Summer can sometimes bring a slight break in a lawyer’s hectic schedule — making it a good time to catch up on TV shows you might have missed while you were doing that deal or briefing that motion for summary judgment over the winter.
I’ve recently been enjoying (read binge-watching) Better Call Saul — it’s chock-full of legal ethics lessons, and very entertaining, as well. In fact, I’ve been using clips from the show in the law school professional responsibility class I’m teaching as an adjunct professor this summer.
Better Call Saul is the prequel to the now-concluded Breaking Bad, AMC’s five-season-long hit show. The prequel basically shows how Saul Goodman got to be Saul Goodman; the show’s lead, Bob Odenkirk, won the award for best actor in a drama at last week’s Critics Choice Television awards.
Nicole Hyland, a New York lawyer and co-editor of Simon’s New York Rules of Professional Conduct Annotated (2015 ed.), has blogged extensively about the legal ethics issues in Better Call Saul (collected on the always-interesting Legal Ethics Forum blog).
For instance, in Episode Four, in order to drum up business, Saul sets up a publicity stunt that involves his (staged) rescue of a worker who is putting up a billboard for him.
Hyland’s take: “Faking a daring rescue to drum up publicity and clients probably violates” Rule 8.4(c), which prohibits conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation. “A particularly creative grievance committee might also charge Saul with violating [New York’s] Rule 7.1(c)(4), which prohibits ‘depictions of fictionalized events or scenes’ in attorney advertisements. Whether this charge would stick depends on whether Saul’s publicity stunt qualifies as an ‘advertisement.’ …. Given that Saul’s main purpose in staging the fake rescue was to drum up legal business, there is a fair argument that the stunt qualifies as ‘advertising.’ This is particularly true in an age where many brands are turning to ‘disruptive,’ non-traditional advertising campaigns to market their products.”
On the other hand, Hyland gives Saul high marks for competence under Rule 1.1 in Episode Two, when Saul dissuades a a drug gang member from carrying out his threat to kill two skateboarders who Saul has hired to carry out another scam aimed at driving legal business his way. The skateboarders are on the ground in the desert, trussed up and gagged, but Saul uses his considerable powers of persuasion to convince the drug lord to break one leg of each skateboarder, instead. As Hyland says, “When one of the [skaters] accuses him of being ‘the worst lawyer ever,’ Saul counters: ‘I talked you down from a death sentence to six months’ probation. I’m the best lawyer ever.'” Now that’s competence!
This is great ethics stuff and great TV.