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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.