I need to get to Toledo. I can fly PennAir or OhioJet, same flight times. I am a preferred member on PennAir and receive “free” upgrades, bonus miles, and all the things which make me believe PennAir prefers me. PennAir wants to charge me $1,000 for the privilege of flying to the home of the Mud Hens while OhioJet will get me to the Glass City for only $200.
I came across Tim Harford’s column, Dear Economist: Do Loyalty Schemes Damage the Economy?, in the Financial Times. Harford discussed frequent-flyer programs that incentivize an employee selecting their preferred airline rather than the cheaper alternative to the detriment of their employer. I got curious.
Do I, as a lawyer, have an ethical obligation to find the lowest airfare?
The ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct were silent on the matter. Rule 1.5 discussed the deduction of “expenses” from contingency fees and Rule 3.2 talked about a lawyer making reasonable efforts to “expedite” litigation. Neither rule provided any guidance to whether I needed to check with OhioJet before booking on PennAir. Am I less than zealous by not going to Priceline and obeying William Shatner? My engagement letter to the client does refer to “reasonable costs” associated with the case. Maybe I have a contractual duty to fly on the $200 ticket. In rendering advice to my client, Rule 2.1 allows me to consider not only law but moral, economic, social and political factors relevant to my client’s situation. Should I apply the same factors to my purchase?
I may not have an ethical duty to do comparison shopping. However, providing the best service to my client also means being efficient. Ultimately, my self interest in accumulating frequent-flyer miles on PennAir is contrary to my client’s financial interest not necessarily their legal interest. If the client raised a concern about my travel expenses, I would be hard-pressed to provide a satisfactory answer. I could lose not only the trust of my client but my personal integrity. If a family member told you that they would buy you a plane ticket, I expect the choice would be obvious. Assuming you like that particular family member. In the end, I have an obligation to my professional and personal reputation to buy the $200 ticket.
Now that I’ve landed safely in Toledo, I just need to figure out what hotel I’m going to stay at, where I’m going to eat dinner and if the Mud Hens are playing. Getting here was the easy part.
COMMENT FROM THE SIDEBAR
What’s a Mud Hen?
According to Baseball-Reference.com “The name Mud Hens caught on as a nickname during the 1896 season. Due to the City of Toledo’s Blue Laws, the team had to play its Sunday games at Bay View Park outside the city limits. Bay View Park was situated in a marsh that was heavily populated by the American Coot. Coots were commmonly known as Mud Hens, and the name stuck.”
Photo from Baseball-reference.com