The Economics of Service and Welfare

A friend of mine suggested a few months ago that ward Elder’s Quorums should stop helping members move. Why, he asks, should we be competing with businesses in our area?

After discussing this with him, I understand his viewpoint. Our local units provide a lot of services, often for free and not for charitable purposes, in direct competition to for-profit businesses. My friend argues that if we allowed the businesses to perform these services, they would be strengthened, perhaps hire more people, and the economy would also be strengthened. Even if purchasing services from a business doesn’t mean more jobs, presumably the business can do the job more efficiently and with less risk than the Elder’s Quorum volunteers who move people once or twice a year instead of every day.

Oddly enough, that is exactly what we practice when it comes to many professional services. When Church members need medical attention, we send them out to doctors and hospitals. Likewise for lawyers and many other services where there is either a legal prohibition against those who aren’t qualified performing the service, or the service is technical in nature in a way that keeps most non-professionals from knowing how to do the job.

In other cases, we have developed the expectation that certain services will be provided to the Church free-of-charge. Music is an excellent example–some professional musicians are conflicted with the idea that the Church expects them to perform regularly for free, while other denominations pay for the same services. Its not that they aren’t willing to share of their time, talents and blessings with the Church, its that it is often hard to see where the line is between making a normal, useful contribution and being taken advantage of. Performing a few times a year in Sacrament meeting is one thing, repeatedly being asked to provide entertainment at ward or stake social activities is another.

What is particularly troubling to me is that the overall effect of our current practice is to support higher-income professionals over unskilled labor. If you are a doctor or a lawyer, local Chuch units can refer clients to you and will pay for your services. But if you are a house painter, a ward or stake is more likely to call for volunteers, and do the job itself.

Now, I don’t meant to suggest that I have bought into this logic completely. The history of the Church shows a completely different motivation for these activities, even if the economic logic is somewhat persuasive.

A lot of Mormonism’s roots lie in its communitarian past, where the community did  large jobs (the proverbial barn raising as well as some harvesting) together. These jobs were done not just to benefit  individuals, but to benefit the community. Communities didn’t just perform these services with a quid-pro-quo expectation that everyone would benefit equally. There was also an understanding that a strong neighbor, when there were few around, was something that you needed. This communitarian ideal also extended to quasi-governmental projects, like constructing community bridges and dams and other public works when formal governments were either weak or non-existent.

Today Mormonism has maintained certain parts of that ideal, and I think moving families is a good example. There is a quid pro quo going on here, at least in many cases, justifying assistance even to those who don’t need it. Other times we help in order to make stronger members of our wards and stakes — stronger members of our community.

In this latter sense, even paying for someone else to do the work won’t accomplish the goal. When you pay for a service for me, it can create a distance, a sense that because you have enough money to pay for something that you are somehow better than I am. When you come into my life and help me to do the service for myself, the message is more one of how much you care and how much you want me to be part of the community.

Since service is often a part of the welfare program, it is probably no surprise that economic dilemmas appear here also. I know of two active LDS families that are having financial difficulties. In one case, I suspect (but don’t know) that the family is receiving financial help from their ward’s welfare funds. In the other case the family is having to relocate, and the Bishop has sought donations from the ward on their behalf.

Of course, there is no real reason to expect that these families would be treated equally. Their circumstances are different and the amount that they need and the kind of things they need is different. But in the U.S. culture today, there is a kind of expectation of equality, and when one is treated publicly better than another–when donations are sought on behalf of one and not of another–others in the ward who are also deserving or think that they are deserving, might feel excluded.

Complicating all this is the magnitude of the current economic woes. Wards that are used to handling a handful of welfare cases now have 10% and 25% of the ward with economic difficulties. Where most wards are used to working with members on a case-by-case basis, putting most or all of the ward’s available effort into a single case, now that is not really feasible. Let me extend this idea to the example in Bishop Richard C. Edgley’s wonderful conference address, This is Your Phone Call. It is possible, as he suggested there, to help a single member in the ward start a business (the story of Phil and Phil’s Auto, 9th paragraph in the talk). But what about when there are a dozen men in Phil’s situation? How many wards have the resources to help start a dozen business, or find jobs for 10% of the ward?

Even the fast offerings collected by the Church must get taxed in economic times like this. On a strict monetary basis, the fast offerings only cover food at a 1:44 ratio (if I donate the cost of two meals each month as a fast offering, this only pays for 1/44th of the meals another ward member might need during the month). So once the number of needy pass about 2% of the members of a ward, the need is for more than what the “cost of two meals” formula would provide.

I’m not suggesting that the Church’s welfare program isn’t up to the task at hand. I am suggesting that some practical and economic thinking in our wards and stakes needs to happen to maximize the effect of the resources we have available. We might start by giving very generous fast offerings. And then we might take a look at how and why we use the resources of our wards the way we do, and figure out where the line is between a useful, communal activity, hopefully something that also helps those in need, on one side, and an economically constructive way of helping, on another side, and activities we should really pay for, or not do at all, because they are neither service nor welfare.

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70 comments for “The Economics of Service and Welfare

  1. I think your first paragraph, about your friend’s concern about competing with businesses (which you admittedly don’t agree with), is entirely the wrong place to start thinking about service. Any service that has value to someone can be offered in return for money, so if we only helped people in ways that didn’t compete with businesses, we would limit ourselves to doing only useless things. Why bring meals to a family with a sick parent, when Pizza Hut delivers? Why should I donate my rhetorical ability on Sundays, when the church down the road pays its pastor for the same service?

    Apart from helping to build a community or to express personal sympathy, ward-level service does have an economic rationale in those cases where something useful needs to be done (for example, move boxes into a truck) but there is no market provider of that service at rates a family can pay. The ward isn’t competing with local businesses, because no one in the market is offering the same service for little or no cost.

  2. You refer to doctors and lawyers in your post. I don’t think the Church would feel comfortable sidestepping professionals in those fields for the Elders Quorum especially if a) the Elders Quorum is not trained in those fields and b) there’s an entire litany of legal issues that could arise from that – medical malpractice being one.

    Service is meant to be done willingly and without seeking monetary gain and with an eye single to His glory. Any time we give service, no matter what the service rendered, without “an eye single to His glory” and without “real intent”, it is “as dross.”

  3. After my experience as EQ president, I was ready to draw the line at helping move somebody’s business. We did that more than once. On one occasion, we moved a guy’s catering business (along with all his nonbusiness possessions–he’d been running it out of his apartment). Trouble is, we had other ward members in the catering business who did not benefit from our free labor. That struck me as wrong.

    Then Bishop Edgeley told his story of the auto shop. He clearly wouldn’t draw the line where I had proposed. But it is a tough call. What if Phil’s Auto drew just enough customers away from another Church member’s business to cause it to fail? Have we even done a net good?

  4. Was there such a thing as “professionals” in territorial Utah? Do we have any precedents for how the early saints dealt with these issues as their society became more stratified and workers became more specialized?

  5. I’ve never been in a position to pay for movers if the EQ didn’t help out. Last time, our EQ here in Utah pretty much flaked out on us, despite lots of advanced notice to the EQP. We moved more or less by ourselves, except for some help from one next-door neighbor and a semi-retired single woman a few houses down.

    On the other hand, if somebody’s new employer is giving them a hefty moving allowance and he’s pocketing it while watching the EQ heft his deep freeze down the basement stairs, that guy is going to burn in hell. Forever.

  6. I’d just settle for people freaking calling ahead of time, rather than dumping it in the local bishop’s lap the night before they have to take the U-Haul back to the lot.

    I got several calls from my EQ Pres asking me to round up a bunch of guys to haul some inconsiderate family’s stuff out of the truck the night before we had to do it. I’d have to make a bunch of apologetic phone calls, usually as counselor in the EQ Presidency, I ended up always being one of the four or five guys we managed to round up.

    Then half the time, we’d never see those people in Church again.

    I started to come to a conclusion.

    Free sucks.

    It sucks when you’re a lawyer and it sucks when you’re a church. The people who get the free services don’t respect themselves, and they sure as hell don’t respect you.

    I’ve found in legal services that it’s always the free clients who harass you the most, cause you the most legal problems, and generally act like little turds. Then they sue you for malpractice after you busted your butt for them.

    Nowadays, I never do free work.

    Even if it’s only a token financial amount (like $200.00 for something that normally costs $1,000.00), it leaves everyone feeling much better about themselves and everyone else. The client feels invested – like he actually did something for this. And I am treated better as a professional as well.

    There’s something redemptive about actually paying for what you get. I just don’t think we do a lot of people any favors by providing all this free stuff. They don’t seem to value it half the time, and we end up being misused.

    At the very least, the family can spring for some freaking drinks and pizza for the people who gave up their afternoon to help.

    (and for the record – no. I wasn’t this considerate of the people who helped me move. I wish I had done better by them. Although I did give a month’s notice…)

  7. Huh,

    Helped a family move Friday. They were pleasant. We had to move only large things (they had packed up the rest) and they gave a week’s notice. People showed up. Were happy. We got a not so great home made treat. And then we went home to our families. Took about two and a half hours. The recipients were extremely grateful.

    Sure, taking advantage of the system seems bad form. But most don’t. Free certainly does not suck.

    What next? 9.99 for a priesthood blessing; 4.99 for an anointing; unless it’s the bishop or stake president–then you pay a significant premium.

    We’re all in this together, folks. (Not to go away from the intent of the post–on that, I’m not so sure we necessarily need to feel for the out of work movers when he help a neighbor–I’ll think about it)

  8. Nowadays, I never do free work.

    That’ll show ’em!

    Here’s my solution: make families who can’t afford to move their stuff sell it off until they can.

  9. It is possible, as he suggested there, to help a single member in the ward start a business (the story of Phil and Phil’s Auto, 9th paragraph in the talk). But what about when there are a dozen men in Phil’s situation?

    I’ve seen this happen with meals for new babies. I used to be in a ward comprised almost entirely of grad students and young professionals, and the number of births overwhelmed the ability of the ward to provide meals. It was sad, I thought, that moms couldn’t get the same treatment in that ward that they would have had in other wards. (I’m not saying this self-servingly, I didn’t have any babies in that ward.)


  10. I suggested on a blog that moving assistance should either be arranged privately by members helping each other or by the EQP on the direction of the Bishop based on welfare principles. A firestorm ensued. I do think that church moving assistance should be based on mutual obligation (I will help you if you will help me) or charity. Most of us should hire and pay for our moves. We all should help others when requested.

  11. I’m afraid that your idea that the church doesn’t ask for volunteer work from professionals is not quite accurate. Perhaps in some wards or stakes it would be, but certainly in ours it is quite the opposite.

    My husband is an attorney and charges around $175 an hour for his services. He is asked on a semi-regular basis by members of the ward or stake to provide free legal advice in many situations. If my husband feels it is truly out of his area of knowledge he will let them know it is not something he can help them with – but I have seen him spend many hours helping people who could not otherwise afford help and even helping people who probably could have.

    There are several dentists in our stake who have and continue to do free dental work for the members who cannot afford it otherwise. They are especially willing to help boys getting ready to go on a mission.

    Our current stake president is a doctor, and he is asked for unsolicited medical consultations all the time. He has given free prenatal care when there is no medical insurance.

    I also know of a couple of other doctors in the ward who have done emergency stitches and the like for members who didn’t want to have to pay for the ER visit.

    We have a CPA who has done free work for people having tax problems.

    An Engineer who has looked over expansion plans on homes for free.

    A counselor who has offered free counseling to clients (members of the stake) who could not afford it otherwise. In that instance the Bishop offered to pay the same rate he would pay LDS family services, but the counselor felt it was the right thing to do it for free in this particular case.

    The list goes on and on.

    It seems to me that this is how we build zion in many ways. We each do our part to contribute to the whole, in whatever way we can.

  12. Peter, I charge low enough for a lot of my clients that from my profit standpoint, it almost might as well be free. I do a LOT of charity work. More than most attorneys I know. I take a loss of several of my cases.

    But I don’t do it for free. In my professional context, it’s degrading both to them and me.

  13. I’m like aloysiusmiller (#11): Responsibility for moving is the family’s, and the quorum should be asked to help only when the family can’t arrange it (paid or unpaid) on its own. The same should be true for myriad other tasks. And it is especially true now, when there are so many members who could use even the few extra bucks that someone might pay to help with a self-move.

    I say that though 10 days ago I arranged for my high priest group to help a sister I was assigned to home teach pack up her truck and trailer. Why? I suppose in part because I knew she didn’t have the money to hire someone. But also because she is less active, and the contact with the Church might help prompt her back into activity. (A futile hope, perhaps.) Or was it really because then I was certain I could get her new address and have her records moved to her new ward?

  14. One of the ironies in New York is that the lawyers making big salaries in big firms don’t have the slightest idea (usually) about what to do on a criminal or family court or immigration or landlord-tenant matter. So, one or two solo or small-firm attorneys get asked over and over again to provide services in those areas.

    You can imagine how annoying it is to have that big-firm lawyer who’s also the bishop or stake president ask that the fee be reduced, or waived altogether.

    I’m with Seth. Ask to be paid. And if the church is paying the fee, add 10% to your normal fee. They’ll be getting it back!

    New topic: back in the 70s there was a big fight between a fruit grower in Utah County and the Church, which he felt was undercutting his business with the welfare farms–all that tax-exempt land and free labor made a big difference, if in fact the Church was selling some of the fruit in the market. 60 Minutes did a piece on it, which didn’t make the Church look very good.

  15. I give professional advice to anyone who needs it in my stake or ward, and always for free. I feel strongly about that, and I condemn those philosophers who aren’t doing the same. Shame on you.

  16. What was the conference talk where the dad was criticized for letting his sons take care of farm animals, when it could have been done better if he’d hired it out? And the dad responded that he was raising boys, not animals?

    (Memory is fading.)

    Point is, we’re supposed to be building up wards and communities, and you can only do that through service. Sure, if people can afford to hire a professional, they should do that. But we’ve covenanted to give all that we have when asked.

    Our bishop is a doctor. And he’s very pointedly indicated that on Sundays, he’s “Bishop”. When you visit his practice, he’s “Doctor”. And he doesn’t confuse the two. But I know that before he was a bishop, he gave a LOT of free medical advice if he was asked by the bishop to help.

  17. Who said anything about advice Jim?

    I’m a bankruptcy attorney. I’m talking about the fee to actually do the bankruptcy.

    As for just plain advice, I give that stuff out all the time. A lot of attorneys refuse free consultations on the basis that people will just milk them for free help and go elsewhere.

    My feeling on that is that by the time I’m done blasting tons of free advice at you, you’ll be too scared to do your own bankruptcy. I think the free advice actually generates business rather than the opposite.

  18. More evidence from your friend, Kent, of how Ayn Rand’s selfish philosophy has infected Mormonism. Under Rand, everyone gets paid for service rendered, no matter how menial or trivial, because that’s business. It’s kind of ironic that those who press for more capitalism are also the ones who deride socialism’s “forced giving.” They don’t seem to realize that asking for compensation for service effectively destroys the whole point of “selfless giving.”

  19. Jim F.,

    LOL! I have been giving free political philosophy consultations for years. They still do not seem anymore just.

  20. The way it should work is that we do our best to be self reliant, and not put burdens on others, then we help those who ask us we have communion with, (bear one anothers burdens) and then we respond to the direction of a common judge in Israel who calls on our consecrated resources.

  21. I would direct your attention here:

    This was a devotional by Arthur Brooks about the economics of charity that creates a very compelling case as to why the idea that charity could ever be burdensome is fundamentally false. You wanna boost the economy? GET OUT THERE AND HELP PEOPLE! That’s the message of the devotional, and I agree, hands down.

    Notice that I also would like to draw a distinction between service and charity, because they are not always the same thing. Service is an opportunity to be charitable. If the person performing the service does not find the pure love of Christ in his/her actions, the one receiving the service can hardly be blamed for that. We must be careful of our attitudes–they’re most of what got us into this economic nightmare we’re in right now.

  22. “When you pay for a service for me, it can create a distance, a sense that because you have enough money to pay for something that you are somehow better than I am.”

    I think this last is not true. Which didn’t stop people from saying it when I paid for a month of professional cleaning service when one of my employees had surgery.

    I agree with the distance, and that is WHY I paid for the cleaning service. Because SHE would feel more comfortable with a neutral third party, and allow that person to help more than she might a friend.

    It doesn’t in the least mean that I thought I was too good to do the work. It meant that I was thinking what was best for my friend.

    But also, my cleaning person is better at cleaning than I am. So I was giving my friend the best cleaner possible.

  23. After a particularly disastrous move with a family who had been out of work for a while and they had to move because their landlord was in bankruptcy/foreclosure and the bank was tossing them out. The stake came out with rules mainly: if you can afford it move yourself. It won’t have helped in this case though.

    I like helping and service is great, it makes me feel good but sometimes we need some service and it is like pulling teeth to get it. It’s like my 4-6 callings, full tithing and offerings disqualify me, do they?

  24. The logical conclusion of the charity argument is to work for free and rely on gifts and tips to sustain you. This is an extraordinarily noble plan of course. Unfortunately for most, it is also a pretty reliable road to destitution.

    But wait, you say – if everyone followed their dream and worked at their hearts desire and offered it freely to all without money and without price, wouldn’t the surplus cover all available wants?

    It almost works in some fields – open source software comes to mind. I suppose it might work in general if there were enough people whose hearts desire it was to do thankless work with no promise of reward. If we were all angels…

  25. Bandanamom:

    Perhaps I’m misreading your post, but it seems like you’re conflating two related-but separate-concepts.

    In your examples, it seemed like the professionals (ie the doctors and lawyers and such) gave free services to other church members either (1) of their own volition, or (2) b/c they were approached by the members directly.

    But the original post is about something slightly different. This post is about service assignments–ie situations where a priesthood leader asks you to step in and do something for someone else for free (like moving someone, to use the example people seem to be seizing on).

    In my experience at least, there IS a difference in the way that white-collar skills and blue-collar skills are handled by local church leaders. From what I’ve seen, church leaders generally have no problem asking us to do blue-collar tasks for free. That includes everything from moving someone to handling landscaping or home repair projects. And it goes beyond minor projects. I have a relative who does construction. Over the years, he’s been asked to do fairly large scale projects for ward members for free on several different occasions. And yes, he has very privately resented it very much.

    By contrast, I don’t see church leaders making similar demands of the white-collar professionals. For example, I’m a lawyer. And like a lot of the other lawyers who have posted, I’ve given out a fair bit of legal advice to fellow ward members over the years. But I’ve yet to have the Bishop come to me and give me an assignment to handle someone’s lawsuit for free.

    The doctors I know are in the same boat. They do a fair bit of church foyer medical exams, of course, but those are usually because a ward member came up and asked them a question directly. But I’ve never heard of a case where a bishop approached a doctor in the ward and asked him to be the free family doctor for one of the families in the ward.

    Perhaps my experiences with this have been unique. But I somehow don’t think they are. Which leads back to one of the questions raised in the original post, as to whether there is something odd going on in the way we view service in the church.

  26. Interesting topic. I have never seen members of my Ward(s) over the 30 years I’ve been a member, give anything away for free or voluntarily. In fact, I have the sense that Mormons like to make money off of the Mormons they know! I’ve had Mormon professionals, a doctor, try to sell me things. A lawyer keep charging thousands for his advice before anything gets resolved.
    I asked the R.S . President if some of the young men could come over and move some food storage boxes upstairs for me–
    she suggested I pay them which I did and only 2 fellows showed up. Counter that when my mom was looking into the Church (I knew she wouldn’t join) people couldn’t get over there fast enough to wash her windows for free! (Later she asked me whether all the members of the Church were busy constantly cleaning each other’s windows, etc.! lol)
    I think we could all be better at offering whatever we can to help others without us financially benefiting from it.

  27. Helping someone in need is a wonderful thing. I never complain about it. I have always done it willingly and cheerfully. However being used by somebody in the ward who has plenty of money but wants free labor is something else. I’d rather go down and perform a service at a local homeless shelter…which I have done, by the way.

  28. I’ve had Mormon professionals, a doctor, try to sell me things. A lawyer keep charging thousands for his advice before anything gets resolved

    Is something inherently wrong here? A gift is at the option of the giver, not the receiver. Otherwise it would not be a gift.

    I agree that it is wrong for a professional to trade off his membership unless he plans on providing significant discounts to those of his own faith. Other than that why in the world would one have reason to prefer him or her over a respected professional of any other denomination?

  29. 31. You live in a tough ward.

    The Book of Mormon sets a high ideal for us in King Benjamin’s speech. We give within our strength.

    The D&C and other modern revelation sets a practical standard for Bishops in particular and other leaders.

    When the Bishop is involved he determines capacity (including worthiness) and he makes appropriate decisions on how to use the Lord’s storehouse which he should recognize includes the consecrated service of members. He should not squander it anything in the Lord’s storehouse. Home teachers and quorum leaders should not hesitate to teach self reliance. Helping a middle class family recognize affordable options for moving is a blessing to them and to the church. Hiring day labor is not so expensive.

  30. For what its worth: I have been approached, directly by the Bishop, and asked to provide legal advice to ward members. That was direct. In other cases, the Bishop told the members that I was a lawyer and directed them to speak to me (“Bro. Stamps, the Bishops said you could help me with my problem”).

    And I think Seth’s examples are spot on, esp. re: the behavior of those who want full (i.e. free) “service” yet have a poor attitude and are demanding.

    In contrast, some members have been good and easy to work with. It really depends on the individual.

  31. In 20 years of military service and 15 years of job moves since then, I have had my employer pay to move my household goods some 20 times for distances from 500 to 5000 miles. Most of the guys who show up to load and unload furniture are unskilled and unexperienced. The skill is in packing items into containers and packing boxes and furniture into trucks or large shipping containers so they arrive at the other end intact, and in the transportation.

    By contrast, moving a few miles across town or loading a young family’s furniture into a rental truck they are going to drive across country is not a high skill, high value-added activity. I have done plenty of those moves, a few times for myself and family members, and many times for church members. It is not uncommon that the reason for the moves is because the family is in financial need and is moving to the location of a new job, of the kind that does not pay for relocation costs.

    I don’t see it as any more justified to tell a brother “You should pay Brother Brown’s moving company for the service of moving” than “You should pay the members of the Elders Quorum for the service of moving.” I would not expect to tell Brother Brown to provide his company service at no cost, but I don’t see that either I or the family moving has an obligation to pay Brother Brown for services when we can do it ourselves or with the aid of family members, or with the help of volunteer members of the ward. While we feel a general obligation to help members of the ward when they can’t manage on their own, I question whether we have a duty as church members to patronize a member’s for-profit business.

    Professor Rodney Stark talks about Mormonism as a religion that has a high cost of membership, but which provides higher benefits in return. If the family being moved is one that has participated in the ward in a normal fashion, they have been providing services to others in the ward, including teaching our children and maybe helping us to get unpacked when we moved in. They may have taken care of our year-old son when our newborn baby spent a month in intensive care in the hospital. They may have helped lead our older son on a Boy Scout camp. In the full economy of giving, it is possible that most of the people who show up to load their U-Haul truck are in their debt in very specific ways.

    In the Church, we don’t tote up points in a kind of barter exchange. There are always those who contribute far more than they ever receive in terms that could be counted as man-hours. But the real reason we participate in what is a kind of reverse pyramid scheme, in which those at the top give the most, and it filters down to those who give the least, is that we understand that we start out with a huge debt to Christ, and that anything we do to help our neighbors is only a small credit in our account that, as we are immediately blessed, is cancelled by another debit.

    Moving to a new home is the quintessential activity of Mormonism. The history of the Church is one of constant relocation, and mutual aid in the process of relocation. The saints did expend their own resources, and those of their families, and then they were aided a great deal by the members of the Church.

    When Brigham Young and the advance company of pioneers was returning to Council Bluffs, many of the horses of a pioneer party they met a few dozen miles west of Winter Quarters were stolen by Indians. Brother Brigham did not offer to sell horses to the pioneers. He and the other members of his party donated theirs, and walked the rest of the way to the Missouri River.

    When a member family receives our help in a move, or in some other circumstance, the lesson we are hoping to teach them is that they will be asked to do the same for someone else, for the rest of their lives.

  32. I’m a lawyer–I have been, over the years, with a large international firm, with a small firm, with my own firm, and now in-house counsel. With the exception of the time I had my own firm, this has actually been a pretty easy issue for me–I don’t give free advice, not because I’m stingy, but because my employment does not allow me to create attorney-client relationships willy-nilly. If I want to give you free advice, I’ve got to get my firm’s pro bono committee to approve the engagement, run a conflicts check, and draft an engagement letter. There are good reasons for this.

    And, for the most part, with some rare exceptions, my firm was not interested in representing individuals in ordinary personal or business legal disputes, paying or not. I have represented individuals pro bono, but in things like guardianships, asylum, and civil rights. But I’m not going to take a flyer at cocktail party on whether the non-compete you signed is enforceable. For all I know, my firm represents your former employer that asked you to sign it.

    It was somewhat different at my own firm, but I still had a partner, and we wouldn’t accept pro bono cases without the other’s approval, and a formal engagement letter carefully defining the scope of the representation.

    Anyway, the cocktail party, or the foyer at church, is not a good place to dispense or receive legal advice. So the response should always be “Call me at my office on Monday.” Also, it’s generally been pretty easy for me to say that something is outside of my area of expertise and refer people on to someone else. Most people needing advice in the church foyer aren’t asking about how handle an SEC investigation. This probably why the small firm or solo generalist gets stuck with more of this stuff. But even that guy should insist on a consultation in his office, formal engagement letter, etc. Also, it’s a good idea to invoice your pro bono clients too–send him a monthly bill for $15,000, or whatever, showing a $15,000 pro bono write-off.

  33. By the way, the advice I give above should not be construed as legal advice creating an attorney-client relationship, which is hereby expressly disclaimed.

  34. GST: You don’t need a legal relationship to explain to someone how the process works, without getting into their own case.

    For example, my old home teaching companion had a fairly involved dispute going with his ex about their kids. He had an attorney, and the attorney was handling it. But after we’d made our home teaching rounds, I’d sit with him for awhile and just fill in the details as to what was going on, what the upcoming hearings would actually involve, etc. That same garden-variety explanatory stuff would have cost him hundreds of dollars over the years. I’ve done similar sorts of things on other areas of law.

    That’s a far cry from “here, let me handle this case for you,” and although it theoretically could create some attorney client relationship in some law school exam kind of universe, we don’t live in a law school exam. I really don’t see how that would create a problem in any real world setting.

    Of course, returning to the point of the post, it now occurs to me that it raises two issues:

    1. By doing this, I’m depriving some (probably LDS) attorney of several hundred dollars worth of attorney fees, and

    2. It also raises the question of whether a bishop should feel ok about specifically asking me to do that sort of thing (as opposed to me volunteering to do it on my own volition).

  35. “I really don’t see how that would create a problem in any real world setting.”

    Then let me help. Imagine this deposition transcript:

    Lawyer: Besides your attorney, did you talk to anyone else about your deposition testimony today?

    Witness: Well, yeah, I mentioned it to my friend RT.

    Lawyer: Who is RT?

    Witness: He’s a lawyer.

    Lawyer: Is he your lawyer?

    Witness: No, he’s a friend of mine from church.

    Lawyer: Where you talking to him for the purpose of getting legal advice?

    Depending on the answer, objections, and rulings on the objections, there are two possible outcomes here, neither good: Either you in fact are his lawyer, or, opposing counsel gets to hear everything he said to you, and everything you said to him, in your car after the home teaching visits. He could probably depose you too.

  36. RT — Your experience in your ward and stake is very different from the experience professionals have in my area.

    I’m a lawyer. I routinely give legal advice to individual members of my branch who ask for it on their own initiative. In addition, my branch president has asked me on multiple occasions to provide legal advice for my co-parishioners. I once even got a request for legal advice from the bishop of a different ward in my same stake.

    Doctors in my area get the same treatment. There is a doctor in my branch who has treated at least a dozen kids from our branch — all at the request of the branch president. There is a doctor in my stake who has been asked, as an official church assignment, to treat all full-time missionaries in the stake. When we have our annual week-long stake youth camps, we provide a doctor who is a member of the church, and who does not get paid for his professional services.

    I could easily list half a dozen other types of professionals who routinely provide their services to the church for free, and often as part of official church callings. Computer programmers and technicians who provide tech support and fix the meetinghouse computers. Interpreters with advanced degrees who interpret church meetings into foreign languages. Nurses and EMTs who give CPR lessons at YM/YW or Homemaking. Psychotherapists who give individuals counseling services at the behest of local church leaders. Professional musicians who serve as ward choir directors. Professional actors (I’m from L.A. — there are a lot of them in my area) who direct the ward play. CPAs serving as ward financial clerks.

    I just don’t think that the professional/non-professional distinction holds up when you look at the types of service many individuals provide as part of their church assignments.

  37. GST: I get that. But the distinction I’m drawing is between explaining the system to someone in the ward versus giving them actual legal advice about what they should/shouldn’t do in their case. If some lawyer really wants to explain to their client why they billed several thousand dollars to depose me and find out how I described the different steps in a divorce, they can be my guest.

    And anticipating your response: yes, they’d be likely to do that sort of thing in a case of high value litigation. But foyer law typically doesn’t involve high value litigation. It’s divorces, landlord tenant, and low level criminal stuff. And in that world, it’s not worth it to waste the time or money being that silly.

    But this is beside the point of the post/thread.

  38. AJB: I think there are some slight differences in some of your examples–a musician who gets called to be the choir director, for example, is fulfilling an actual church calling that exists everywhere Same thing with CPA’s who “just happen” to get the calling to be the financial clerk (which seems to always happen), or a teacher who gets put right into gospel doctrine. If it’s going to be done, it might as well be done right, right? But there’s no “ward doctor” or “ward psychotherapist” calling in the church. That, to me, is a distinction that does make something of a difference.

    That said, your experience is very different than mine, and thus very interesting. If nothing else, it points to how much of this has to do with what individual leaders are comfortable with.

  39. The dentist/branch president of a branch I served in the pan handle of West Virginia was in the habit of doing free dental work on us missionaries. I thought it was a nice gesture at the time, but it’s pretty interesting to look back on. I’m sure he saved the Church a considerable amount of money.

  40. The suggestion that one should refrain from charitable service just because he or she might be depriving someone else of paid employment is an unusually perverse idea, the economic equivalent of saying that Christian service is prohibited, all gifts must be monetary in nature.

    Should there be a mandatory admission fee at the doors of all chapels, so that we do not impair the market for ministerial services? Should all stay at home mothers get full time jobs and purchase full time child care instead just so they don’t deprive anyone of paid employment in the child care industry? Should free over-the-air radio and television broadcasts be discouraged to avoid harm to the market for paid satellite and cable services?

    The logic of the argument is not far removed from the argument that we should pay people to dig holes in the ground and fill them back up again. It would create jobs right? In practice paid employment exists to provide services that the family-and-friend economy cannot provide. If the informal economy could provide everything paid employment would cease to exist. Paid employment is a necessary evil, not some sort of end in itself. The idea that anything that isn’t a boon to the world of commerce should be thrown out the window is sickening.

  41. I’ve helped many people move in and out, and never considered that I was threatening the foundations of free market enterprise. I mostly assume that they are trying to save money, which motivation I certainly have empathy for.

    But I am extremely cautious about either taking money from ward members for my work, or getting into business relationships with them, because I don’t want to have the possibility of someone’s weakness screwing up someone else’s testimony. In fact, I have a rule that says I will never get into business with a family member or someone I know from church, because I value that relationship more than the potential profit or advantage.

    When one of my kids was going to Ricks/BYU-I, her landlord (slumlord is a more apt description) was apparently, I believe, also in her bishopric. I instructed her that on Sunday, he was “Bro. Landlord”, but during the week or anything else relating to her landlord-tenant relationship, he was “Mr. Mean Landlord”, to make it quite clear that it was no longer a church relationship, governed by gospel principles, as he had demonstrated on many occasions by bad example. She found it quite satisfying. He found it quite annoying.

  42. I’d have to second the recommended link in comment #26. It was by far the most interesting forum BYU had this last year.

  43. Last Lemming (3) wrote:

    Then Bishop Edgeley told his story of the auto shop. He clearly wouldn’t draw the line where I had proposed. But it is a tough call. What if Phil’s Auto drew just enough customers away from another Church member’s business to cause it to fail? Have we even done a net good?

    This is, I think, part of the issue that my friend is bringing up when he suggested that we shouldn’t be competing with businesses.

    One of the first things I thought when I heard Bishop Edgeley’s talk was that it was great that someone had gotten beyond the “find a job” box that many people are in, and found an alternative–starting a business.

    BUT, then I wanted to know, did they do any research to see if Phil’s Auto was needed in the community? The story Bishop Edgeley told actually indicated that Phil’s old employer, also an auto repair shop, was in trouble and had laid him off. So I now wonder if Phil’s Auto simply replaced an existing business or if it could have pushed the previous employer out-of-business. Of course, ideally, the market could simply have been underserved.

    SO, if a ward wants to do this–help a member start a business–do they need to do a market study?

  44. Sterling Fluharty (4), there were certainly professionals in territorial Utah. Lawyers and doctors, if nothing else. But as for the rest of your question, I believe someone like Ardis Parshall might be able to answer your question.

  45. Cynthia L. (9), I assume that your old ward coped with the onslaught by simply not providing, or by providing on a spotty basis?

    Again, let me emphasize the point behind the idea of “a dozen men in Phil’s situation”: We’re IN THAT SITUATION NOW, with the economy in the tank.

    How do we solve it?

  46. Aloysiusmiller (11) and JrL (14), how does the need for camaraderie in priesthood quorums and in the ward fit in with your views? It seems to me that moving is one of those frequent occasions when this kind of social networking happens.

    Of course, there are other occasions, but I think that service to each other is one of the most important venues for developing these relationships.

  47. 53 Picture a close in ward in a major city that has a lot of apartment housing but either very expensive or totally substandard permanent housing. Every year new graduates students and others move into apartments. As soon as the lease is up and they have a down payment it’s out to the suburbs. If everyone gets the spirit of service it isn’t a big problem but when the takers start to seriously outnumber the givers camraderie gets a little old. Then bishops need to offer helpful reminders and tell some people no.

  48. Naismith (27), you have a point.

    I actually think that, depending on the person, both are “true,” that is, either can be used depending on the person.

    In fact, it could be that in some situations either or both could be used.

  49. Mark D. (29), I’m afraid your idea/utopia would only work in a very responsible society. Undoubtedly, in a society like you describe, there would be tasks that no one wants to do but that are needed (for example, collecting and disposing of the trash and sewage). In open source software, from the little I’ve seen, this seems to be taken care of by a small percentage of those involved who take on these tasks because they know no one else will do them.

    Unfortunately, I don’t know if a whole society can be built on the responsibility of a handful of citizens.

    So, yes, if we were all angels…

  50. John (33), said “I’d rather go down and perform a service at a local homeless shelter…”

    Well, I think there might be a bias there too. I have the impression that we would rather clean a park or help indirectly people that we don’t know and would never meet than help those in our neighborhood, especially if we have some belief that they don’t deserve it or are unworthy (to touch back on a post I wrote a week or so ago about compassion for the unworthy).

  51. Mark D.–Yes, that’s the whole point. These Mormon professionals don’t offer their fellow LDS a discount on their services or products–but they think the church members should do business with them because they are LDS and some of the thinking is that when you do business with Mormons they will pay their 10 percent to the Church and it helps the Church that way. Or that you just help out your fellow LDS folk by doing business with them.
    Not only have I found that Mormon professionals like to make a buck off their own ward but so do general contractors. Bids from LDS contractors are among the highest I’ve found–and it surprises me as I usually think as Mormons we’d give a break to our fellow Mormon. But they’re probably thinking I’m
    giving them the break by doing my business with them.

  52. I don’t mind helping people move, it’s remembering that’s my problem. Also, most people have no clue what Industrial Design is, so I doubt I would be solicited for free help, although I wouldn’t mind it too much on a small scale.

  53. Kent,

    re: 56

    See D&C 42:31, Mosiah 2:17, Matt 25:40, Luke 10:29-36, Mosiah 18: 8-10, Mosiah 4:12-16.

    See also D&C 68:30-31, D&C 75:29. See also Mosiah 9:12 and Mosiah 11:6

    Do these help answer your last question? If this is really a question on your conscience, the Holy Ghost can provide the answer. If it is just an intellectual curiosity then I don’t know what else to say. I just pray that I have revelation in the moment it is required.

  54. The service projects, eg helping with a move, cleaning up someone’s yard, or similiar, are a lot more than just getting the work done. They are also about building the quorum as a brotherhood, creating friendships and a minor step toward building Zion where we would automatically share one another’s burdens.
    One on one professional services are a different issue, one that I don’t know much about.

  55. Aloysius (62), the point behind my statement in (56) is that you didn’t include non-Mormons (i.e., those not of the communion) on your list. I just wanted to know why.

    From your response, you apparently agree with me that they do deserve help, but you didn’t include them in the list you made in (22). I assume from your response in (62), that it was an oversight that they weren’t included.

  56. 64. I don’t think I would ask beaten and wounded people lying at the side of the road for their temple recommend, but no opportunity yet to test myself. I do quite routinely drive by panhandlers or role up my window at intersections.

  57. I’m not sure if gst is lds.

    D&C 24:17 And whosoever shall go to law with thee shall be cursed by the law.

  58. charlie, I’m not sure if gst is a human.

    PS I am not very versant with curse law, but I think you have to file a writ of man’s damus before any curse will be granted full faith and credit by the States.

  59. Charlie, I think he is LDS. However, in light of his earlier comment–

    “I’m a lawyer–I have been, over the years, with a large international firm, with a small firm, with my own firm, and now in-house counsel…”

    I’d say it’s clear he has a hard time holding a steady job.

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