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How To Legally Protect Yourself Even If You Don't Have a Lawyer

A life lesson on fear, and the power of knowledge, from a guy with a hook for a hand

· Attorney,Veeto Review,Veeto Tips,Hubscriber,Legal Assistant

Paul de Gelder is missing an arm and a leg, because a shark ate them.

It was exactly as terrible as it sounds. But you don't get that impression when Paul tells the story, and I am going to suggest why that it is.

(You can listen to Paul recount the attack in an interview, and see some of the actual footage, here.)

paul de gelder

Paul's perspective on the whole thing is incredibly inspiring.

A terrible thing happened to Paul, and he lost an arm and a leg as a result. But the reason he is still alive today (and healthier than probably 99% of us...see for yourself) is because he had a firm grasp on an important concept well before that shark attacked him. That probably came from his extensive military training as an Australian Army Paratrooper, and then, a Navy Clearance Diver.

That concept is: knowledge is power. Many of us have heard this before. But rarely do we see it applied in real-world, life-and-death situation so plainly. Nor do we often get to then enjoy the bonus benefit of hearing the situation's protagonist expound after the fact about what he was thinking and how it helped him endure.

"It's all about knowledge, because knowledge is power. It dispels fear. The ultimate fear is fear of death."

Fear of death is like any other fear in the sense that it tends to have the effect of curbing our behavior.

We don't walk tightropes between high-rises, because we dear falling (to our death). We don't walk down dark alleys in bad neighborhoods at night because we fear being robbed. We don't take as many chances because we fear either failure itself or the consequences of failure.

In Paul's story, it was swimming in shark-infested waters. There was the question of the pre-decision fear--"should I be swimming in this water?"--and then the mid-crisis fear--"is my life over now that this shark has its teeth gripped around my limbs?" Now, I grant that it is easy for anyone now to state that, "well, Paul should have heeded that pre-decision fear and just not gone swimming in shark-infested waters." I am not going to argue that point one way or the other. Instead, I am going to focus on the mid-crisis fear, because that is the kind of fear that so many people are ill-equipped to handle. Put another way, there are probably not many people in the world who would still be alive after being attacked by that shark. Paul is still alive. So I suspect he knows something useful.

Mid-crisis fear does not encourage good decision-making in the same way that pre-decision fear does.

Whereas pre-decision fear serves to often steer people away from undue risks, mid-crisis fear tends to paralyze people from taking whichever actions might be necessary to defuse the crisis. Therefore, it would probably be fair to characterize pre-decision fear as your ally in good decision-making and mid-crisis fear your obstacle.

Australia has the highest shark attack fatality rate in the world. But somehow Paul did not die that day. Why now? If you ask him, it was because he knew what to do when faced with that crisis; he knew how to fight back against the shark, and in the middle of that crisis, even as horrific as it was, even after he had an arm and a leg torn from his body, he mustered the focus necessary to take the action he knew the situation called for.

In bullet points...

  • He had the prior knowledge of what to do when faced with that situation.
  • His confidence in that knowledge gave him an inspiring kind of power.
  • Which impelled him to take decisive action.

How does Paul's story relate to protecting yourself against legal problems?

The consequences of a legal problem almost never include the loss of your limbs--at least not the kind of legal problems that Veeto handles...and, provided that you're not caught shoplifting in one of a handful of countries that still use mutilation as a state-sanctioned form of punishment.

But having handled thousands of legal cases over the years, and having observed how people tend to behave mid-crisis when a legal problem arises, I can tell you that the lesson from Paul's story is actually quite relevant to protecting yourself against legal problems.

When Paul was attacked, he was alone in the water. There was no one around to help him. This is analogous to about 80% of consumers today (what business analysts call the "middle-market"), because they do not use lawyers--mostly because they cannot afford to retain a lawyer. Thus, when a legal problem occurs, they are alone in the water, with only their prior knowledge to help them--of which, too many people have very little.

Paul was not a professional "shark fighter." He just knew a few tips, and how to apply them quickly, and without any help, in a given situation. Most legal issues do not require you to be a lawyer. Ben Franklin said something like, "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." If you...

  1. Know how to recognize a legal problem when it arises.
  2. Know how to take inventory of your rights and obligations pertaining to that legal problem.
  3. Know the two or three bite-sized moves to take immediately in a given situation.
...then you can not only solve many of your own legal problems without external assistance, but you can also be better-off financially for it.

Many people just choose inaction when their rights are violated, because they are ill-prepared and under-resourced, and the consequence of this inaction is often that some unscrupulous seller dupes you out of your hard-earned money. That is what the deterrent effect of mid-crisis fear looks like, and that's why it pays to be prepared to squash it when it strikes you.

"The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now."

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