In 1994 I was contacted by Mike, commercial manager of a small British independent oil company in London.
Mike’s general counsel was going away on six months’ maternity leave, and he was looking for an experienced lawyer to cover for her during her absence.
He invited me to their office to discuss it, and also wanted me to meet the finance director and company secretary over lunch. Unfortunately the finance director was caught in a meeting and I had lunch with just Mike and the company secretary. They were experienced oilmen and we had a lively conversation.
My hopes rose further when I was ushered in briefly to meet the chief executive, another Tale told in Over a Barrel.
A couple of days later Mike called again. He wanted me to meet the finance director, and wondered if I was free for another lunch. But he seemed agitated, and beat about the bush for a few minutes before coming to the point. He wanted to be sure that I was not intending to charge him for the time I spent at the two exploratory lunches.
It took a few moments for this to sink in. Evidently some lawyers charge prospective clients who invite them lunch. Perhaps one of my competitors had just made that mistake.
I told him that I charge for legal work and not for social occasions. I added: “Mike, I promise to tell you, before I start to charge, ok?” That seemed to satisfy him.
The second lunch went well, and the following Monday I arrived at their office to begin my six-month stint as acting general counsel.
I met briefly with Mike to establish his priorities, and then sat down at my desk to start going through the files. Suddenly I remembered my promise. I returned to Mike’s office and stuck my head round the door, “Mike, I intend to start charging you now, ok?” He just grinned at me.
In my view lawyers have only themselves to blame for their appalling public reputation.
See also: Over a Barrel