The other day I got caught out by a shyster, there is no other word to describe this fellow. He called me via a friend who told me to expect a call; this guy has a business proposition but would not explain it on the phone to me. Fine, as a small business owner I am forced to take most calls though I usually refuse to take a withheld number, if you are not honest enough to send your number for me to Google, and I will, I am not interested. I send mine to you, always.
Now anyone who has read any of my legal books will know of the two despicable scams I constantly highlight. The first is the "oom en boetie" (older man and his son) scam. They come to you and have a wonderfully weird story which is always a borderline pyramid scheme. And now they need access to whoever they think you may know and no they don't have money, you are the fool who will make them rich at your own cost. The second one is the above, but now they (or sometimes just one fellow) are Christians of note. They would piously pray before the meeting and afterwards. Look you in the eye and do you from behind at the first opportunity. I have seen so many through the years that I advise all clients to walk away before they even open their mouths. Don't come to me with the Bible under your arm, hear my words, our Lord is not to be mocked.
I have in general no problem with religious people. I am, as is said in more than 22 books and articles, a believer myself. And I do judge. If someone says he is Christian, then it is an extremely simple test, taken from the Bible, to see if his life style reflects that statement. It is the old fruit tree story, where you expect an apple tree to have apples. If not, it is a damn queer tree and things like living in sin, driving above the speed limit, abusing your wife and kids and not paying taxes all shows to me you are not what you professed to be. Note that judging does not mean condemning. There is a big difference between the two; I never condemn anyone. That is God's prerogative but I do take note and so should you. Not everyone who calls on God is known to God, remember that in life. We want to see deeds.
As a professional man I have knowledge which very few others have, in my field, almost none because it is way off and particularly specialised. People pay for that knowledge and people pay for my time which is about all I can sell to feed my family. It is how my business and many other professionals work. You ask for help, and if I can help you, I do so for a price we agreed on. There is no difference in that between myself and a practising attorney or a medical doctor or an accountant. Legally it is the same as buying bread at Shoprite, there are no stories and explanations at the till, you got the bread, you pay X amount which increases every week or month. You, the shopper carry the risk. Big business does not take risk. It is that simple.
Unlike 99% of the other professional men above, I give back to the community by publishing legal books which anyone can read and understand and sometimes find interesting too. You would know l always say law is not rocket science and it is boring for sane people too. But it is needed, without the law, even if neutral; there would be chaos and uncertainty. Hence my books will show you how to draft a straightforward last & will and testament. Or what to do when the banksters come after you for failing to pay your debts and how you can get your own back. Note I also say live inside your means and pay your debts. But you know how life is, you lose your job and as a white man, well, you have very little chance of being gainfully employed again. I would never advise any serving member of the SAPS for instance to leave his monthly pay check. It is madness to even consider leaving a "protected" job. Somehow the few who asked me did not like that advice either. They have dreams of big money and good luck, most will soon find out the private sector is a place where they will be eaten alive by the long haired liberals. It is very tough, much harder than a monthly pay check job.
Every time someone reads my books, and it is read or downloaded more than twelve thousand times a month, I have helped someone. I know because some of them are grateful enough to send me a quick email to tell me that. Even my cookbooks have saved lives. Many old timers, who have lost their wives to God, told me they now eat decently cooked food again. Such things make the few critics who think the books are not worth downloading because it is free and somehow I am a lesser author because it is not on paper, slink away in my mind. I don't even read such reviews but glance at them and reject them for what they are. The fact is, I try to help and many of my clients are poor people who can never afford to pay. So we help where we can. I will not fail such a test from God one day when judged. Sure I will fail others, no doubt.
But don't abuse a professional man without reason. There are certain unwritten rules. Firstly, never, unless you are really pretty and female, ask me a legal advice whilst I am on a break from work at a braai or a party. I may be tempted to give you the wrong advice. Of course, seriously, I won't do such things but I have considered it at times. You are abusing my good nature.
Then never waste my time by lying to me, I will find you out and ban you from my life and tell everyone I know about you. What does lying mean? Not always telling the whole truth and it comes in various forms. This fellow asked me to attend a "meeting" on his behalf to see what he is about and perhaps we can take it further afterwards. Fine, usually I would not do that but he came via a friend so I went. He had his timing wrong which was the first sign; the meeting started at 19h30 and not 19h00 as told. So I wasted 30 minutes waiting. And then it started, yes my dear readers, an AMWAY meeting. OMG I cannot tell you what went through my head. It was the fifth month to the day and hour on which my wife and soul died and I wanted to be alone. Spend some time in prayer, listen to our songs and see our pictures and remember her.
Instead I sat listening to a product I most certainly do not believe in. Yes some may make money from it; obviously, but most wont. Most are there because they are desperate or greedy and you can feel it. Such people almost never succeed in selling because it is not what they do. Good salesmen are born and a species on their own and never come over as "desperate." And besides, that is not my business model. You need help, we agree a price, and I help you. I do not sell AMWAY products and I do not lend my name to it. Needless to say I refused flatly to speak to him again and am seriously considering sending a bill of cost for my wasted time but then, he does not have the money to pay it so I will rather laugh it off. Lesson learned, again.
The third and best way to anger a professional man is to decide not to listen to his advice. My mom is like that, bless her soul, when she or any of her many friends have a legal problem she asks me first since I am right there in the same house. And then calls my brother who is a top class attorney himself just to make sure and probably my nephew who is a good advocate to check on both of us. If you do not wish to accept my advice which is designed to cost you the least possible money and aggravation for a problem you yourself most probably caused, then please, go to another. I don't have time for this. Either you trust me or you go to someone you trust for I cannot work with you anymore. Otherwise I will start thinking of an aggravation fee which will cost you dearly. Do not abuse a professional man, we are able to take revenge.
The other day I said in a blog that I don't have sympathy with fools, drug addicts and do good liberals. One reader, I don't know his name for he used a yahoo.com email and initials only, complained bitterly that I "obviously do not understand what drug addicts go through."
Well he is right, I don't get it and don't give a (you know what) either. I have never had a drug or any substance abuse problem in my life. Yes, in my police days I drank more than what was good for me but I soon stopped drinking altogether. We all drank in those days as do most young people, it is only a phase but mind you, we also saw and did things which would make most run for a bottle. If interested, you can read the Mean Streets Series which is as good a book on life in the South African Police Force in the 1980s as any. There is, however, one of my ramblings, which download more than any other. It is called "The Drug Addict Pattern."
This is a sad subject and I would have preferred it not to download this much, for it indicates the extent of the problem of drug abuse and I include other abuses like alcohol in this definition. Through the years, as a policeman, lawyer and later forensic law expert, I noticed a pattern in drug abuse. There is always one and they always do the same things. It is very easy, once you know the pattern, to spot it. That is exactly what this book is about. It deals with the pattern of drug abuse. What to take note of when your child suddenly "loses" his cell phone once a week or acts in a strangely aggressive manner (personality changes / mood swings). In fact, he is selling the phone for drug money and gets his mood swings because the fix is running out. Obviously most moms and dads will never believe such things about their child. It is teenage crap they say, or just a rebellious phase. Well, I hope so for you part.
How did it come that I know something of the subject? It so happens that many of my clients are also friends. Yes, highly unprofessional of me and the first thing you learn in law school. Never become too close to a client. It will affect your judgment they say (it won't) but I can tell you what it will affect - your ability to become obnoxious when your fees are not paid. That is the real reason for "professional distance" but such things are not said in polite society. Old lawyers will also tell you they walk out to see what car the client drives so their fee can be adjusted upwards. I thank our Lord every day that I am not a practising lawyer any more. It is such rules which make it a particularly nasty work environment.
Point is though I have seen what the parents and loved ones like the wife, my clients, go through when Johnny becomes a coke sniffer. These are good people, make no mistake and they do not deserve such a child or husband. My sympathies are with the loved ones who have to see this and are almost powerless to do anything about it but they don't know that yet. The first rule of love is never to do anything which will hurt the other half. To break this rule shows contempt, a lack of dignity and an extremely selfish attitude. This also describes the drug addict perfectly; he will do whatever it takes to get that fix and the devil with the rest. Your tears will not stop him. Nor will any common sense talk about the dangers of drug use. He knows, this is proven in research; that he is doing wrong, that it will destroy him and despite that, he will carry on.
So where do we get involved, or used to, for I flatly refuse these days except to give fatherly advice, is when he starts abusing his parents for money. He will sell their stuff - in law that is called stealing or theft but how can a parent ask the police to arrest a child? He will cry, he will make false promises and he will ruin them financially in the end. Then his horrible addict dealer mates will come after them for his drug debts. Yes, I saw this and a lot more. It is in the book.
What can you do about such behaviour? The book is not about treating the drug addict. There are many thousands of do-gooders out there, who for a considerable fee will help him or say they will. Fact is, unless he wants to be helped, he will always fall back and guess what, he will always be a druggie from now on. Yes he may stop using the drug but that just means he is now a recovering addict. The word "addict" will never leave him and he simply can never be trusted again and you always have to look for the pattern where he is concerned. That means, if you have money, a very strictly controlled Trust giving him small amounts of money only after your death. Otherwise he will be tempted to go down that road again and your inheritance will kill him.
We found the small Church orientated, yes the curse word of the long haired liberals, rehab centres works the best. Their services are free and they are not what can be said polite society and look like hooligans. Most are ex-drug addicts themselves and they are the ones you should go to for help. Stay away from the expensive "look how great we are" type of places. They are a commercial venture and not about helping.
Secondly, you put your foot down to save your own sanity. Note again, I am not talking about the drug addict who everyone feels sorry for, except me it seems. My degrees and experience is in Law and Law Enforcement and I am in no way qualified to treat him even if I wanted to, which I don't. My sympathy and expertise is the parents and loved one who needs protection. In law, we discuss this in the book; you have the legal right to search his room and his computer, if you bought it, and expect him to behave in a proper manner. That includes urine tests for drugs and he cannot refuse to take it, you can force him to do so. Of course he will refuse, and he will use every known psychological trick on you to make you feel it is your fault that he has such weaknesses in life. Even your community and family will blame you as being a thoroughly bad parent or wife. Listen to me, it is nonsense, he made his choices, he does not care because he is selfish and on another planet. No matter how sorry he is afterwards, tomorrow, he will do the same and you cannot help him, he must help himself. Legally, where he is the husband and spending all your money on drugs, you can approach the court to take away his right to abuse the estate. It is not difficult and any decent lawyer can help you.
Seen in the light of the above and my published views, I must plead guilty and subject myself to the mercy of my readers. Most who would fully understand my views for I get hundreds of letters from readers across the world thanking me for helping them to cope. I do feel less than nothing for the addict who I consider already dead. I only worry about his parents and the consequences of his actions. It is also noteworthy that I also said in the book, do not stop loving you child or loved one, I get that he is your son and may be your soul. But he needs to help himself and you need to be protected.
I was asked the other day how to find a good lawyer. Now technically, that is the wrong question. In this country you have to differentiate between an advocate (barrister in the UK) and attorney (solicitor in the UK) and the two are vastly different in outlook. They mostly have the same qualifications, the older ones all have post graduate LLB degrees, and the newer ones a four year first degree, also called LLB and wholly inadequate in my eyes. It is nothing but the old B-Proc. You can guess that mine is post graduate, but we spoke about this before when I said sanity is returning and the four year LLB degree to be scrapped by some universities. You can read the blog yourself.
Let us look at the fancy boys. The largest law offices are most certainly not the most effective lawyers around. They are categorically money driven and have huge targets to meet, which means no real personal service to you - they are too busy to chase that target. Someone must pay for the correct address and everything which comes with that and you, the clients are the fools who do so. Practically speaking, and this is important to me, you almost never find parking close to them and you pay ten times, if lucky, more for the same advice that the local lad down the corner would have given you. In my opinion, the chances of your file being padded, that is to share it amongst many lawyers, each adding his time - read money you pay for - on it is vastly increased simply because they work in teams. Of course it is not always like that but I will bring you many who will testify to such things. Teams are their business model and it is sold as having a team is always better than having just one man. Yes, in certain cases, because of the complexity of such cases, that is needed but mostly not. You have to ask why is it that 95% of other law offices don't need a team. Why is that? Why are they working alone with a secretary to help them?
So what do you get? A name, a big brand name, which they will tell you is enough to win cases as your opponent will be scared enough to settle. It makes sense and of course, you never start a legal procedure without wanting to win, because if you lose, you will be hammered for wasted costs. This is to prevent spurious actions like we see in America. And yes, it has a small bit of truth in it, your worst enemy (banksters and other creditors) always abuses this as much as possible. They will keep hammering away via expensive lawyers to break you financially and then they win by default. We speak of this deplorable, but sadly legal, tactic in my book Your Worst Enemy.
But the big name brand theory sold to you at vast cost has a problem. Their opponents, the other lawyers (I use the word as a collective noun), don't think much of it and certainly don't live in fear of them either. They know how many times the big brands get hammered in court by the smaller guys. They know it is not the big brand against them but the merits of the case. The lawyer is almost irrelevant in this and it does not matter whether the other side has its top partner or the most junior professional assistant against them. Let me explain to you, you have only that many options since almost nothing is ever new in law. So it is a matter of recalling what happened under the same circumstances before, and from that you can logically deduct what the court will decide (called the starre decisis system). You always take a chance, there is no doubt it is always 50/50 for you either win your case or you loose and very rarely, only in civil cases, you have a draw which is called absolution of instance.
Law is not rocket science at all, just a foreign language and a lot of attention to detail and experience. That is where you find a good lawyer. The guy who cares or at least tries to look interested in what you have to say, and whose workload is such that he can give you the attention you pay him for. There is nothing more disrespectful than to speak to a professional man and he cannot place your face and your file without having to scan through it in your presence. I have advised clients to walk out of such meetings and change lawyers and I will certainly do so again. It is an insult.
The other trademark of a good lawyer is one who is able to explain to you the risks you are taking in a language you get. This is not about blind trust but of making informed decisions and you have to understand what you base those decisions on. I have seen managing directors fired by their boards because they took the word of a legal advisor blindly and authorised money to be thrown after bad debt. It is always a business decision against what you get for your buck. Very few lawyers are able to explain the law in terms which sane people will understand and even fewer bother because most are inherently arrogant. About what, I would not know. It is not rocket science. Get one who explains properly.
Price has nothing to do with quality. It is a well-known and much abused concept in life that the more you charge; the better you are perceived to be. Obviously that fancy light bulb at twice the price must be better than the no-name brand? Yes? No of course not, they probably come from the same factory. It is utter nonsense in real life. Look at it this way. If price buys quality in law, why is your case decided on merit? Why does the Judge never say "Ok, I note the plaintiff paid his lawyer more than what the defendant did. Ok then, on those grounds, I decide in favour of the plaintiff!" What nonsense, the Judge would usually not know who paid who what. Your case is decided on what happened and any reasonably proficient lawyer will be able to present it to the court. That is called merits in law and all there is to it. Money plays no role.
The smaller guy will also answer your emails and phone calls himself. There is no red tape designed to keep the senior partner away from the plebs called clients. Nope, he is too busy playing golf or doing the secretary or whatever. I have seen clients cry in anger because they are ignored. Then they get annoyed and go to the law society for assistance and everyone is then angry with each other. Personally, if someone doesn't return my phone call I refuse to speak to him again. It is a personal insult. You don't need such aggro in life.
Lastly, almost every significant change in law was made by the smaller guys who just would not agree with the system. I remember back in the 1990's when the rights of unmarried fathers went to court, successfully I may add. That was not done by the big brand names but by a small guy who believed in his client. In fact, if I remember correctly, the big brands were opposing it. That is what you want...a guy who cares about your case and not the money.
And before you get ideas, JKLS Africa & Associates is not a law office. We specialise in reducing legal and business risks in Sub Saharan Africa. The way we do it is via the forensic law method I developed and you can read about in my book Tricks of Trade - Memories of a Rogue Lawyer. It will take the big brands ten years to copy me and even then they will not really understand why I have satisfied clients. My advice to you....when you need a good lawyer, go to the guy down the street. He is probably all you need and leave the brand names to work with their corporate mates. They deserve each other.
Koos Kotze is a former member of the South African Police Force. He served between 1985 and 1991 primarily as a sergeant in the Pretoria Flying Squad. After leaving the Police Force he obtained the law degrees B Iuris & LLB at the University of the Free State (Bloemfontein, South Africa) and was a practicing commercial law attorney for eight years. He also wrote several books on business, law, counter terrorism and security issues. He is a widower and lives in Bloemfontein, South Africa.