I came across a report in the newspaper this morning, a court report of a psychiatrist who had been struck off the medical register by the President of the High Court, Mr. Justice Peter Kelly. The learned Judge found that the consultant psychiatrist was guilty of professional misconduct and “moral turpitude” for being involved in a relationship with a vulnerable patient. The patient had suffered with bi-polar disorder and suffered from post-traumatic stress and was “a highly vulnerable person”.
What piqued my interest about this report, however, was the use of the phrase “moral turpitude”. It is not the type of phrase you come across in everyday social intercourse or at the water cooler or shop or factory floor of your workplace.
I love when Court decisions and comments by Judges in delivering judgment contain such phrases, though, because I have always loved words.
I have also always loved phrases and sentences and paragraphs and books and reading and literature. And all of these things start with a single word.
Words in the English language have been under assault for a while now thanks mainly, I believe, to the dumbing down of language and words by Americans. The overuse of words like “awesome” and “so” and “super” has, regrettably, spread to this side of the world and it appears to be a type of linguistic race to the bottom in an effort to reduce the English language to simple words of one or two syllables which are used in all circumstances.
For example, describing something as “super good” or “super bad”. These types of phrases are to be heard every day of the week in all types of settings and contexts and are so devoid of colour and description and vividness as to make me want to throw up.
The influence of US culture in spreading this virus of verbal diarrhoea to this part of the world has caused ordinary Joes from Tipperary and Donegal and Wexford to appear in the media spewing this nonsense.
So, regardless of what you think of the legal system in this country, regardless of how you view Judges, credit is due to for fighting the good fight in endeavouring to hold onto the English language-the full version in all its pomp and power, not the simplified, emasculated, shrunk down version in which “super” and “awesome” reign like the plague.
I come across all types of individuals every month, some of
whom exhaust my patience to varying degrees.
Firstly, there is the freeloader, the person who thinks you
should be perfectly happy to review and assess their circumstances and advise
whether they have a case or not. If you find they have they will pay for a
consultation; if they don’t, they don’t expect to pay anything.
As for my time and expertise, this is expected to be applied
freely, liberally, and gratis. When you ask them, in turn, will they pop around
to my house at the weekend and mow the grass, wash my car, and paint the garage
they feel to see the connection.
Secondly there is the employee who exhibits signs of
paranoia. This person is in constant contact by email or phone or both to
update me of the situation in her workplace, but nothing has actually happened.
Nothing, that is, save for a tsunami of new thoughts from
the employee about what other people are thinking, what other people intend
doing, and the future outcome of the situation or crisis, depending on your
view, and the ultimate outcome which is uncannily crystal clear to the
Nevertheless, she continues to update with a frequency and detail
that causes a genuine concern that she is delusional and in need of help from a
medical professional who is expert in the workings of the mind.
Thirdly, there is the guy who believes you were obliged to
work for him for free and, even though you have won his case, the damages awarded
were not of a sufficient quantum to persuade him otherwise.
I do accept, however, if I am not coming across these guys
with regularity I am not coming across the gems of clients-the decent
individuals who are genuinely appreciative of the efforts made on their behalf.
And I am a firm believer in the saying, “when you enlist, you may soldier”. So, I shall continue to soldier with determination and focus, having swallowed hard.
There is a tremendous danger, however, in putting all your
eggs in one basket.
Recently I met a young woman whose entire business-surprisingly
successful-was based on the popularity of her Facebook page and Facebook
When she fell foul, however, of Facebook’s advertising
policies she was prevented from advertising and her page was effectively shut
down. This ended her business and she came to me for advice.
The difficulty is that Facebook or YouTube are private platforms
owned by limited companies-Facebook and Google-and do not have any public
service obligations, for example those that RTE must adhere to.
So, when Facebook close your account because you have
breached their advertising policies, and you have unsuccessfully appealed their
decision, it is difficult to see anywhere else you might profitably pursue the
The takeaway is that these platforms make the rules and if
you want to play you need to keep a weather eye on their policies and
procedures, which do change frequently, to ensure you are not shooting yourself
in the foot and destroying your business.
And you also need to ensure that you do not develop an unhealthy
overreliance on one platform.
When you are considering getting expert advice from a
consultant or other professional, and you are concerned about their claims of
relevant experience, ask yourself whether they have one year’s experience
repeated multiple times.
Or whether they genuinely got 20 years of varied,
wide-ranging experience in the sphere of activity that concerns you.
This is an easy mistake to make.
We all know people who appear to be wise, sagacious, and
experienced but when you look more closely you may find someone who has
repeatedly carried out a narrow range of tasks in a limited area of activity.
One of the most frustrating types of person I have met since the great Irish property crash in 2007 is the person struggling with debts who will clutch at any straw to believe there is a simple solution.
And there has been a significant number of individuals who are happy to peddle a concoction of legal mumbo jumbo and snake oil to the desperate borrower struggling with, in many cases, unsustainable debt.
“It’s not your fault”
It all starts with a simple but beguiling assertion: “It’s not your fault”.
This is tremendously powerful. Tell anyone who is struggling with a problem for years that it’s not their fault, that they have been beating themselves up all this time needlessly, and a good many people will happily accept this proposition.
Once they do they are further persuaded by the pointing of the finger at others for the problem. Politicians? Bankers? Property developers? The Central Bank? The EU? German banks? Take your pick.
Pseudo legal mumbo jumbo
Then the charlatan provides the solution. It may be based on some misguided, misconceived version of a half baked idea with a passing acquaintance with a law from hundreds of years ago or it may be a concoction of pseudo legal mumbo jumbo that has as much legal substance or validity as snow disappearing off a hedge.
The underlying arguments may be based on ideology, political views, morality, philosophy but the problem with these arguments is a simple one: when the case comes before a Judge or the County Registrar the issues will be settled by recourse to the law of the land.
And there is a fundamental inescapable problem facing borrowers: the mortgage contract or agreement. This contract will provide that the lender will advance the money to the borrower and the borrower will repay it, failing which certain steps will be taken to enforce the security/charge on the borrower’s property.
No amount of pseudo legal gibberish will sidestep these fundamental terms of the mortgage agreement.
And the sooner the borrower recognises this, the sooner he might arrive at a solution or deal. He may also avoid needless legal costs on a course of action that is bound to fail when it is tested in court.
There are solutions available, don’t get me wrong. But those solutions are not to be found in half baked faux legal ideas smeared with a veneer of pseudo legal respectability. This is the equivalent of holding hands and singing “Kumbaya” and hoping it will go away. It won’t.
You need to, as Uriah Heep’s mother exhorted him in David Copperfield, “Uri, Uri, make terms”. In plain language, doing a deal may be the best option in the long run, and this will depend on the particular circumstances of the case.
But one thing is certain: relying on fake made up law and pseudo legal jargon will only make matters worse.
I found the photographs this week, worried I had lost one in particular. Turns out I had put it away so safely I could not find it.
Anyway, here it is. On the back it says “Feb ‘87, started trading in December, ‘86, sold in February ‘89, bought Navan July ‘89”
This is where my business story starts, at the age of 23, on 6th December, 1986.
It was a failed, locked up shop unit with a 2 bed apartment overhead. My brother Pat and I worked like mules to build it up from ground zero, from zero turnover to a healthy one within 12 months.
We traded from 7 am to 12 pm, not very common in 1986, built the turnover up well, and sold it on at a nice profit in early 1989.
Then I went to Navan in July 1989 and bought this property on Flower Hill.
Did quite well there, too, but my dad wanted to retire from his petrol station business in Enfield, Co. Meath.
So I sold Navan and bought the filling station business in Enfield in 1996 and spent a lot of money developing it: new convenience store, new branding, new deal with the oil company, new tanks, equipment, pumps, car wash, etc.
I had a young family and the hours of work and commitment in retail are savage. Retail, if you are running the show yourself and the buck stops with you, is relentless and genuinely 24/7.
I had also bought a small shop and building at Seapoint avenue, Blackrock, Co. Dublin and was trying to develop and run this at the same time.
So I eventually sold it in 2006 and went into property development. I bought a site in Edgeworthstown in Longford and built a block of 8 apartments.
Down through the years I had been buying and selling property, flipping shops, houses, a little bit of renovation and improvement but this was the first time I was building from scratch.
So I managed the build myself, hired a teleporter and learned how to drive it, engaged the services of sub contractors and was involved in a race against the clock.
Just as I was coming to the end of the build and getting ready to launch the apartments the signs in the economy were bad, even though there was some hopelessly misguided talk of a ‘soft landing’.
We all know what happened next: the economy crashed and nowhere was the effect more pronounced than in the property game.
I lost everything. Wipeout.
When the tide goes out there is no fighting it. You are stranded. Just ask Sean Quinn or Tony O’Reilly or any of the other wealthy individuals who ended up being wiped out by the property crash.
When I say I lost everything I mean everything material or financial. I was healthy and had a great family and even though I hadn’t a cent to my name and massive debts I had two things going for me:
A good attitude
A willingness to work hard
So I went back to college to study law. I went to Griffith college and studied full time for about 4-6 months.
I spent the days in my garage at home and the nights in Griffith attending lectures.
I sat the 8 FE1s-the entrance exams to the Law Society-and scraped a pass.
In all 8 subjects.
So then I became an apprentice solicitor and qualified after the usual period of apprenticeship and professional practice courses in the Law Society.
Now I have my own solicitor’s practice here in Enfield, Co. Meath.
And the funny thing is my office is only about 200 yards from the filling station. I even buy my milk for the tea there, sometimes.
It’s funny walking across the forecourt on a morning to buy a litre of milk for the office and getting a flashback to 20 years previous-for example walking across the tanks I can remember vividly getting down on my knees at least twice a week to dip the tanks.
Or the little office in the shop in which I spent a lot of time dealing with the problems of a growing business. Or the flower beds around the place-they were my doing.
And the property I refer to above at Blackrock , Co. Dublin? I sold it to my younger brother who in turn sold it to my older brother and I am now acting in the conveyance of this property, some 20 years later.
Talking about going full circle.
What you have read is most of my origin story; I have actually left out parts. For legal reasons.
Building your brand
If you are starting or growing your business it is a good idea to use your origin story-your back story. Everyone has one.
And it helps grow and build your brand. Some brands appear to have something intangible that makes them more attractive to would be customers or clients.
One of these hidden characteristics is an origin story.
Think Ray Kroc, the milkshake salesman, building McDonalds and his origin story as a seller of milk shake machines and what he noticed on his travels, particularly the success of the McDonald brothers restaurant.
Think about Phil Knight starting Nike. Or Richard Branson and his beginnings in business.
Or Howard Schultz who was instrumental in growing a small coffee shop in Seattle, Washington called Starbucks into a global corporation. Or the college students who started Google.
And ask yourself this: when did you last, or ever, see an ad for Starbucks or Google? Starbucks and Google are just two brands who have grown without huge or any advertising spend because of their origin story and the ability to attract true believers.
I came across a video of his on YouTube recently and was fascinated to read the title and the premise of his video. It is called “Facebook Ads Tutorial: How I Get Thousands of Email Subscribers for $1 Each” and you can watch it here.
I was fascinated because I get email subscribers for $0.34 per sign up.
Yes, 34% of Noah Kagan’s cost. 34% of the cost that Noah Kagan, employee number 30 at Facebook, is so impressed with and made a video about it.
So I made a video about it, which you can take a look at on this page.
Of course the reason why I can make Noah Kagan look like a rank amateur is because I am in a much less competitive market.
Less competitive from a geographical perspective, and less competitive from an industry standpoint.
Nevertheless, you would have to wonder why more business owners, entrepreneurs, start ups, hustlers, grinders, and so forth do not avail of Facebook advertising for their business.
And don’t use email marketing properly.
And don’t use YouTube and YouTube advertising properly, or at all.
Sometimes you stumble upon a place and it surprises and
delights and takes your breath away.
Last week myself and she who must be obeyed were in Ballina,
Mayo for the weekend. A Christmas gift from the kids.
On Saturday we decided we would go for a drive prior to retiring
to the hotel bar and watching the Ireland v Scotland rugby match.
I have always been impressed and fascinated and frightened
by the power and majesty of the Atlantic Ocean waves smashing the west coast so
we headed north to the North Atlantic.
Up through Killala and towards Ballycastle, as I thought Ballycastle
was right on the coast.
En route to Ballycastle and perhaps the Céide fields I took
a turn down a small, narrow side road and ended up at Downpatrick Head and this
was the surprise.
This is a stunning place that I never heard of and on this
February Saturday there was only one other couple in the small car park.
It is right on the coast and there is a piece of rock or sea
stack called “Dún Briste” which is located about 50 metres off the coast,
having broken off in a storm from the island of Ireland in 1393.
The top of Dún Briste (Irish for ‘broken fort’) is flat and
measures about 50 metres by 13 metres and contains evidence of people and
buildings having lived there when the land broke away from Ireland.
When you come across a place like this, one you have never
heard of before, and you see the power of nature, feel the strength of the
wind, look down the face of the cliffs and see the gulls sitting there immobile,
peer into the blowhole you are made to feel insignificant.
In the last few years I have visited the Acropolis in Athens,
the colosseum in Rome, the Berlin Wall and these places are tremendously well
known and widely photographed. All fantastic experiences.
Stumbling across Downpatrick Head and Dún Briste on a brisk
February Saturday morning preparatory to sinking pints in a hotel bar was a
different experience but equally memorable, in my book.
The Law Society sends out, by email, a newsletter containing summaries of “Recent Supreme Court, Court of Appeal and High Court reserved written judgments”.
I always try to scan through the decisions which cover a wide range of topics ranging from disputes about wills to personal injury claims to prisoners claiming infringement of human rights in jail, and so forth.
I do so because it is useful to try to stay on top of the various legal principles which are confirmed or changed in some of these cases. But another reason is to read the actual decision from an English language perspective.
I am a lover of writing, language, words and sometimes a Judge will use a particular turn of phrase which ranges from amusing to sublime.
Last week, I came across an amusing one in the personal injury case where the plaintiff suffered a ‘degloving’ injury when attempting to access the eastern platform of a Dart station through an unauthorised route. He sued the operators of the DART light rail system.
The injury he suffered was a serious one, no doubt about that, as he had to endure the amputation of the injured finger and a disfiguring and debilitating permanent injury to his left hand.
But he needed to establish liability on the part of the defendants, Transdev Dublin Light Rail Ltd and Transport Infrastructure Ireland.
Justice Hanna dismissed his claim on the basis that “the level of folly attained by the plaintiff” was to such a degree as virtually to extinguish any potential fault on the part of the defendants.
The next time one of your kids misbehaves and you want to explain why he is being deprived of some treat you can refer him to the “level of folly” his conduct has recently exhibited as the root cause. You can read the full decision here.