An entrepreneur’s most valuable asset is his time.
It is the only commodity subject to an absolute limit. It cannot be bought, sold, transferred, assigned, or delegated. You only get a certain amount, no more. Most of us feel we do not have enough of it – certainly not in the working day.
Yet the world treats our time with contempt – as if we had an infinite amount of the stuff to waste.
Since the proportion most of us spend on administrative tasks is fairly constant, anything unexpected cuts into the time we set aside for earning. This is particularly annoying when the unexpected takes the form of avoidable disputes or vexatious litigation.
In British courts, it is theoretically possible to recover all reasonable legal costs if you win in court. In practice, most winners still end up out of pocket. Even if you do get your full legal costs, you are most unlikely to cover your personal costs. It also adds insult to injury when your lawyer gets paid lavishly for his time and you get nothing for yours.
So, even if you are in the right, a strict cost-benefit analysis of pursuing a case all the way to eventual victory usually concludes that it is cheaper not to bother – and, of course, your opponents are counting on you coming to that conclusion and not bothering.
All credit then to our latest hero, the aptly named Barry Payling. Like most British people at some time or other, the self-employed photographer found himself being pursued by an incompetent but intransigent arm of the Establishment – in his case, the utility British Gas – for money he did not owe. Unlike most, he had the brains to keep a detailed record of how much time he wasted on this unnecessary dispute, and the courage to sue them for it.
British Gas settled before going to court and paid Mr Payling £2,000 – about $3,000 – for his time. This is a victory in which we should all rejoice. It would be churlish to suggest that it would be an even greater victory, worthy of even more rejoicing, if the case had gone to court and Mr Payling had won there. Then a judge would have approved a precedent that would have been of benefit to others in similar situations.
The irony is that it would benefit not only the wronged entrepreneurs but the bureaucrats, bankers, and big businesses who wrong them. If they knew they would have to pay the full financial costs of their inefficiency, perhaps they would try to be a little less inefficient.