If you’ve worked at an agency or elsewhere in marketing, you know that it’s often the case that people just don’t get paid. Sometimes the client doesn’t pay the agency; sometimes the agency doesn’t pay the freelancer or the radio station (yes they still exist). Sometimes the coffee vendor doesn’t get paid — or the vendor does get paid, and fails to deliver the coffee! These types of disputes, because they’re small (sub-$10K), often go unresolved, which is a shame, because the party at fault isn’t held accountable (and therefore may feel emboldened to repeat the behavior in the future).
Michael Egenthal is the founder and CEO of Squabble — an app that removes just about all the friction from the traditionally friction-rich, confusing small claims legal process. Knowing how many folks at least tell me they got screwed by someone else in the marketing ecosystem (rightly or wrongly), I decided to interview Mike.
Squabble does something important. Millions of Americans who believe that they’re owed a “small” amount of money (typically up to $10,000) are regularly deterred from actually legal taking action by the complexity and opaqueness of the small claims process. According to Michael’s research, “there are somewhere in the range of between 60 and 120 million cases where someone is actually owed a monetary sum of up to ten to fifteen grand and they didn’t file a case; they didn’t vindicate their rights, and they just dropped it.”
Lawyers rarely touch small claims cases (aside from offering to issue demand letters), and as Michael observes, the small claims process really isn’t a domain for lawyers — in the vast majority of cases, they’re simply not needed. If one has a good case, is well organized, and correctly does the paperwork (which is often digital these days), one stands a good chance of prevailing in small claims court; assisted by the Squabble app, the process becomes speedy, stress-free, and surprisingly effective (Squabble states that 95 percent of litigants filing claims through its service prevail in court — that’s quite an extraordinary achievement.)
Squabble has a diverse user base across the U.S., including individuals involved in roommate disputes, landlords, tenants, contractors, subcontractors, small business owners, and freelancers. Most of these cases are serious disputes (but Michael does share details form a few anonymized cases offering some entertainment value). Squabble users include individuals filing actions against large corporations (actions often won either by default or through settlements).
Michael (who is both a practicing attorney and a law professor) walks us through the small claims process (old and new) and has some great strategy tips for anyone seeking justice in small claims court. Interestingly, the small claims process includes the provisions that litigants can recoup all fees associated with their action (including app fees) should they prevail and that cases can be won with a mere 51 percent preponderance of evidence. Put simply, the process can be a lot easier and freer of risk than one might expect.
If you’ve been stiffed monetarily (or know someone in that situation) and want some clarity on what your options are, this interview will be of value to you.
Note: Squabble is a client of mine at Didit, but when I found out how many folks in my industry gave up when they weren’t getting paid, I decided we could combine getting the word out for a client and educating the marketing community on the power of Small Claims Court. Yes, you can sue that Mother F-er LOL.