Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Risk Allocation, Service Provider Style

A slightly nutsy senior-citizenish man came into my shared office yesterday and he looked glad to see me. He produced some paperwork and introduced himself as some kind of fixer in Phuket, a local guy with connections who helped Farang dealing with property purchases or settling accidents or police trouble. He said he needed a translation of a Power of Attorney, he produced a very simple one in Thai and his attempt at a translation. It was typically cupped, rolled and dog-eared. It was also vague, ambiguous and inadequate. I told him sure, I can help you. Come back tomorrow morning, I’ll take a look around and get some good language to start with.

I pulled a Connecticut Statutory Power of Attorney off the internet and made a list of questions for the guy and I was ready to go. That took six minutes all together. He came in and I satisfied myself that I knew just what he needed, something that would look good to officials, give him the power that he needed and no more and, more importantly, something that would assure his Farang clients that he couldn’t take the power and use it to go clean them out. A Power of Attorney is always an exercise in trust, but it shouldn’t be too much trust. I hadn’t written it yet, but it was a nice document in my mind, and I’d done a good job.

So I told him that I could give him something very nice looking and very effective, on CD and with enough hard copies to use as originals, for 1,000 Baht (about thirty dollars). He was horrified. “You want to charge me?” he gasped. I told him, “well, I’m working after all.” He said he could just go and copy something out of a textbook, he didn’t need to pay for it. I quietly noted that it wasn’t his first choice though.

“Go ahead,” I smiled, “and good luck.” I ushered him out the door. Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die.

Always get the money first. I learned that one the hard way. “If they’re serious about paying you,” said my astute friend Maynard, “they’ll give you the money.”

The guy would have been better off to pay me. I have seen lots of documents over here, and I haven’t seen any that I thought were a really good job. I have helped Thai legal professionals with translations of letters and contracts, starting from literal translations from the Thai, and most of them are just terrible. Not only the English, but also the content of the original. My questions are often of first impression to the Thais. Like a certain contract: “so, what about the insurance?” Followed by general confusion. “What about damage to the goods while they are in the possession of (the party of the second part, or, as they prefer to say in Thailand, the party ‘on’ the second part)?” Still not clear. “Who loses the money if the goods are destroyed by fire or something?” Boy, Farang think of the damnedest things. Things like risk allocation. To be fair, I do most of this with friends at school, and if they get a fee for what they're doing they share it with me. If they don't get a fee, I'm happy to help my friends.

One thing is for sure, the nutsy guy reminded me that teaching is so much more comfortable than providing services to ingrates who think everything should be free. He still owes me for about forty five minutes of my life.

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