Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Walter White Wednesday 4

. . . which is also known as “Better Call Saul!”

Saul Goodman (played by Bob Odenkirk) is the slimiest example of the bottom-feeding creature known as a "shyster worm."  As Jesse so eloquently puts it, Goodman (who is definitely NOT a “good man,” heck, it’s not even his real name) is a criminal lawyer.  Emphasis on the first word in the term.  His ethics are suspect, his marketing tactics distasteful, and his office is tacky. 

And yet, I find myself liking the guy.*

A little disclosure is called for at this point.  I’m a lawyer, duly admitted to practice in both the state and Federal courts of my home state.  My dues are current, I regularly attend my continuing legal education sessions, and I’m clean as a whistle with the State Bar.  I know – and can quote chapter and verse from the relevant Rules of Professional Conduct to support my contention – that Saul is a sleazebag who is in violation of several important sections of the rules governing lawyer behavior.  But he’s such a good example of how not to be a good example that I’ve decided to take today's post to talk about him.

Lawyers are the butt of a lot of jokes - a few of them are even funny.  But the sad truth of the matter is that everyone hates lawyers until they need one.  Then the bottom feeder/ambulance chaser is suddenly transformed into the stalwart defender of the Constitution - and I've seen that happen over a simple speeding ticket!  Walter has much bigger issues to deal with and thus, viewers are introduced to Saul, who has a very (shall we say) flexible attitude toward the New Mexico Rules of Professional Conduct.

Professional responsibility is such a big deal in the legal profession that I had to pass two Bar exams before I was eligible to be sworn in to practice law.  One was a dreadful two-day affair that tested me on my knowledge of everything from secured transactions under the Uniform Commercial Code to estate law and civil procedure while the other focused entirely on my state’s Rules of Professional Conduct.  Trust me, the lawyer-client privilege is real and very nearly limitless.  There are a few boundaries and Saul skips gleefully over several of them, including taking an active part in an ongoing criminal enterprise.

But he does protect his clients’ money.  Funny thing, that.  The State Bar has the ability to punish misconduct by attorneys through admonishment, reprimand, censure, suspension and (most harsh) disbarment.  (Aside:  Being disbarred is an extremely serious punishment, since many lawyers really aren’t equipped to do much else other than practice law.  Seriously.)  At any rate, the single act of misconduct that is most likely to result in disbarment is misuse of client funds.  Don’t mess with client cash – ever.  (If you do - be prepared to pick up stakes and move to another jurisdiction and cross your thieving fingers that they'll take you.)  And on that point, Saul acts appropriately.  He takes his share off the top, but stores everything else safely for later pickup by his clients.  Saul is sharp, knows how to poke holes in a weak case (and the job of a defense attorney is to make the prosecutor do his job, which is to meet the burden of proof), and provides a zealous defense for his clients, which is another of the professional responsibilities of an attorney.

By the way, you can thank the Southwest United States for Saul’s goofy ads.  The 1977 case of Bates v. State Bar of Arizona (433 U.S. 350) was the landmark case which approved lawyer advertising.  Prior to then, it was thought that advertising by attorneys was vulgar and would “tarnish the dignified public image of the profession.”  (Really, I can’t make this stuff up.)  While I am all in favor of letting people know that they have the right to representation, I think a Pandora’s Box may have been opened with Bates.  I submit Saul Goodman's “Fatty Fat Fat” as Exhibit A.

*SPOILER ALERT – I try to keep these posts "spoiler free," so skip this if you haven't gotten to Season 3 yet.  If you have, read on.  I find myself especially liking Saul early in Season 3 when he buys the house viewers have come to think of as Jesse’s for our favorite currently-clean tweaker – and at a discount, no less!  Saul knows the law and he knows how to use it to his clients’ advantage and – like it or not – that’s what lawyers get paid to know.

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