Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Even Lawyers Get Duped Now and Then

While examining the letter books of the law firm of Purves and Archibald, of North Sydney, Nova Scotia, as part of my research into the operations of Charles Robin and Company in Cape Breton, I came across this letter of 21 April 1877.
Editor of the 'Illustrated Weekly'
New York
Dear Sir,
I am a subscriber to your valued paper, paid up till Nov. 7, 1878. In the issue of the 10th March last appeared an advertisement from the Standard Silverware Company of New York, offering on good terms certain wares upon payment of a fixed sum, and the forwarding to their address of a coupon. As will appear by the enclosed copy, I in good faith forwarded the sum of four dollars American currency and faithfully complied with the terms of the advertisement. I am without any reply and now write to ask you to make such inquiry as may appear necessary to you. If the advertisement is a fraud, I shall take care to have it exposed in the Nova Scotia papers, with the certain result of eviscerating the circulation of your Illustrated Weekly in this vicinity.
An early reply will oblige.
Yours very truly,
S. L. Purves
Barrister at law
Clearly, this letter has nothing to do with the Robin Company. What drew my attention to it in the first place was that, rather than being written in the interest of a client, the lawyer was writing on his own behalf. Further, rather than reflecting the objective matter-of-fact tone that one might expect to find in legal correspondence, this letter betrays more than a hint of hostility and emotional involvement.
Does this letter constitute a threat? It might sound like it to many readers, but the legal safety valve is contained in the use of the word 'if'. The lawyer is merely stating a potential consequence, if in fact the situation is found to be fraudulent. However, can the proposed action to negatively impact regional subscriptions really be considered a proportional response to the loss of four dollars, even if it was in US funds? I don't think so. Instead, I think that what we have here is a simple case of bruised ego being partially soothed through the expression of righteous indignation. 

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