Life Lessons for My Law Practice

by Jamison Koehler on October 2, 2014

I am in Nairobi.  Kenya is famous, among other things, for its malachite jewelry, and I would like to buy my wife a malachite necklace.  I check at the hotel store and see that the necklaces there sell for well over $100.  So I go out to a market on the street with cash.

A guy there offers me a malachite necklace for $35.  I am so excited by the price that I don’t negotiate.  I buy it.  I am very pleased with myself.  As I am walking away, the guy offers me a second necklace at the same price.  I balk.   So he lowers his offer to $30.  I agree.  Again, I am about to walk away when again he offers me yet another necklace, this time for $25.  And I eventually end up buying a fourth for $20.  Of course I feel like an idiot for having paid almost twice that much for the first necklace.

Life Lesson #1:  There is usually room for negotiation.

Life Lesson #2:  State-of-mind is everything.  How could I be pleased to pay $35 for one necklace and then, two minutes later, unhappy to pay $15 less for the exact same thing?

* * * * *

I am at a street market in Florence.  I have my eye on a particular alabaster chess set.  After some back-and-forth, the vendor and I come to an impasse in our negotiations.  He is offering it for $24.  I am not willing to pay more than $23.  Neither one of us is willing to cede that last dollar.

Fine, I tell him.  I am sure I can find the same set elsewhere for $23.

I leave.  I look around.  I find that I was wrong.  I return.  Okay, I tell him.  I will give you $24 for that set.

The price is now $25, he tells me.

But you just offered it to me for $24, I say.

Yes, he tells me.  But now that you have come back, I know I have you.  I know you couldn’t find this set elsewhere for that price.

I am proud and I refuse to pay the extra dollar.   Out of principle.  So I don’t get the chess set I really want.  It is years before I can find another set I like as much as that one.  And the vendor is too clever for his own good.  He doesn’t make a sale that, ten minutes before, he was willing to make.

Life Lesson #3:  Don’t overdo it with the negotiations.  When you see something you want, buy it.  The extra money you spend will soon be insignificant.

* * * * *

My wife and I are fixing up our new house in Baltimore, and we hire a contractor named Tony to do some painting.

At one point my wife notices that the glass in one of the pocket doors has been broken.  This is the original glass dating back to the 1880s.  It will be phenomenally expensive to replace.

My wife asks Tony about this.  His knee-jerk reaction is not to deny anything.  Without regard for the consequences, he takes responsibility instead.  I am very sorry, he tells her.  If one of my workmen broke it, we will replace it.

My wife investigates further.  It turns out that the glass was already broken when Tony’s men arrived.

We have hired Tony on many projects ever since.  We trust him.  In our eyes he can do no wrong now.

Life Lesson #4:  Your mother knew what she was talking about.  Honesty and integrity are not just ends in themselves.  They are also good business principles.

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