Business & Real Estate

Why do clients pay for advice they don't take?


My line of work can be described as someone who is paid to learn, someone who is paid to give advice based on what he’s learned and someone who argues for a living. As a lawyer, in the game of life, I inherently know many of the rules and clearly know how to find them. I am literally an expert, and people pay for my advice.

Back in the last century, before we all had access to computers and the internet, a lawyer was pretty much just a lawyer, and often wore many hats. Our society did not have as much in the way of segmentation and specialization as we see today. It was rare 60 years ago to hear the question, “What kind of law do you practice?” A lawyer back then was essentially a Jack or (rarely) Jill of all trades. Many attorneys would handle both civil and criminal matters.

The number of people who were members of the bar was significantly smaller back then than it is today. These days, due to competition, segmentation and how fast society moves, attorneys need to work on their “elevator speech” – that is, if you only have the time the typical elevator ride takes, 30 seconds or so, what would you say to explain what you do?

I am always working on my elevator speech, and I currently have it down to, “I handle consumer protection matters. I do mostly lemon law and auto fraud. Lemon law helps folks who get a bad car, and auto fraud helps folks who get a bad car deal.”

Many years ago, in what feels like another life, I was a tennis instructor in Los Angeles. It was a wonderful way to make a living. I was able to meet many fascinating people, with all types of knowledge and experience, who had all types of athletic abilities. I did my level best during every lesson to impart knowledge and to give my students something to work on, think about and make part of their game.

While I may have taught the same forehand to hundreds of people, I would sometimes have to come up with hundreds of ways to say the same thing until the information got through. It was a challenge. The one mystery that sat with me about those days was why someone would pay me good money to give them advice, to teach them, and then not listen to a word I said. After all, I was the expert and people paid for my advice. It was a waste of good money, period.

From time to time this also occurs in the legal field. I am certainly an expert in my field of law. While most people do not pay for my advice – our cases typically force the other side to pay my fees – my clients still rely on my expertise. It truly is frustrating when you know what needs to be done, you are trying to help someone and he or she will not listen. It’s almost like raising a teenager.

From the lemon files

One such story from my lemon-law files goes something like this: Mr. A calls my office in 2005 for a consultation. Mr. A states that he’s never once had a working radio in his 2004 Hyundai Sonata. No matter how many times he’s taken it in for repair, and no matter how many times they’ve swapped out the radio, it never works.

To Mr. A, this car is a lemon. Unfortunately, the California State Legislature made it clear when it first passed the lemon law that only significant problems mattered and that things like radios were specifically excluded from coverage under the lemon law.

I explained this to Mr. A. He did not get it. So I asked him to send me his repair orders. He did. I found in those repair orders that he was having airbag problems again and again. The warning lights kept coming on. I told Mr. A that I thought I could help him. He thanked me, noting how upset he was with the radio.

Despite explaining to him multiple times that we could probably get him a good result for the airbag malfunction, he kept talking about the radio. I instructed him not to mention the radio at his deposition. He did not listen. Ultimately, Hyundai agreed to repurchase his car.

I attended the vehicle surrender ceremony to walk him through the process. On that very day, months after he came to my office for help, I asked him if he was happy with the result, and he stated, “That radio sucks and this is a great result.” It made me wonder, again, why people pay for advice they refuse to take.

I invite your comments on the same issue – people paying for and not taking your advice, or on any topic of interest.

Scott Kaufman is a consumer-protection attorney and founder of California Lemon Lawyers. For more information, call (408) 727-8882 or visit his office at 140 Third St., Los Altos.

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