How to get paid for your work, beyond just having a piece of paper

Getting Paid

The promise to pay, written on paper, signed and notarized by the person or business that owes the money is worth surprisingly little. How did I come to this conclusion?

I have worked on helping people get paid based on written agreements and also defend against people who thought they had a right to be paid based on a written document.

The form of the document carries little weight if all you have is a promise that someone will pay you. It may be a written contract, purchase agreement, promissory note or [insert title of a payment document you have seen here], but without something other than the promise, it doesn’t mean nearly as much as you think. Why?

Because people make decisions not to pay or end up in a position where they cannot pay every day. Are these decisions usually legally wrong? Probably. But they are made all the time, and people or businesses that are owed either get paid very slowly or never get paid. You can certainly resort to the legal system, but your strength or weakness in the system depends on what you have done to get prepared.

Here are three strategies for maximizing your chances of actually getting paid what you are owed:

1. Get security. The concept is simple – the person promising to pay pledges some asset of value that they own. If the person doesn’t pay, you get to take the asset and sell it to generate money. Mortgage companies do this in every transaction. There is a promissory note, but more importantly, there is a mortgage, that gets its teeth into your property. If you don’t pay, the mortgage company takes your house and recovers at least part of what it is owed.

2. Know who you are dealing with up front. One of the best ways to get paid for your work is to enter into agreements with people that have money and a history of paying their obligations. It sounds simple, but the lack of money and/or the will to pay surfaces often in the matters on which I work.

3. Get co-signors. Lenders are mind-numbing skillful at requiring other sources of payment through co-signors. If you try to get credit and the lender has doubts, one way to resolve the doubts is for another person to agree to be obligated. If you don’t pay, then the lender has a clear right of legal action against your co-signor. This is a reasonable strategy, and it should be applied to any agreement where payment may be in question. If you are making an agreement with a company with no track record or a spotty one, consider asking someone in addition to the company to agree to be obligated for the payment.


None of these tips are fool-proof, but you can greatly increase your chances of getting paid if you use one or more of them. For more tips like this, sent straight to your email inbox (only a couple of times a month), sign up for my email list:




Posted by Shawn Roberts

On this blog, I write about and try to answer practical Oklahoma legal questions. My focus and most experience is in estate planning and business issues including Oklahoma non-compete law. I make a living as an attorney in the law firm I founded, Shawn J. Roberts, P.C. in Oklahoma City. I live in Edmond with my wife Amy and my two children, Sam (19) and David (11). We live precisely in the path of where the "wind comes sweeping down the plains."