With Friends Like These….
There are friends and there are clients. There are friends who become clients and clients who become friends. And then there are friends who believe that because they are friends, lawyers work for free.
If these friends were blunt about their need for legal advice it would be much easier to deal with them. But more often than not, they are subtle, even devious. The initial telephone call usually comes at home.
“Hi Mitch, it’s Nick, how have you been, Bud? We really ought to get together for lunch sometime.”
Lunch turns out much like a therapy session. The first 50 minutes are filled with stories of old times, sports and families. But in the last 10 minutes, Nick turns to his real agenda. “By the way,” he says, “I’m thinking of changing jobs; in fact I’ve accepted a new sales position, but two years ago I signed a non-compete agreement and I was wondering if you’d, sort of, look it over and, you know, as a friend, you know, let me know, you know.”
“Sure,” I say. (What else can I say?) “Email it over.”
“I’ve got it right here,” and he pulls a 12-page document out of his briefcase. Then he tells me he needs to have my opinion by this afternoon when he’s meeting with his new boss.
To seal the deal he motions to the waiter to bring the check. “I got this one,” he says, “you read.” To hell with the salad, I say to myself, I should have ordered the filet mignon sandwich.
The whole friend-client, client-friend thing makes me uncomfortable, but I have learned that sometimes the best policy is to be up front about what the job will take. I explain that researching the tax impact of granting preferred stock and avoiding the IRS deeming the transfer an installment sale, will take more than a quick glance at the Tax Code and I will have to charge for my time.
Invariably, the friend-client will then react that the question is not quite ripe for discussion yet, so I should hold off until I hear from her, which, of course, I never do. If this conversation takes place before the check arrives, the offer to pay is mysteriously absent.
Then there are the friends who want to just “pick your brain.” My reaction ought to be, “Sure, and when you’re done, let’s go over to your office so I can ‘pick your hardware’ or ‘pick your braces for my kid’s teeth.’”
Finally, there are the friends who want to “exchange ideas” about some facet of the law. The only problem is they have no ideas since they are stockbrokers or pharmaceutical salespeople. We “exchange” ideas for two hours. I tell them how to approach the legal problem. I map out a short-term and long-term strategy. I identify the pitfalls. I advise them about likely rewards.
They pay for the beer, shake my hand goodbye and thank me. “I can’t tell you how much better I feel having talked to you,” I’m told. “Everything you said was just what my lawyer told me.”