Written by Phil Lord, 21.10.2016
About two months ago, I lost money. An awful lot of money. It had to do with someone I not only deeply respected, but also loved. I wasn’t angry or depressed. I was just confused. I didn’t know that type of person even existed. Who, if anyone, could I still trust? I took upon myself the fight to get my money back, not for my own sake, but rather so that justice would be done. No one, I felt, should get away with this.
Last Friday morning, I was sitting in my accountant’s office. I travel all the way to Trois-Rivières whenever we need to meet, partly because he doesn’t have a computer, and partly because I always feel a bit better after our meetings. Though I call him Mr. Loranger, he’s always called me Philippe. I like that. About 10 minutes into our meeting, I ask him what he would do if he were in my position. It is ironic that I would feel compelled to ask him that question. Indeed, without any request on my part, just about everyone in my life had lengthily given their own answer. But I nonetheless wanted to know how he felt about my situation.
I do not hide that I come from a wealthy family. I’m proud of everything my family brought me, and I’m even prouder that I chose to become the architect of my own success, building businesses without my family’s financial help. Yet my wealthy upbringing explains why I’ve known Mr. Loranger since I was 5. When my father would not let me attend their meetings, I would cleverly find my way out of the waiting room and into their meeting room. My persistence eventually got me a permanent seat.
Mr. Loranger is from what seems to me a faraway age, an age where computers did not exist and where you did not need to get a deaf phone as you aged because you could just summon people to your office. Much older than my father, he is the closest thing to a grandfather I have left.
As I sat in his office on that Friday morning, I could hardly believe what he told me. ‘’Just let it go,’’ he said. For over a minute, I just sat there in silence. He continued, ‘’You’ll waste all your energy fighting, and you’ll have lost twice. Your ability to create right now is infinitely more valuable than what you’ve lost.’’ I wanted to tell him he was wrong, to tell him he did not understand. But I knew he did. And I knew he was right. That was the most valuable piece of advice I could get.
Ironically, my mom (and dad, albeit less emphatically) had told me the exact same thing. So what was it that made me listen to Mr. Loranger? My question had nothing to do with taxes or even accounting. It was a personal question, for him to answer in his capacity as a credible and older human being. There are countless stories of businesspeople trusting their lawyer as much as I trust Mr. Loranger. The root of this personal trust, I believe, is stories. The wisdom lawyers and accountants derive from others’ stories is, I would argue, as undervalued as it is valuable. While my mom and dad, along with all my friends, have lived their own lives and had their own experiences, my accountant spent his listening to others’. And we, as future law graduates, have already become acquainted, though perhaps less intimately, with countless stories.
I agree that to manage someone’s money requires a very deep relationship. In the same way, to help someone through their hardest trials requires a very personal relationship. The parties need to trust their lawyer with either their freedom or their money (if there is even a difference between these two). But this basic relationship does not in itself answer my question. While law school (at least indirectly) encourages us to ignore the identity of the parties and often even the fact of a case, we can hardly ever forget we are dealing with people, people who prove as fallible and human as we do. We get to know that someone cheated on their wife, was accused of a crime or defrauded someone who trusted them. The system indeed requires that when good faith and trust fail, personal, intimate, and often embarrassing issues be resolved publicly. As law students, we are told to care about the law, about the outcome. The law either emerges from or is defined through the particular stories. But I believe we never totally forget the facts, the stories, the glimpse into what people went through. And as slowly as the law itself, we develop this wisdom, this sense of how people act and, more importantly, react. We may apply this unique wisdom to our own lives, but we can (and should) also let society benefit from it.
I don’t plan on ever practicing law. I am a businessperson, and I have found what gets me to jump out of bed every morning and whistle my way through life. But I somewhat know that I am not currently wasting four years of my life. Business, as I always tell those who ask me for help, is about people, about the relationships you build, the clients and employees you empower. It is about making life better for people. It is about positively altering stories. And along the way, you encounter a lot of humanity: people who get discouraged, people who give up, people who give in, people who get mad, and people who get really mad. With time, you learn that people don’t always mean what they say, nor do they often control how they react.
I believe law, business, and accounting are all about people, about stories. The wisdom I have referred to is probably the most universal and transferable skill that exists. And on that Friday morning, I saw in Mr. Loranger’s eyes that providing me with personal advice made him feel valued and useful as much as it helped me move on. So to a world where lawyers go through depression and commit suicide at unacceptable rates because they feel like their work is useless, I dare think that the wisdom that springs from stories is our best answer.
This text was published in the October 18th edition of the Quid Novi, the student newspaper of the McGill University Faculty of Law.