In trouble? We can be your friend for hire

Adrian Tan For The Straits Times

A lawyer will listen to you, agree totally with your point of view, and never, ever cheat on you with a rival. All for a fee, of course.

I am a litigator.

This is what I do: I am your friend for hire.

Some people will never need my friendship. They will never be accused of wrongdoing. They will never be hurt. They will never be betrayed. They will never be asked to give up something they treasure. They will live their lives free of conflict.

But there are other people, people who are seized by disputes. Such people will do three things. First, they will ignore the dispute. Second, they will wrestle with it. Third, they will search for a friend.

Ignoring a dispute is a good strategy. I recommend it. The vast majority of disputes that we encounter can be safely ignored. Most arguments are won by the first person to walk away.

Some disputes are difficult to ignore. So, people try to resolve them on their own. I am all for self-help. If a dispute can be resolved with an apology, then apologise. Apologies are opportunities for us to turn back the clock, and start again. And who among us has never wished for time travel?

But some disputes cannot be ignored or resolved on your own. That is when you will need a friend.

One of life’s greatest ironies is that it is easiest to find a friend when you are carefree and want for nothing. When you are in the grip of conflict, that is when you will be least likely to attract friends.

There is a saying: A friend in need is a friend indeed. That saying was coined by a litigator.

Litigators are professional friends. We specialise in befriending those who are weary, heavy-laden and in need of rest.

One of life’s greatest ironies is that it is easiest to find a friend when you are carefree and want for nothing. When you are in the grip of conflict, that is when you will be least likely to attract friends.
For a fee, we will do all those things that friends are supposed to – but never – do for you.

We listen to you. You have never had anyone listen to you until you have had a litigator take down your statement, ask you questions, think about your answers, and then ask you more questions.

We are your secret diary. We will pay attention to you. We will not brush aside your problems. We will acknowledge your conflict. We will sit with you to understand your dispute better than you will yourself. And you can tell us anything. We will never tell anyone else. We will resist any power on earth to make us break your trust in us.

We take your side. We will see everything from your perspective. If you feel guilt, we will make excuses for you. If you have behaved badly, we will put your behaviour in context so that it will be understood. If you have been persecuted, cheated, oppressed or exploited, we will feel upset.

We will stick up for you. We will plead, crave, petition and complain for you. When you are brought to court, we will be the only friend standing by you. We will be your champion.

We are loyal. We will not be friends with your enemies. If you choose us as your friend, we will forsake all others.

We will be true to you, so long as you pay us.

There are many benefits in having a hired friend.

For starters, it is hard to find “real” friends. A person who can count three friends is a fortunate person. Those who are friendless cannot be faulted – they may not be unpleasant people, merely unlucky ones. In such circumstances, it is reasonable to hire a friend.

Another benefit is this. Although we must be your friend, you don’t have to be ours. You don’t have to remember our birthdays, or watch movies with us, or even attempt to get to know us. We are all about you.

You do not have to take us home to meet your family. You do not have to dine with us (but if you do, you will pay for it). You do not have to bond with us. We will not be hurt.

We are good substitutes for unpaid (or “real”) friends. We are reasonably smart. We have basic social skills. We can feign interest in your conversation. We will often laugh at your jokes. We will not tease you. We will be your enabler, your cheerleader and your therapist.

The best part about having a hired friend is this: It is all one-way. You can break off our friendship. You do not need to give us a reason. We will not take it personally, and even if we do, you do not have to care. We do not expect you to consider our welfare. We have thick skins. We are durable.

We do not want your love, only your money. We know that is a bargain. Real friends are an imposition. They require regular emotional investment. We are not demanding. We need only to be paid, regularly. It upsets us greatly when you forget to do this. We will feel let down. After all, it is our very reason for existence.

Every year, many hired friends are trained in universities. When we graduate, we join other hired friends in something called a “law firm”. Firms of friends are set up to do battle against other firms in court.

When we meet in court, we call each other “learned friends”. We then call each other many other different names. We always disagree. We are a friendly but disagreeable profession.

We suffer for you. Many hired friends will tell you that we do not have friends of our own. We have difficulty keeping long-term relationships. We find it hard to be friends with someone who does not pay us. We are not used to being with people who want us to open up, to talk about ourselves and our work, to reveal our feelings. We find it suspicious if people want to get to know us. We do not need such attention.

We also believe that hired friends have higher divorce rates. We spend our lives gearing up for dissent. We are bred for brawling, and cultivated for confrontation. Our professional lives have skewed us to look askance at every statement made, and ask: Is there a double meaning, a hidden insult, a trap of some sort?

And if, or perhaps when, hired friends have arguments with their spouses, there is no quarter given, and no prisoners taken. That is because hired friends look at relationships as a zero-sum game.

Every argument ends with one winner and one loser – if there isn’t a loser, then the argument isn’t over. Naturally, we abhor intimacy and exploit vulnerability. That is good for winning arguments, but bad for personal relationships.

The result is that hired friends end up friendless. That is because we do not feel accepted. If society functioned perfectly, there would never be any need for us. Our existence is an embarrassment. It shows that people are not doing their job to be good friends to other people. It shows that people are not getting what they need from their “real” friends. Why else would they turn to us?

Some people think that hired friends are necessary because we know the law, and the law is necessary to settle disputes.

That is untrue. Any dispute may be settled out of court, without recourse to the law. People resolve conflicts every day, by giving concessions and sacrificing principles. The solution is always in their own hands. When they go to court, they take that solution out of their own hands, and place it in the hands of a stranger – a judge. The judge makes a binary decision. Someone wins and someone loses.

The winner thanks the judge, the loser blames the lawyer.

We know the cost of being your hired friend, and because we are associated with conflict and defeat, society stigmatises us. It makes us the butt of jokes, and the villains in stories. But in denouncing us, society is doing no more than to admit that human beings have conflicts, and they need help resolving them.

That has been the way throughout history. Humanity has always known conflict, since the Garden of Eden.

Adam could have won his argument with God, if only he had a hired friend by his side.

You need not repeat his mistake.