Friday, April 22, 2011

Beggars Can’t Be Choosers

The well-known and cautionary adage that “Beggars Can’t Be Choosers” no doubt has its foundation in fact though I take considerable pride – perhaps smugly so – in saying that I snap my fingers at its abstract truth or at least that I stand my ground to repel its particular application. I may be kidding myself, and I may live to regret my haughtiness in thinking that I am somehow above the universality of such popular maxims, but my reasons for doing so having nothing whatever to do with superiority.

These days it is common knowledge that the economy is less than buoyant, normally an inspiration to accommodate the market at almost any price. As so often happens in such instances it matters not whether one is a butcher, baker or candlestick maker, the same fate visits us all with uniform indiscretion. During difficult times this further exemplifies the admonition, “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth!” Nonetheless it was with considerable conviction, honesty and deliberateness that I effectively rejected two potential retainers in the past many days. In one instance it was simply a matter of telling the client that the bank had its own “people” who would perform the required mortgage work in-house at a far lower price than I could offer. This reasoning appealed to the client who after all was compelled to borrow money and least needed to incur more expense than necessary. In the other case, however, it was more work to parry the disguised advances of the drop-in client who tried without success to set the stage for a whittling of my fees. My first clue, as I say, was that he dropped in without an appointment, usually a sign either that he could care less about my own schedule or (what is more likely) that he was making the rounds to all similar professionals in the area in search of the proverbial “best deal”. The second clue I had about the nefarious nature of this gentleman was his immediate disclosure that he wanted to know “what it would cost” to handle his transaction. Invariably when cost is the first consideration I have learned that it is usually the only consideration. I answered his enquiry by telling him he didn’t want me. When he persisted in the face of my advice (and my cloaked rejection for which I could tell he was not prepared) he thought to gain ground by telling me that he had already been “down the street” (an allusion to another lawyer) and “fired them”, as though his grit was to be a strong hint to me that he meant business. Unimpressed I reiterated that he didn’t want to use me. Not however to be dissuaded he again asked why, and it was then that I explained to him what my fees would be to handle his transaction. Summarily he turned on his heels and advised that he would instead use his own lawyer "in the city", a pat retort which I have heard a thousand times before from people who are about as likely to have their own lawyer in the city as they are to have a Porsche at home in their garage.

While such conduct on my part may smack of hauteur, it is in fact not conceit, rather the ability to analyze a retainer in short order. It is no great accomplishment to acknowledge that price is one factor in the conclusion of any business transaction, but if price is the over-riding consideration it is pointless to engage in useless protraction of the proposed arrangement. It is simply a matter of cutting to the chase so to speak, eliminating all the usual niceties from an otherwise clinical conversation. Clearing the air at the outset of a business relationship is the equivalent of pouring cold water on one another.

The corollary to this introduction is that there is no point in doing business if there is no prospect of reasonable profit. At best a poorly negotiated deal only prolongs the agony, and it is assured that discomfort will eventually rear its head. Speaking of gift horses, one mustn’t forget that famous and less than desirable horse seized as a victory trophy by the Trojans.

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