Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Two Aspects of Confidence

Posted by Jeff Lipshaw

There is, on one hand, a sinister connotation to the word "confidence."  It is the source of the term "con Sting artist."  The con artist obtains your confidence under false pretenses and then stings you.

On the other hand, there is a positive connotation to the same word, and it is fundamental to a practicing lawyer's stock in trade - the ability to read people and make judgments about whom to trust.  Confidence is crucial to any skill that requires the crossing of aSki judgmental inflection point.  To make a physical analogy, when you ski, you traverse the hill by crossing the fall line, the line by which a ball would roll down the hill.  For a moment as you make the turn, you are potentially in free fall, and the way you succeed to have the confidence to make the turn, cross the fall line, and have the security of a traversed position.  To ski very well, you are so confident that you cross the fall line dozens of times in a very short of time and distance.  It seems to me anybody who vests trust in another person crosses an equivalent "fall line."

What happens to your self-confidence in the second text when you discover you have been taken - big time - in the first context?  I'm contemplating that about myself right now, and some background and thoughts are below the fold.

Ten years ago, my wife and I built a vacation home in northern Michigan.  We hired a well-known architect who designed a beautiful house according to the parameters we had set, and he recommended four builders in the area from whom we should take bids.  Four bids came in, and the two lowest were within $10,000 of each other.  The second lowest was from a builder who continues to have a fine reputation up here even today.

But we met with the low bidder, and he seemed like a guy who really knew his stuff.  He was licensed.  He had references, and our architect checked them.  He had professional-looking contracts.  My wife and I made an instant judgment that he was trustworthy.  Nevertheless, I monitored his draw requests, stayed involved in the supervision of the project, had the architect do bi-weekly inspections, etc.

To make a long story short, he was either a crook from the get-go, or got in over his head and became one by the time our job was done.  My wife and I debated that issue frequently, because like all con men, he really had a great line of patter, and seemed like a really nice guy.  But doing a construction project with somebody you realize is marginal is like walking a knife edge, because if you fire him, you can make things even worse.  So you try to monitor very closely, demand lien waivers to make sure the subs are paid, and watch how much is being spent relative to the progress on the ground.  By the time the house was completed, however, he had closed up his shop and skipped town (as I understand it, abandoning his wife and child). 

Several months later, our architect sent us a news clipping from the Petoskey, Michigan paper that he had been arrested on the West Coast and extradited back to Michigan on a charge of having filed a false sworn statement on a draw request to one of the banks that was financing a project.  I believe he was convicted and spent time in jail.  The revocation of his builders' license (and that of his company) and the claims against the construction lien fund for unpaid trades, are also a matter of public record.

There were some minor things we had to do to the house, but based on our supervision of the project at its most basic stages, we thought we had survived okay.  Ten years later, the dry wall (all of which we had to rejoint and repaint because of the shoddy job) doesn't crack, telling us that the roof is solid and the house doesn't sag.  This summer, however, through a combination of diligence about maintenance and dumb luck, we happened to pull up a piece of concrete patio and discovered that there were rotting issues around the base of the wall sheeting, all of which were reparable, but at a substantial cost, and all of which would have been avoided with a modicum of construction due care (i.e., waterproofing and flashing).  Then we discovered that an entire thirty-five foot stone chimney was rotting from the inside out due to similar problems.

Nowadays you can run but you can't hide.  I found the guy on the internet running a construction business in Danville, California.  I went on line and found his builders' license on the California Contractors' State Licensing Board website.  Here's the funny thing.  He uses his real name on the website, but if you look at the name of the qualifying individual, the name is not his, but another name with precisely the same three initials as his own.  You make the inference!  I called the CSLB, spoke to a very helpful guy in the Public Affairs office, and reported my suspicions about him, and I'm hoping they investigated and protect their consumers out there.  I'm not going to comment about the prospect of my own legal claim against him here, but it's nice to know I have found him.

Here's the point of this long exegesis.  I have people doing the work now who I trust.  It is a trust borne of far more data than I had on this guy.  But how do you know?  And particularly how does it affect your own self-confidence in the ability to discern trustworthiness when you know you have been taken that badly?  I'm thinking about it.

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