Plumber, lawyer, they’re just the same

Life happens – often when you can least afford it. Last week I needed a plumber to unblock a toilet. I needed one reasonably urgently.

I googled “plumber, Perth”, got a list and started calling.

Some told me their callout rates and hourly charge. Some said they could come in three days time, or the next week, sometime between “7 and 3”.

One gave me an actual time, two days hence; that was promising, I liked the sound of him, he knew how to schedule.

He told me his callout fee (not the cheapest) then he asked me what was wrong with the toilet.

“Ummm . . . it’s blocked . . .” I suggested, knowing full well it could be anything from foam bullets to an actual Nerf gun. Could be tricky.

“OK,” he says, ” I can do a blocked toilet in an hour and it will cost you $X. If it turns out to be a different problem we will talk about what to do.”

Compare that to this:

Me: “It’s obviously blocked but I don’t really know why” (still thinking, it could be tricky).

Plumber: “Yeah, it’s hard to tell, it should only take an hour, but on the other hand, I might be there all day. In fact I can’t actually promise you it will be unblocked by the end of the day.

Plumber continues: “So there’s a callout fee which gets you 20 minutes then after that I’m going to charge you for every six minutes, there might be a bit extra for writing up the invoice and obviously any disbursement – like if I have to send you any emails after, that will cost too.

“As I said, this might go on (I’m a chatter), so what about you put a couple of grand into my account now and I’ll just go until that runs out and we can talk again. Here. I take cards.”

In a million years I’m not hiring the second guy. Not only do I not know what it’s going to cost me – or even whether I’m going to have an unblocked toilet at the end of it – but why would I trust someone who can’t confidently predict and quote on a bread-and-butter plumbing problem?

I hate having to call tradesmen – the same way people hating having to call lawyers. But when I come across a good one he and/or she is on my list for life.

And there’s no reason to treat lawyers differently to tradespeople. The reason you pay for a lawyer is because you expect them to know how to solve your problem.

When I hire a plumber I’m not paying for his time, I’m paying him to unblock my toilet.

The same goes for legal matters. Ask yourself what you need – To negotiate with your ex? Sort out the money? Get the right court documents filed? Protect an interest? Make sure the kids are happy?

All these things will have a certain value to you and if you shop around you should be able to find a lawyer who will provide the right service at a price you can live with.

There’s no great mystery to it, or need to shroud it in hourly rates and six-minute increments, photocopying and postage charges. Lawyers have the skills to handle the legal minefield at a time – particularly in family law matters – when you may be emotional and all over the shop.

It’s just a service – as annoying as a blocked toilet – but still something worth paying for to get right. Just make sure you pick someone who will quote you on the job, not how long they are likely to take doing it. And if the game changes along the way, you change the plan together.

It was hair – in the toilet. It took the plumber 15 minutes but I paid the full fixed price, no complaints. He gets to move on with his day and I get to move on to something much more interesting than a blocked toilet, with a new tradesman on my list.

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