When I rang the doorbell of the upscale house wearing my faded jeans and waist pouch, it occurred to me that most lawyers probably expect their business clients to be dressed up.
Well, tough. I’d had a busy day with no time to change my clothes. He’d just have to deal with it.
I heard footsteps and movement at the other side of the door. Then nothing. Maybe they weren’t even going to let me in.
After a lengthy pause, the door swung open and the receptionist greeted me. “Diane?”
I put on my business smile. “Yes.”
I stepped into the entry and was removing my shoes when she said, “I’ll need your driver’s license.”
“No,” I blurted reflexively, my posture squaring into battle-readiness before I could stop myself. I smiled and relaxed my weight onto one hip, hoping to soften my initial reaction. “What do you need it for?” I added.
“The Law Society requires it.”
“Not the last time I saw a lawyer.” Shit, suspicious much? Settle down. “But it’s been a while,” I added, trying for a tone of casual interest. “When did they bring that in?”
“I’ve seen a lawyer since then, and they didn’t ask for it.” Go for non-confrontational, dammit. “But it was right around 2010, so maybe it was before the new rules. Why do you need it?”
“Because of 9-11. We need to know you are who you say you are.”
“But a driver’s license doesn’t prove that,” I argued. Shit, this probably isn’t reassuring her. Try some empathy. “That seems like a pretty onerous responsibility for you. Do they make you check everybody against a database or something?”
“No, we just collect the information in case the Law Society asks for it.”
I crushed my tongue between my teeth and managed not to say ‘that’s stupid’, but apparently she got the message anyway.
“I’ll go and get Mr. X. You can discuss it with him. Please have a seat.”
In what had originally been a dining room, I perched warily in one of the sleek leather chairs arranged around the small, pristine meeting table. The long pile of the carpet looked as if it had been freshly raked and manicured. Jeez, there wasn’t even a footprint on it except my own.
In the adjacent living space, the long boardroom table was surrounded by identical leather chairs, all aligned to exactly the same angle. The carpet was perfect. The floor-to-ceiling drapes were perfect, every fold carefully arranged.
Like a funeral parlour. Soothing, neutral, and designed to conceal something rotten.
I tried to ignore my paranoid discomfort without success. What kind of operation was this, anyway? The website had shown a downtown address, not a house out in the ‘burbs. I hadn’t thought too much about it when we’d set up the meeting, but now…
I shook off the thought and occupied myself by studying the certificates and diplomas precisely aligned on the wall. Mr. X had a lot of qualifications. That’s why I’d selected him. I wanted a specialist I could trust to set up this deal properly.
Footsteps made me sit up straight. Mr. X rounded the corner and I hid my surprise. He looked a lot younger than his picture on the website.
“Diane? I’m X.”
I rose, smiled, and shook his outstretched hand. He didn’t fully grasp my hand in the short handshake. He sat without facing me, pulling his chair close to the table and placing a sheaf of papers directly in front of him as if for protection. I swivelled my chair to view him diagonally across the edge of the table, leaning casually on one elbow and keeping my body language open and relaxed.
“So that’s interesting about the driver’s license,” I prompted. “I’m the privacy officer for my company, so I’m curious about your requirements. That seems like a lot of responsibility for the Law Society to place on individual lawyers.”
His eyes darted sideways. “Not really. They don’t do anything with it. It’s just since 9-11. They’re watching out for money laundering and things like that.”
I’ve heard 9-11 used as an excuse for all kinds of shit, but implementing a policy nine years after the fact was really reaching. And if I was smart enough to launder money, did they seriously think I’d be too dumb to get a fake driver’s license?
Oh, well, stupid or not, if the Law Society required it I might as well give…
“How did you find me?” His abrupt question interrupted my thoughts.
“I searched on the internet and found your website.”
His eyes flicked away again. “Oh. I try to minimize my web presence. And that wasn’t my real website.”
Wait, what the hell?
Before I could speak, he added, “You must have gotten one of the ones that somebody took over. You know, like the Yellow Pages or something. Not X.ca.”
“I was on X.ca. It had your picture and areas of expertise-”
“But that’s not current. I moved two years ago, and it’s still not updated. I don’t know how the other lawyers manage to get everything updated when they move all the time. You were on the wrong site. That wasn’t my real site. It must have been the Yellow Pages or something.”
I blinked despite myself. “Um, I’m a computer geek, and I’m positive…” I abandoned that tack and switched gears. Maybe he just wasn’t a techie kind of guy. “It’s not hard to get your site updated,” I began reassuringly. “You just need to get your web designer to-”
Again with the shifty eyes. “So about this alter ego trust we discussed over the phone.”
I eased back in my chair. “Um, yeah. You mentioned a ballpark figure of $5,000. Is that all your fees, or are there other fees or disbursements?”
He waved his hands vaguely as if outlining an object about the size and shape of a breadbox. “It’s fees.”
“Okay, but are there any expenses other than your fees? What about disbursements? Any additional fees for registering…?”
“It’s what it costs for me to do the work.”
I couldn’t help glancing to the corner of the room when his eyes twitched in that direction. Nothing there. When I looked back at him, he looked away.
I pulled my briefcase closer and made politely regretful noises. “I’ll need to look into this a little more. The setup costs aren’t looking as though they’ll justify the benefits in the end. I suspect it won’t go ahead.”
Let me rephrase that. It sure as hell won’t go ahead with you. You totally creep me out, buddy. Maybe I should’ve asked to see your driver’s license.
I stood. “I appreciate the time you spent with me on the phone and meeting with me here today. May I pay you for your time?”
He didn’t meet my gaze. “No, that’s all right. Goodbye.”
A lawyer refusing payment? This was definitely too weird for me.
I crammed my feet into my shoes and fled.
True story – this just happened to me last week.
Was he trying to get rid of me because I wasn’t dressed “right”? Maybe he thought I was a criminal because I was reluctant to hand over my driver’s license? Maybe he had a medical condition that made his eyes twitch?
Maybe I wouldn’t have been so defensive about the driver’s license if it had been an office instead of somebody’s house; or if they’d mentioned it over the phone when I made the appointment; or if we’d actually decided to do business together before they asked for it. I know I was acting like the paranoid freak I am… but…
What do you think? Would you have run screaming?