Muddling Through

At a breakfast meeting this morning of the International Group of Chambers of Commerce in Poland the guest was President of the National Bank of Poland, Professor Marek Belka. Dispensing with any introductory remarks he threw himself straight open to questions and was immediately asked about how to solve the current financial crisis in Europe. In Professor Belka’s opinion there were three solutions: some form of political union which he thought likely to be unacceptable to the European electorates; monetising of the debt by central banks buying government bonds which he considered undesirable not least because of the effect on inflation; and finally, which he thought should not, as is it is commonly seen to be, a sign of weakness, by “muddling through.”

Professor Belka, a former finance minister, is well known for his direct and forthright views and, at first sight, his third choice for tackling the financial crisis in Europe might seem to be no solution at all, to be nothing more than a flippant remark to entertain the audience. And yet, on reflection it was more than that. For me, it struck a chord with my last post here, Keep Calm and Carry On . Instead of fighting the crisis with dramatic short term measures which satisfy our emotional need for an instant response however damaging that response may be to our longer term interests, let’s take time to consider what our long term interests really are and negotiate our way through the crisis. It won’t be easy and we won’t have the satisfaction that comes from an immediate surrender to our desire for revenge but neither will we face the disappointment and frustration that comes from a victory the price of which is worse than defeat that otherwise awaits us in the future.

Of course, it will be argued, there is a great difference between dealing with an international financial crisis and settling a legal dispute but in both cases the biggest threat is not so much the potential damage of the opposing forces but the potential danger posed by our own emotions. The value we as lawyers should be able to bring to our clients is that of wise counsel: a detached consideration of the issues and the offering of advice that is in the longer term interests of our client and trying to bring that advice to the fore in place of the desire, understandable as that may be, for instant retaliation which is of only short term benefit. Of course we must fight for our clients’ best interests but in serving those best interests we must not only pick the fights but not be afraid to decline the instruction to fight where the fight would serve no useful purpose and where our clients’ resources are best applied other than in paying our fees.

Whether governing a central bank or advising on litigation the role of the banker and the lawyer is to ensure that the currency and the client keep calm and carry on.

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