Monday, March 11, 2019

The Old Boys Network

As I lay on my chaise longue on the beach today I immersed myself listening attentively to the banter between three teenage boys sporting together nearby. My guess is they are here on the Gulf of Mexico for "reading week" to visit their parents or grandparents. It set me musing about the effect of privilege upon their awakening minds. By coincidence when I returned to the condominium at the end of the day I received an email from my eldest niece enquiring whom I would recommend as a chartered accountant.  This in turn put the wheels in motion about the general subject of friends and the Old Boys Network.

It is an odd peculiarity of humanity that among our many model instinctive reactions, one of the less desirable in my opinion is the knee-jerk inclination to direct the management of one's important business affairs to friends. Clearly the initial motivation speaks to the absorption in obtaining "someone whom you can trust".  While this is a laudable objective it nonetheless misses the point on at least two levels.  First, the presumption that trust is measurable is absurd.  Even if it were, it is mercurial, depending upon unimagined fortunes, health, domestic affairs, economic disparity, etc. Second, the reality is that most occasions for the relevance of trust only arise upon the event of loss when the sole reasonable solution in any event will be professional liability insurance (the advancement of which will depend singularly upon the insurance company not your erstwhile advisor).

On a broader level the contamination of friendship upon business or professional association is the potential for the advisor to prefer - in deference to the friendship - engagement in matters which are either beyond his or her scope or which will obscure the independence of opinion which should be exacted.

Lest we fall into the trap of assuming we alone have the benefit of foresight and perspicacity I note too that our own ability to make clear and unfiltered decisions may likewise become impaired by existing friendship. There is no need for this insulation. It is no accident that a well-known adage among lawyers is that your client is your worst friend.  Keep the affairs of business where they belong - in the boardroom or the office. This prohibition naturally extends to the refusal to represent one's parents for example.  Little Johnnie may be a perfectly good lawyer - but not yours, mother!

Having dealt at some length upon the value of distance between ourselves and our advisors, I hasten to qualify that generality by promoting the convenience of access. This includes not only the obvious element of geographic access but also the issue of availability arising from prolonged association - or what is more characteristically called "perpetuity".  The geographic access is simply a matter of ease, getting there, finding a parking space, feeling comfortable in the environment. This isn't to proscribe a downtown location - if indeed it satisfies your model or cosmetic urges to do so.  While electronic communication is a burgeoning colloquial format I recommend to keep in mind person-to-person meetings, the value of which goes beyond mere transmission of information and serves to empower relationships. As for perpetuity, my experience is the more reliable the longevity of the firm, the saltier it is for me.  If one has the privilege of getting old and abandoning the yoke, the more infallible the advisor, the better.

Now where was I...

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