Flexing My Legal Cred

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Flexing My Legal Cred

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I know some delight in flexing the fact they are a lawyer at every perceived opportunity, no matter how meagre or inappropriate.

I find it generally distasteful.

Discreetness is one of the regrettably lesser-known hallmarks of the legal profession. The Cambridge Dictionary defines discreet as ‘careful not to cause embarrassment or attract too much attention, especially by keeping something secret.’

I generally avoid mentioning I am a lawyer unless asked. It’s not that I am not proud. I don’t think the fact I am a lawyer needs to be the first thing I tell someone else. I do not initiate a conversation over the phone like some seniors in my youth, Hello, I am senior lawyer Fahri. I am pleased when our walk-in clientele tell me I look like an artist or an interior designer when they meet me for the first time. I chalk up a win for myself whenever that happens.

My preference is not to signal or disclose my profession unasked. When I can, I pretend to be a writer or an artist. I don’t have the Malaysian Bar sticker on my windscreen, and I didn’t install the Malaysian Bar badge on my car number plate. I don’t talk law when I don’t have to. Our atelier does not look or feel like a law office. I am delighted when told it feels like an art gallery or an architect’s office.

I said, generally. Unfortunately, sometimes, I am forced to flex my legal cred to induce reasonableness on the other side. It’s entirely for their benefit. I don’t like to do it. But niceness, reasonableness, and a willingness to accommodate are strangely not appreciated or initially reciprocated. It is ironic how being pushy, belligerent or aggressive in the face of it encourages reasonableness.

The first time I found myself doing so was a long time ago. It was when I could play the guitar, early in my practice. It involved the purchase of a handsome-looking branded acoustic guitar I had my eye on for a while. Whenever I dropped by the music instrument shop to cuci mata (oogle), check out the sales, or both. I would stop by the guitar I eyed to admire it, take it down from the wall, run my fingers around its body, play embarrassingly badly with it, then forlornly return it to its display stand with the unspoken promise that I would return to purchase it at some point.

The sale I had been waiting for finally arrived. And went. I missed it because I was too busy to go to the music shop. When I found out, I kicked myself inside. All the same, I went the day after the last day of the sale—just for the hell of it. It was like going to the launch site to look at the rocket’s burnt marks after it took off into space.

When I arrived, I noticed most of the sale signs had been taken down. A few stray sale stickers remained, however. I wandered my way to my desired guitar. It hung on the wall like it always did. Its thick wooden neck was held between a tuning fork-shaped holder. The product tag hung on the string like it always did. I flipped it around to look at the price tag.

To my surprise and delight, the guitar had a fresh price tag, twenty percent lower. I couldn’t believe my luck. I carefully inspected the product tag and the guitar body and found no other price tags or anything to say the lower price didn’t apply. Satisfied with my inspection, I approached the sales guy. He had a frowning look, greying hair, a small pot belly and a slouch. I pointed out to him the guitar I wanted. He said he would bring me a new one and to meet him at the cashier counter.

He brought the new guitar for me to inspect. When he scanned the barcode, I saw the usual guitar price appear on the screen.

‘Excuse me, but that’s not the right price,’ I said.

‘Excuse me, sir?’

‘I said, that’s not the right price.’

‘Oh, if you are referring to the sale price, sir, it’s over.’

‘I know. But we go by the price tag, not whether there was a sale or not.’

‘But the sale price does not apply anymore, sir. We have also changed the price tags already.’

‘Well, you might want to check that. Shall we take a look?’

We walked over to the guitar I pointed to earlier.

‘Have a look,’ I said.

He flipped the guitar tag and looked at the price tag.

‘Aiyah,’ I heard him mutter under his breath.

‘I’m sorry, sir, there has been a mistake. They were late to change this one.’

‘Well, I am afraid that’s not my problem. You have to sell it to me for the price on the tag.’

‘I’m sorry, sir. I cannot. It’s not up to me. I cannot manually press punch the price. It’s scanned and automatic.’

‘That is also not my problem. Is your manager around?’

‘I will get him.’

A few minutes later, a smartly dressed man in his thirties with an erect bearing and quick walk came down with the sales guy behind him. After repeating the inspection and listening to the same excuse repeated, I finally said,

‘I have heard all you said. But it doesn’t solve my problem, which is you not selling it to me for the price on the tag. Allow me to introduce myself. This is me.’

I gave him my calling card. He looked intently at it.

‘You are a lawyer?’

‘Yes. So I can tell you there are two ways this can go. The first is me purchasing this guitar. I will pay the price. But under protest. And I will file a claim with the consumer tribunal for the difference. I will also lodge a complaint for misleading pricing. You will lose a customer. The second is me purchasing the guitar. For the price on the tag. And me going home with the guitar happy. Tough luck for you this time. But I will be back. You keep a customer. You can make money off me the next times.’

‘I understand. I need to speak to my boss. Please give me a moment.’ He nodded his head and left. He went into the room behind the counter. I strolled around the store again and returned just as the manager appeared at the counter. The sales guy was rooted by the counter the whole time.

‘Hi, sir. I have talked to my boss. We will sell it to you as stated in the price tag. I am sorry for the inconvenience. Please come this way.’

He went to the cash register, pressed some buttons, and the correct price appeared. Thankfully, it ended the second way. And that is precisely what happened. They continued to make money from me for years after that.

Reflecting on the incident afterwards, I felt crass, amateurish, and lacking self-awareness, especially in revealing myself as a lawyer. It lacked finesse and class. I also felt like I played a trumping card too early. I resolved not to use that again to convince them unless I absolutely had to. What I did resolve to do was make it clear through my responses that I was legally aware.

A recent example, just several weeks ago, was when I dealt with an online vendor about a sought-after gadget. Although I paid the full price, I still had a six-week wait. I checked in a few times to see if they were on track. The only responses were, We don’t know. The supplier cannot confirm the shipment.

I received the same response three days before the end of the waiting period. I responded, telling them they would get a bad review, a police report for cheating, and a claim for breach of contract. They repeated the same response. I replied sarcastically that at least they knew what would happen. There was not a word from them after that. The last day arrives, bam! It’s shipped out.

I never once mentioned I was a lawyer.

I’d like to think when I do not disclose my profession, I appear merely as a well-informed citizen that does not take bullshit from retailers.

I prefer not to flex my legal credentials. It always leaves me feeling a bit cheap and dirty afterwards, and I do not think it lends dignity to the legal profession for a lawyer to make legal threats for their personal matters.

An advocate and solicitor shall while acting with all due courtesy to the tribunal before which he is appearing, fearlessly uphold the interest of his client, the interest of justice and dignity of the profession without regard to any unpleasant consequences either to himself or to any other person.

Rule 16. Advocate and solicitor to uphold interest of client, justice and dignity of profession.

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