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Volunteered while preparing TN Visa document requirements. Web developer!Fired upon completing websites. Websites on my server

San Diego, CA |

I am a web developer and SEO/SEM expert. I applied for jobs as an SEO/SEM Management Consultant for several companies while here on visit and living with my girlfriend who lives and is from California. Upon completing two websites for a LAW FIRM, they let me go. As if to get two websites built and developed for free! I finished both websites before being able to file the TN Visa application, all while being a volunteer. The websites were built to allow me to perform the consultant position effectively when filed. But, both websites are on my servers. Which means, they didn't get the fully completed projects in their control yet. Although both sites are live, they are on my servers. No signed documents.

Is it illegal to charge for the websites? or Illegal to shut down the websites?

B2 Visitor Visa - expires December 5th (Canadian Visitor) Been in California for 2 months. TN Visa not filed. No documents signed. No commission or payment. Not fired, but let go to part separate ways. Charge = Bill/Invoice. I know it would have been illegal to be paid for services rendered while on visitor visa, after getting the TN VISA. But, due to changes in project.. this may have an impact.

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Attorney answers 5

Best Answer
Posted

I think it might make sense to flesh this all out with a lawyer in private. I think you may be mixing up the immigration/VISA issues with the contractual dispute you have as one really should not have anything to do with the other. That is, you have a right to be paid for services rendered and the client should not be unjustly enriched just because of your VISA status. That said, I admit I am not entirely clear on all the facts involved.

Most of us here, including myself, offer a free phone consult.

Best regards,
Frank
Natoli-Lapin, LLC
(see Disclaimer)

The law firm of Natoli-Lapin, LLC (Home of Lantern Legal Services) offers our flat-rate legal services in the areas of business law and intellectual property to entrepreneurs, small-to-medium size businesses, independent inventors and artists across the nation and abroad. 866-871-8655 Support@LanternLegal.com DISCLAIMER: this is not intended to be specific legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. No attorney-client relationship is formed on the basis of this posting.

Posted

You should consult with an intellectual property and/or employment attorney to discuss the legality of shutting down the websites. Consult with an immigration attorney for your status issues.

Posted

Where's the agreement? What is in the agreement? Don't list any further facts here, but spend some time with an attorney. I wish you the best.

Michael K. Cernyar, Esq.
(562) 216-2940

The response above is not intended as legal advice since it’s impracticable to provide thorough, accurate advice based upon the query without additional details. It is highly recommended that one should seek advice from a criminal defense attorney licensed in your jurisdiction by setting up a confidential meeting. Moreover, this response does not constitute the creation of an attorney-client relationship since this message is not a confidential communication because it was posted on a public website, thereby publicly disclosing the information, which is another reason to setup a confidential meeting with an attorney.

Posted

The facts don't add up. What inept kind of law firm let you keep websites done for them on your servers. When you say "for them", I suppose it was actually for clients not the firm itself, as that would be so incredibly stupid of a law firm I can fathom it happening. At any rate, you indicate you applied for SEO/SEM jobs and then did websites for a law firm. Sounds like you were an employee, which means they own the work. If you were just a consultant, in the absence of some written agreement, you own the copyright. This surely was not an IP law firm. You need to consult an Internet lawyer right away, as you don't want to be playing tough with a law firm unless you have a tough lawyer to back you up.

I am not your lawyer and you are not my client. Free advice here is without recourse and any reliance thereupon is at your sole risk. This is done without compensation as a free public service. I am licensed in IL, MO, TX and I am a Reg. Pat. Atty. so advice in any other jurisdiction is strictly general advice and should be confirmed with an attorney licensed in that jurisdiction.

Asker

Posted

The plan was to put them on their servers. It was still on the my testing servers - and rushed to completion. I set live way before they should have been set live, as per my recommendations and requests. After setting them live, on testing server - then would have been switched over without any downtime. But, they let me go before I had the chance to do any of this. I did work, as a consultant which was my required work in order to perform the consulting job effectively. I may have been doing things wrong on this part - I'm unsure of my issues. There were no written agreements, other than a lot of correspondence via email. Which was indicated, that the websites would be placed on their servers. But, letting me go before I had a chance to get to that point. I don't want to play tough - but I feel like I've been used, and feel quite betrayed. Consulted with an attorney this morning, but they are not in California. I will be working with an Internet lawyer regarding this. I don't want to play tough, but I don't want to be used for what I've spent hours of time on.

Asker

Posted

It was for the firm. Two sites. Their online marketing, was highly ineffective. The two higher converting websites, as per my consultations, were required in order to be effective. I'm a developer, so I went ahead to do the development while gathering all required documents to file my TN Visa. This was on a volunteer basis. No pay or commissions. I didn't expect to be let go once I had them live - so I didn't see testing server as any fault since it was required for the build.

Posted

With due respect, I have read your various clarifications, but the facts and circumstances remain vague and unclear. I can't tell whether you were an employee of the law firm ("they let me go"), an unpaid volunteer, or an independent consultant. Your question leaves out what may be the most important factor here---why did this firm "let you go"? Ordinarily, the law firms would have to reasonably compensate you for your efforts and the value of the web-sites that you developed for them. Assuming they paid you, the law firms would then obtain at the every least a license to use the web-site---and you would have the obligation to deliver the web-sites to them in a manner that would allow the firms to use, update, change and otherwise operate the web-sites. The problem with your question, is that it asserts that you worked as a volunteer---if you agreed to volunteer your services as a donation, then the law firms would not need to pay you before obtaining the license---donations are enforceable obligations under the laws of both states? So were you a volunteer, independent contractor, an employee, or some combination of both?

Of course, if the law firms concluded that your services were inadequate, that the web-sites you delivered did not meet their standards or needs, or needed improvements, or that the work you performed was substandard or too slow, they may have valid grounds to refuse to pay you. Further, if your substandard or late work caused the law firms to lose business because the web-site you had promised was not available, they could have claims against you for breach of contract----indeed, the key missing fact here is why the law firm let you go? Are the law firms claiming that you did something that harmed their businesses?

Finally, I don't believe shutting down the web-site is a good idea. While you may be right to charge for the use of the web-sites you created, if you shut down the web-sites because of a dispute over compensation, you could be accused of violating the license you provided to the law firms to use the web-sites. If the law firms lose business because you shut down the web-sites, you could be liable for the lost business because you would have violated the implied license that you provided. Think about it this way--two wrongs do not make it right. Maybe the law firms should pay you something, but that does not make it right for you to shut down the web-sites that you created as "volunteer".

It is curious that more than one law firm was involved here, and that you managed to get these assignments while on a visitors' immigration visa. Your right to compensation should not depend on your immigration status. On the other hand, I have the deep suspicion that there is a lot more to this story. Law firms ordinarily are not stupid enough to put themselves at the mercy of a visitor from another country without having some detailed understanding in writing as to how the arrangement will work. Even though you did not have a written contract, I bet that the e-mail communications that exist concerning this matter would shed light on your rights and responsibilities in this situation. I suggest that you gather your e-mails and other communications with this law firm and then retain intellectual property/business litigation counsel to review your situation and advise you objectively as to how to best protect your interests here. Before reviewing the details with counsel, it would be a grave mistake for you to "shut down" or otherwise disrupt operation of these web-sites.

Asker

Posted

Excellent comment overall - very well thought out, and provided excellent answers for a variety of variables, including answers on speculation. Shutting down the websites, would not have left them with nothing - nor disrupt their business. They would have been reverted to their old websites. Although the new websites were developed for one firm, two websites, two locations (cities) were much better, agreed by both parties.. the original reason to let me go, was not clear. It has been cleared up, and discussed with the firm. I took advice from an attorney here on Avvo, from a phone consultation - then discussed directly with the firm what my plans were. All has been cleared, and they will be continuing use with their websites. They're going to cover the costs for a variety of reasons. Your deep suspicions of of a lot more to the story, is slightly off. I wrote it as clear to the point as I could. Although there is always more to the story - in this case. The post/question, was written to include the fine point details with the important data. I was hired as the pay per click / search engine marketing expert. Delivered two new websites in order to provide the pay per click marketing with higher conversion, since 100 visitors at $20 per click is $2,000 and the old websites converting at only 1% means, only 1 of 100 visitors does anything. The new websites, converts much higher - and I was let go immediately after completing the two new websites without being able to perform the original job I was hired for. The firm is unhappy with the PPC marketing, not the websites. But to deliver two websites, fully functioning - extremely optimized with improvements in less than 5 days for their business, and keeping those even though they were not the original proposed job requirements. Is where the issue was. As a volunteer, the job was to get the PPC rolling in the right direction while obtaining the TN Visa which then would have used the new websites at higher conversion rates, and more business overall for both short and long term. Hope that clears your suspicions slightly. I have gathered all e-mails and other communications with the firm, and if required, I will retain an intellectual property/business litigation counsel. Thank you for the advice, Maurice.

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