The end of a consultant-client relationship can turn just as ugly as the end of a long-term personal relationship. Just as prenuptial agreements can help avoid battles over property and child custody, well-written contracts between consultants and their clients can keep things civil. You can run into problems, however, when one or both parties are unfamiliar with the contract’s details.

Antonio Green, a senior network consultant with Verde Network Consulting in Orange, CA, wrote TechRepublic to tell us about the circumstances surrounding a recent separation between his firm and a longtime client. When he was told that his contract was ending, Green acted quickly to rescue a portion of the documentation that legally belonged to his firm, much to the chagrin of his client. Find out what happened and give us your thoughts on how the situation might have been handled differently by both Green and the client firm.

Green’s experience: The contract ends
Green recently ended a contract with a financial institution in Orlando, FL. His firm was in its second year of a contract to support one of the institution’s small business units (SBU) in Mission Viejo, CA. Then a change in CIOs resulted in the company contracting with another firm, Green said.

A little over a month before the end of the contract, Green was informed that the company would not be renewing its contract with Verde. Further, he was told that a tech from the newly hired consulting firm would be starting that day. “They asked that we stay around and help out with an SMS [Security Management System] rollout,” Green said. “I pulled my guy aside and immediately informed him that we were not to perform any training or anything else that was outside of the bounds of our contract with this company.”

Deleting files from the client’s computers
Green’s next step was to delete some of the documentation that he and his staff had created on the financial institution’s workstations, because a standard clause in Verde’s contracts states, “all documentation provided by the consultant shall remain the sole property of the consultant.” He then gave his administrative assistant the day off and left the site.

“Before the end of the day, I received a call from the interim admins that had arrived on-site from the company headquarters,” Green said. “They asked about the documentation, and I simply explained that I had deleted all of the documentation from the workstation and moved any pertinent files to the server.”

The counterstrike: Threatened legal action
Later that same night, Green tried to access his e-mail account at the client’s company through Outlook Web Access and was denied. He called his assistant, whose access was also denied.

“The next day when my admin arrived, they explained to him that they knew about all the files we deleted and that they had sent screen shots to their attorneys and were seeking legal action against us,” Green said.

When Green was informed of the financial institution’s intent, he called a meeting between the COO and the interim administrative officers. He presented a statement that demanded all written and electronic documentation that Verde had provided the company during the two-year contract. The letter also reiterated the section of the contract that outlined ownership of the documentation.

“Once they realized that we were acting within our rights, they backed down from uttering a single word in regard to ‘legal action,’” Green said.

Reaching a compromise
The financial institution refused to return the rest of the documentation to Green or Verde Network Consulting, saying that since it paid for the time used to create the documentation, it should own the documentation. The company also told Green that it no longer trusted his team to be on-site and didn’t feel comfortable in their presence.

Hoping to avoid a legal battle, Green proposed a compromise whereby Verde would continue to support them via phone, and the financial institution would continue to pay Verde through the duration of the contract.

Luckily, the company accepted the compromise and no legal action was necessary. Green said he always makes a point of outlining the areas of service that he and his staff should be providing to the client so his techs know “exactly what we are and aren’t doing,” he said, and advises that clients’ management do the same.

Can you write a different ending?

How do you handle end-of-contract situations? Do you think both or either company acted properly? Did Green proceed in the best way? Send us an e-mail or join the discussion.