Thursday, March 10, 2016

Better Call Saul's Jimmy McGill Has Got Gall

I continue to be impressed with "Better Call Saul."  Like "Breaking Bad," the show is a character study, showing the initial build up and then decline of a flawed character.  The show is all the more interesting to me because the flawed character is a struggling lawyer.

In this past week's episode we got to see more of one of Jimmy McGill's character traits that is both impressive, and disturbing. 

Before I go into detail, let me give a spoiler warning to those who recorded it, or who are going to try to catch an encore performance.


The character trait I am talking about is gall.  Last week, we saw Jimmy get frustrated because strict adherence to ethics rules about in-person solicitation made it difficult for him to find more clients.  On one hand, his bosses loved it when he brought in more and more clients.  On the other hand, his biggest critic, brother Chuck, sneers art the prospect of in-person solicitations.  The rest of Jimmy's bosses seem content to ignore the possibility that Jimmy might be bending ethical rules, so long as they don't actually see it and he keeps bringing in the clients.  But Jimmy's in love.  And we see this season that his main motivation is to impress his girlfriend, fellow lawyer Kim Wexler.  Since Kim won't play footsie with him during the staff meeting, Jimmy makes a bold promise not to engage in further questionable solicitations.

His solution?  A TV commercial.  He approaches one of the partners, Cliff, with the idea.  Cliff is interested.  He tells Jimmy to talk to him more about it when Cliff gets back from a trip.  Cliff even further reinforces that client outreach is Jimmy's bailiwick.

So what does Jimmy do?  He makes a commercial.  He uses an elderly woman who proclaims that after she moved into an assisted living facility, she can't figure out where all of her money went.  Jimmy then does a voice over urging people to call.  Without consulting the partners, he runs the commercial during "Murder She Wrote" in one of the firm's target cities.

This week, we see the partners calling Jimmy to the carpet.  They are furious.  How dare he run a commercial without their approval.  And here's where Jimmy's gall comes out full force.

Jimmy doesn't hang his head, admit that he did wrong, apologize and promise to do better.  No, he expresses no remorse.  He acts like he doesn't understand what he did wrong.  Hey, the commercial was ethical.  It generated calls from potential clients.  And Cliff, you told me client outreach was my department.

Of course, the audience knows that Jimmy knows that he's done wrong.  He knew he had to approach the partners.  He just felt hamstrung.  He went to great lengths to hide the commercial from them.  He figured that one commercial on afternoon TV that no one but the elderly watch would never get the attention of anyone else. 

And to some extent, Jimmy may be right.  I didn't see anything unethical about the commercial.  Personally, I think it was far more tasteful than those lawyer commercials asking if you've taken some drug or had some medical procedure and had side effects.  "You may be entitled to compensation," these ads proclaim.  I shudder for my profession when I see those commercials.

But that's not the point.  The point was doing something controversial, that you know you need approval on, but deliberately fail to seek that approval.  And then getting caught.

Gall.  In Yiddish, it's "chutzpah." You don't back down, even if you think or know you are wrong.  And you defend your case boldly.

The disturbing side is that in life you have to learn how to play well with others.  You can't just go around doing what you want or you feel is best, without considering the interests or feelings of others.  It's an easy way to lose friends and the support of colleagues.

But professionally, lawyers sometimes need that same chutzpah when they have a case where the odds are against them.  I have experienced this.  As part of my practice, I take some court appointed cases.  Sometimes I defend people in cases when a friend or relative is trying to have them committed to a mental health facility against their wishes.  Sometimes, I represent indigent criminal defendants who have exercised their right to appeal.  Often in those cases, I look at my facts, and I know that the law is very likely against my client.  But after explaining the situation to my client, if the client wants me to vigorously contest the case, as long as I believe there is a good faith argument, ethically I am bound to do it.

At times, this is very difficult.  Sure, I may think there is language in some case somewhere that supports my client.  But I know that the judges are not likely going to agree with me.  I still need to go in front of the judges, and present my client's argument.  Zealously.  In times like that, I need the same chutzpah Jimmy showed when he was called to the carpet by his bosses.

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