A couple of weeks ago, I had an interesting encounter with a CPA acquaintance. She wanted my opinion on an email she was about to send to a lawyer.
She had retained this lawyer to help her with a personal matter, and now that the situation has been resolved — satisfactorily for her, I may add — she wanted to close her account with the lawyer. To facilitate that, she emailed him a request for an accounting of his charges and a return of the portion of the retainer that still remained in her account.
The lawyer did as he was asked and sent her an accounting of the charges — showing a remaining balance of $500 — but, as he told her before, the retainer was nonrefundable.
This was what had gotten the accountant upset. She felt that she should be able to get the unused portion back. The lawyer had taken advantage of her by taking something that did not belong to him — something that he had not earned.
To make her point, she drafted an email and wanted me to review it before she sent it.
Her email was filled with hurt and frustration. She felt that she was betrayed by this professional who was supposed to be a trusted advocate and advisor to her. She placed her faith in him and he betrayed her. She proceeded to tell him everything that was wrong with the accounting practices within his firm… and if he wanted other clients to feel just as betrayed as she did, then continue on his current path.
As I finished reading, she revealed that she’s prepared to tell all her friends to never use his law firm; she’s prepared to go on the Internet and share her issues through various social networks; and she’s prepared to lead a negative campaign to stop this small law practice from stealing money from other unsuspecting and trusting souls.
Yes, she’s ready to destroy this man’s practice over $500 — because it’s the principle of the thing.
I listened… and listened… and listened. When she was done, I asked her a question.
From what she told me, the lawyer is competent, easy to talk to, and genuine. He prevented her from having to go to court and saved her court costs and other legal fees in the process. The only issue she seems to have is her wanting to close the account with $500 remaining in it.
If that’s the issue, is there another legal matter that this firm could help her with, thereby using up her $500 instead of closing her account and forfeiting the retainer?
The main question is: Does she want to sever her relationship with this person or keep it?
If she sends the email as drafted, she would, most certainly, sever the relationship and would not be able to turn to him in need. Is that her intention?
She stopped for a long moment. In that moment, I saw her switch from an angry accountant who focused on the calculated figures to a person who valued relationships over dollars.
Because she didn’t want to sever the relationship, she decided to take the weekend to calm down before doing anything more.
Weeks later, I ran into this accountant and asked if things worked out with her lawyer situation.
Yes, it did. She said that she did some research and that it was customary for lawyers to have nonrefundable retainers. She also realized that she was really angry with herself for not keeping “on top” of the accounting issue in the first place. It was just easier to blame the lawyer instead of herself.
In the meantime, the lawyer had taken it upon himself not to close her account, as she requested. He was going to keep her account opened and that the remaining balance would be available for her whenever she needed him for legal help.
So, yes, things worked out; and it always will, when one places relationships ahead of everything else.