the relationship.
Protection measures for preserving the client relationship and protecting the photography business include: insurance, formation, and communication with the client.
Having insurance helps to insulate and protect the business while providing a cheaper and administratively easier method to settle client issues.
Take for example if a client was injured in your studio, if you have the appropriate liability insurance policy then the insurance company can take the burden of the claim off of your shoulders and work to settle the issue for you.
The structure chosen in the formation of your business can also act to protect your business. Photographer’s can choose from sole proprietor, limited liability company and corporations.
By choosing limited liability company or corporation as a photography business structure in formation, the photographer’s business assets become separate from personal and provide protection for the business.
For more information on these see this article.
It is the photographer’s responsibility to not require a client to play five hundred questions in order for the relationship to move along. The Photographer should have in the client workflow a list of communications that always informs the client of the next step in the process. This will help to reduce apprehension of the client and increase confidence in the transaction. Insertion of this simple practice can keep the relationship in a happy place and act to keep issues from escalating to legal action.
What if there are still issues?
Even if you’ve instituted all of these measures and tools, problems still exist. People are human. Humans have feelings that inspire their motivations and reactions. Sometimes the most you can do is to prevent and handle situations as professionally as possible. The end truth is that you just may have to end up in court.
Unfortunately, if you come to this situation it is best to find a local attorney to help you with your legal action. This will increase your chances of protection, as well as saving you resources (Time and emotions) spent on the legal action.
Share this with other photographers so they can be protected too!
Overall, many successful business owners are smarter than to jump to legal action as their first reaction. Whether due to the business smarts to see a potential negative outcome or the lack of funds (or perhaps a combination), these business owners focus on preventing and handling any issues that arise without jumping to the legal club to whack the out-of-line client with.