Friday, June 24, 2011

Family above money

Dear Ella,
My brother-in-law Mark, the lawyer, who eats in our home regularly, who visits our cottage with his family every summer, who claims to be closer to us than any other relative, charged my daughter a hefty amount when she used him to litigate a legal problem she was having at work.
Sandra was let go from her job after 12 years for reasons she felt were unjust, so she decided to sue her employer. She discussed the matter at our dinner table one night when Mark was over with his family.
Mark listened to her side and told her it sounded like she might have a case. He suggested that she call him at the firm on Monday morning. Sandra took him up on his offer. He took on the case, but they didn’t discuss fees. We just assumed that he was doing this for free for his niece because he loves her and they are close.
Imagine our shock when she came to us in tears waving a huge bill. I was livid. My husband tried to calm us down, but I think it’s outrageous that he has the chutzpah to charge Sandra that kind of money when it was his idea that she call him in the first place.
Should there not be some sense of family or loyalty? I would be interested to hear your opinion.

Dear Disheartened
You don’t have to look too far to find a family or friendship which has been torn apart because of money.
Not every circumstance is the same. You mention that Mark said to call him at his firm. Does that mean he doesn’t work alone? Does he have to answer to other partners? Are there legal assistants, disbursements, receptionists, rent and other overhead that he has to pay? How much time did he spend researching her case, writing letters, going to court or mediating on Sandra’s behalf?
It’s easy to say he shouldn’t have charged her, but when you actually look at all that was involved, you might feel otherwise. Why should Sandra’s problem cost Mark expenses? What I’m sure Sandra did get was special attention from an uncle who loves her and happens to be a competent lawyer.
Whenever a business transaction occurs between family members or close friends, everything should be out in the open right from the start. Whether it’s something as small as the sale of a pair of pants to something as large as the sale of a house, fees, commissions, prices and work expected should be discussed by both parties, especially the one who is the recipient of the goods or services. Know what it’s going to cost you. Never, ever assume! With all the cards on the table, you can make an informed decision and keep the relationship intact.
Before you write Mark out of your family completely, Sandra should ask him to explain exactly what he charged and why. Is it possible that he did give you a reasonable discount? Maybe with some understanding, you’ll have a different opinion. If you’re still unhappy, tell him. Talk it out, and then put it behind you. Family is more valuable than money.

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