I don't care who's wrong or right, I don't really wanna fight no more.
September 25, 2008 11:45 AM   Subscribe

He said/she said, he said/he said, she said/she said - when do you give up on these kinds of arguments?

I'm involved in a dispute with a vendor. I work as a legal secretary and make travel arrangements for my attorneys. Last week I ordered a car to pick up one of my attorneys at the airport. She says the driver never showed, they say the driver showed. We checked to see if we had the same flight number and arrival time, and we were all in agreement. The driver was supposed to meet her outside of customs with a sign. He says he waited there for an hour after the flight landed. She says he wasn't there.

So that was boring, but this is the kind of situation I sometimes find myself in at work. Nobody has any tangible evidence. It's just one person's word against another. For the record, I believe the car service. I don't think my attorney is lying - I just think that she was in a hurry and overlooked the driver. However, I think she's going to continue to press me to get a refund, even though she's not out any money herself (it's on the firm's account).

Do you have any strategies? Do you continue to hound the vendor until they just give up and give you a refund? I don't feel comfortable doing that (particularly since I don't believe they did anything wrong), but I also want my boss to think I'm looking out for her.

Any ideas? Maybe what I'm really looking for is just a way to tell my attorney that I'm not going to press this.
posted by Evangeline to Human Relations (18 answers total)
 
The travel arrangements are your responsibility, so you also have to take responsibility for sorting out this situation as you see fit.

If you think the most appropriate way to resolve this is to drop it rather than wasting more of your time on it, that is what you do. You then explain to the attorney in question that as it is his word against hers, and nobody can be completely certain that she didn't miss him, you're going to drop the argument. Then you say that in future, all travellers will have the phone number of the car service on their itinerary, so they can call at the airport in case of a no-show and resolve the problem on the spot. If it happens again, you will be using a different car company.
posted by emilyw at 12:04 PM on September 25, 2008


Compromise? i.e. don't pay the full fare, just pay some partial amount for showing up, but not completing the job.
posted by electroboy at 12:04 PM on September 25, 2008


I would ask the car company to drop it as both a favor to you to keep you in good graces with your boss and more importantly to ensure that the relationship continues and you are on good terms. The problem arises here because the driver is likely an independent and he wasted his time and wants/needs to get paid. The car company will have to credit him. It is not as if no money changes hands and simply lost opportunity.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 12:17 PM on September 25, 2008


The travel arrangements are your responsibility, so you also have to take responsibility for sorting out this situation as you see fit.

The other way to look at it is that in this case the attorney is the customer, and the customer is always right.

It might make sense to just level with the vendor and say that you don't know who's fault it is, but that you have an unhappy customer and you all need to come up with some sort of satisfactory resolution. You might want to add that even if they fullfilled their end of the contract by showing up, customer service is an important part of their job and you'll be more likely to continue using them as a vendor if they can help resolve issues like this.
posted by burnmp3s at 12:21 PM on September 25, 2008


I would ask the car company to drop it as both a favor to you to keep you in good graces with your boss and more importantly to ensure that the relationship continues and you are on good terms.

I think that may be a good strategy - asking for a favor instead of making a demand.
posted by Evangeline at 12:21 PM on September 25, 2008


Neither party is really right or wrong and you are caught in the middle -- this happens all the time, everywhere (see "The Devil Wears Prada").

Let's assume that both parties will never relent. Unfortunately this becomes a case of "which relationship is more important to preserve", and you should tread carefully and diplomatically. Is there a "head" secretary that can offer you advice or back you up in case the attorney gets upset with you?
posted by randomstriker at 12:39 PM on September 25, 2008


Is there a "head" secretary that can offer you advice or back you up in case the attorney gets upset with you?

I don't think my attorney will get too upset with me. She's not the yell-y sort. Very even-tempered. I just don't want it to appear that I'm not taking her request seriously.

Unfortunately, I don't have too much leverage with the car service company. I have to use the service that my firm has designated.
posted by Evangeline at 12:45 PM on September 25, 2008


Is this question about that specific situation with the car, or about work conflicts in general?

For that specific situation, here's my personal view: I get black cars to meet me at airports all the time, and they often don't show up as planned, and they often lie about it because they want to get paid anyway. I always have the phone number with me, so I just call. But I would be quite annoyed if my assistant (who sets all of this up) did not believe me when I told her that one didn't show up. And there is no way that I would pay, and I would just use a different company if they gave me any trouble about it at all.

By the way, it might be "on the firm's account," but at my firm we're responsible for our expenses. How did she actually get to her destination? Did she take a cab? What's your proposed resolution to paying twice for the same transportation? I would never submit both for reimbursement and I would never pay a company (or allow a a company to be paid on my behalf) for work that wasn't performed in this situation. It's not a favor not to charge the firm if the car didn't show up. Even if you have to use that company, you don't need to let that monopoly turn into poor service.

As for the general situation, your job as a legal secretary should be to resolve problems like this in a verifiable manner. From your perspective, it doesn't really matter if the car was there and your boss missed it (in the car example), or not. Your job is to document that the car was ordered, verified and supposed to be there and that your boss has the number to call if there are problems. I strongly prefer that my secretary confirm stuff like this by e-mail or other document, so that she can give me a copy and I can address things when necessary, or we have proof that we were promised a certain thing. There's not generally a need for "he said, she said" in business travel disputes; you should have it all in writing. If you're also running into problems with non-travel issues, tread lightly, but also try to get agreement in writing and confirm details ahead of time.
posted by iknowizbirfmark at 12:54 PM on September 25, 2008


Unfortunately, I don't have too much leverage with the car service company. I have to use the service that my firm has designated.

The car company doesn't know that.
posted by desjardins at 1:01 PM on September 25, 2008


Your job is to document that the car was ordered, verified and supposed to be there and that your boss has the number to call if there are problems. I strongly prefer that my secretary confirm stuff like this by e-mail or other document, so that she can give me a copy and I can address things when necessary, or we have proof that we were promised a certain thing.

All of this was done. She received an email confirmation, and I printed it out and handed it to her. They had her number and she had their number. She said they did call and leave a message saying they were there, but that the call was made after she left the airport. Now, that might seem like conclusive proof to you, but since sometimes my voice mails don't come in until a day after the call was made, I believe it's possible they made the call on time.

But I would be quite annoyed if my assistant (who sets all of this up) did not believe me when I told her that one didn't show up.

People make mistakes. Even lawyers. I'm not accusing her of lying. I'm just saying she may have overlooked him. I work for 4 attorneys. One of them never believes he makes mistakes. He'll swear up and down that he never received an email or that I didn't print something for him. I'll dig it up and offer the proof, but I never get an apology.

Maybe I'm more sympathetic to them because I've worked in the service industry and I've been in the exact situation. A customer will accuse you of wrongdoing when you KNOW you're in the right, and there's nothing you can do because as they say, "the customer is always right".

By the way, it might be "on the firm's account," but at my firm we're responsible for our expenses. How did she actually get to her destination? Did she take a cab? What's your proposed resolution to paying twice for the same transportation?

She took a taxi and she was reimbursed for it. Unless I get this resolved, our firm will also have to pay for the car service when the bill comes in. This is not a client related matter - the payment will come out of the department's general budget. However, I will certainly bring it up with the department responsible for choosing our car service vendors.
posted by Evangeline at 1:11 PM on September 25, 2008


Crisis averted. I called the woman who chooses our vendors. She said that she's had similar complaints in the last few weeks and is about to cancel our account with the car service. She also said she'd take care of the charge.

And I've learned a valuable lesson in "passing the buck".

No, I'm kidding. This is the kind of thing that comes up now and again, so I'm still interested in people's input.
posted by Evangeline at 1:24 PM on September 25, 2008


And I've learned a valuable lesson in "passing the buck".

Actually...you've learned a valuable lesson in discovering trustworthiness. Sometimes, a little extra time and/or research can help you discern who might be correct in a given situation. You checked with an "outside" party who has enough knowledge to be helpful, and that person was able to tip the scales of trustworthiness.

If she wasn't about to take care of things, you'd still have some leverage with the car service, or the confidence to press your point, or a least a better idea of who might be right.

That's my $0.02, anyway.
posted by epersonae at 1:46 PM on September 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


when do you give up on these kinds of arguments?

This remains a general question. Basically you have demonstrated there is an impasse between you and another party. You will never be able to resolve what really happened (barring access to the airport's security tapes). So now you and another party have to deal. As iknowizbirfmark said, paying for a car that doesn't show simply doesn't happen. If there's a missed connection the car company should follow up with a contact such as you (who may be able to reach the attorney on her cell) or page the person using the airport's communication system. Since they didn't (apparently) pursue even that minimal level of problem-solving, there's no reason to assume the guy was really there on time or at the right gate. But maybe in this case discussing contingencies like this is something the service would be happy to do in order to retain your custom. I wouldn't say it's unusual in these computerized and digitally dispatched days for a car service to keep on hand special procedures to follow in the event of a missed connection. If they aren't willing to do that, there's another mark against them. If they're smart, they'll eat this one (as common as that is it's odd they weren't already there) and hope to get ten or twenty times the value in future business.

But as I said, the general principle stands. If you're stuck on the issue, negotiate to find out what each party wants. Phrases like "Okay, how can we resolve this?" put the onus on the other person to give you some hints.
posted by dhartung at 2:08 PM on September 25, 2008


Rule of thumb: the vendor is always wrong.

You're trying to arbitrate this situation fairly, and that's an ethical and reasonable course of action. It's also the wrong one. You get paid by a law firm, not a corporate car service, so you're expected to be on Team Lawyer if you, well, want to remain employed. Smile and nod to the lawyer, scream and yell at the car service, and get the refund.

And definitely don't worry too much about the car service. They're used to being jerked around by clients, and they certainly bill a high enough rate to make it worth their while overall. (If you want to get depressed, compare the service's waiting charge to your own hourly rate...)
posted by a young man in spats at 2:14 PM on September 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


Okay, it's "he said, she said". But your lawyer has no interest in lying - it makes her life far more difficult as she has had to arrange alternative transport. So you can probably assume that she will have made sure that her car wasn't there before getting a random taxi! (She should, however, always have contact details and a reference number for the car hire firm, and call them, should no-one be there to meet her - and that should be documented by the cab firm at least). The cab firm, on the other hand, has every reason to lie.

Of course, you work for the attorney so you have to believe her anyway. But it's a useful argument to use when dealing with the car hire firm. In a nice, friendly, even apologetic way, of course.

(Although, if this happens on a regular basis for particular attorneys, then there is something that needs addressing...)
posted by finding.perdita at 3:39 PM on September 25, 2008


The other way to look at it is that in this case the attorney is the customer, and the customer is always right.

This is a terrible rule, doubly so when it is the customer asserting it. The customer should get what was advertised at the agreed upon price. In this case, your customer, the lawyer, got what she wanted: a reservation. Your firm, as the customer of the car service, did not get what you wanted- a ride from the airport.
posted by gjc at 6:04 PM on September 25, 2008


In the future, when you're in the middle of a situation where you can't know who is correct, you should side with your boss. You're not the judge and you're not impartial. You are partisan to your boss.

Sometimes you'll genuinely believe your boss is wrong. If you can't advocate on her behalf, then tell your boss that. Otherwise, she's got a right to expect that you're playing on her team.
posted by 26.2 at 12:44 AM on September 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


Hi Evangeline (catching up with my meta)

Spats is right, you are Team Lawyer, there is no he said/she said, no "working it out."

The vendor is always wrong an you have the leverage: an account with future business to provide - maybe to someone else if you are not satisfied - and the money you have not paid for their (non) service, and of course as a law firm you also have an audience of other law firms to broadcast to about this "bad" vendor.

These car services operate with drivers who are independent contractors mostly and the company takes the call and pays the driver a portion, sometimes the driver pays for the car and insurance per diem. So sometimes the car service really doesn't know or control the driver if he actually showed up, drivers can be lax and try and cover their butts with late calls, so very little pressure and you can knock that bill out, as your fellow employee did.

Tip your waitresses, I'm here all week.
posted by Kensational at 10:27 AM on October 1, 2008


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