The Obiter Truth: The favour that isn’t

The Obiter Truth is a catalogue of everyday experiences in the life of a young lawyer hoping to find humour in the bizarre and sense in the chaos. A hat tip to the comical struggles of young lawyers everywhere.
Manini Brar
Manini Brar

What is wrong with a favour? Nothing! Favours are good. In a manner of speaking palatable to lawyers, the favour-‘er’ feels magnanimous, the favour-‘ee’ finds renewed conviction in humanity. Everybody goes home exuding positive vibes like burning flames in the darkness of the world.

Now, what is wrong with a favour that doesn’t need to be a favour? Which can as well be a god-honest professional transaction between two self-respecting adults, but isn’t, because one of them – typically, the favouree – insists on the favour? Too much. Too much is wrong with that kind of favour.

If your regular working day involves a page-long list of tasks which should have been done yesterday and the thing keeping your head from falling to your desk is the twelve cups of coffee you have carefully rationed to resist the temptation of twenty, and someone asks you for a favour which is likely to overtake the one hour of daily binge-watching you need to escape from it all, then yes, something is seriously wrong with the favour.

To the rich cousin of the poor cousin who invited me for dinner out of the blue - I haven’t seen you since your wedding and all that, wouldn’t it be nice to catch up and all that? – and subjected me to hours of painfully contrived conversation in a Victorian living room upholstered with trims - you know, those frills at the bottom of curtains and things, which deserve an honourable mention simply for existing in 2020 – ‘just’ to have me vet an agreement to sell her farmhouse, I say I am sorry. I am sorry that you think I am easily bought out by cheap tricks like one dinner in four years. I am sorry that you have to settle for someone you think so little of to handle your property matters. I am sorry that your living room is desperately aspirational and lacks personality.

And to you, granduncle of dear husband, who skipped the labour of a courtesy call with a text message asking me to ‘just’ send a legal notice to the Delhi Jal Board on a slightly excessive bill, which apparently shocked you to your core, I say find better use for your time. There is no point in thinking of your granddaughter-in-law as a freely available resource who sits by the phone all day, waiting for you to give purpose to her life with cooked-up wars against the establishment, impressed by your edits to the draft she prepared after ten years of doing the same thing, at a considerable fee, for proper clients. You don’t have a law degree and you are not my client. I am doing this as a favour with immense hateful contempt for familial obligations. So don’t go ‘no comment’-ing the final version of the notice. Just say thank you. On repeat. Every chance you get.

And finally, to the friend of a friend of a friend. When I ‘just’ draft all the license agreements you sign with the distributors of your home-made cookies out of the goodness of my heart and a secret desire to be socially acceptable, I expect a few free cookies in return. If I order a box of six for a stray birthday party and you send me a bill, I am likely to staple my time-sheets on top of the box and hand it back to the delivery boy.

It is time to introduce all of you to the simpler way of getting quality legal help from a trustworthy source. Without the hassle of deceit or coercion or undue influence! Are you ready? Take an appointment and ‘just’ pay up.

Respect the fact that your cousin or daughter-in-law or friend is someone with a highly regarded skill-set, acquired after expending much time and effort, not to mention tearful personal sacrifices like carefree holidays not taken and fancy dinners never afforded. Let them do their job with the right motivation – money - as they would for any other client, and show respect for their schedule. Don’t taint the personal interest they have in you with loathing at being taken for granted.

I promise you, you will get what you want, when you want it, no questions asked. That too, from a lawyer who will be forever grateful for your trust and the chance to gain more experience.

But if you continue to look upon your target’s personal time as a window to capitalise on her expertise, and keep WhatsApp-ing her to prioritise your pro bono work over the stuff she earns a living from, and keep asking her for off-the-cuff advice every time she meets you for a friendly cup of coffee, you, my friend, will have killed the golden goose: the opportunity to have a close, life-long ally in the world of legal rights and business interests. All to save up on a discounted bit of legal fees and a humble bit of professional respect.

The favourer might still entertain you for one reason or another. But she will procrastinate on your deliverable even if she has nothing more pressing to do. And she will avoid your calls in exchange for idle bird-watching from her living room window. And she will make no effort to google the case she faintly recalls might help you.

Like the perfect entropy of the world that we live in, it turns out that it is often as unfortunate for acquaintances to take induced favours from unwilling lawyers, as it is for unwilling lawyers to have to supply them. On the one hand, the favourer feels cheated, even though she might find a way to be optimistic about getting more work experience. On the other, the favouree could have reason to feel unconvinced even after getting her work done for free. Each one just goes home in a puff of black smoke, the kind left behind when flames of positivity are snuffed out.

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