Tuesday, March 15, 2016

The Way Things Are Supposed to be, and the Way Things Actually Are

Readers of my blog know that there's no secret that I am really enjoying AMC's "Better Call Saul."  I think it's because being a solo practitioner, while I may strongly disagree with Jimmy McGill's ethics, I understand his struggles. Last night's episode, we saw some of the tension of big firm lawyers, who expect things to be the way they are supposed to be, and the solo practitioner, who understands the way things are. 

Time for my required spoiler alert for those who have recorded it, want to catch an encore showing or will be watching through AMC's app. 


Jimmy got in trouble last week by airing a commercial without the partners' prior approval. He wasn't fired, but warned that he would be under a lot more scrutiny. 

This week, we learn what that scrutiny is. A second year associate has been tasked with reviewing everything Jimmy does, and teaching him the firm's way. Jimmy, not surprisingly, is annoyed that he, who was hired as a fourth year associate, is now being babysat by a second year associate. 

The scene that stuck out the most for me was when Jimmy and his babysitter go to court to file a motion and to get a date for a hearing. Jimmy isn't getting the date he wants. So he pulls out a Beanie Baby to offer to the surly clerk. Suddenly, and better date opens up. 

Shocked, the babysitter pulls Jimmy aside and chides him for offering a bribe. The result? It will now be more than a month until Jimmy gets his hearing. 

Look, all of us have come across that bureaucrat who has their own little fiefdom, and will let you know that they have power over you. The question is how do you deal with that. 

I think the mistake many lawyers make is forgetting that the bureaucrat is a person. Some lawyers will treat the clerk or the bailiff or the security guard as just a means to an end. This person has something I want, and she should just give it to me. 

Jimmy's solution, while shady, at least recognizes the person behind the job. He has taken the time to learn that the clerk loves Beanie Babies, so he makes her feel good by offering what she likes. 

Yeah, the direct quid pro quo is wrong. But I do think Jimmy is on the right track. As the saying goes, you get more flies with honey than vinegar. 

I remember back to my internship days. I was the guy who went to a certain embassy in Washington to turn in the paperwork for visa requests for our consultants. For a long time, the consular officer was surly. Even though I knew the paperwork was correct, she gave me attitude. I didn't get things from her on time. This was her fiefdom. 

I didn't go to Jimmy's extreme. But I did change my attitude. I tried to engage her on conversation. I knew a little of her native language, so I would greet her in it. I'd try to joke with her, ask her how her day was. In general, I treated her like a person and not like a means to an end. Heck, I even fixed her printer once. The result?  I suddenly had the reputation of getting visas approved faster than the other interns. My bosses were impressed that I got the clerk whom everyone thought was cold to thaw. 

But that's the point of being in the trenches. You get to know how things really work. You learn how to manipulate that to your advantage, or you learn to live with it. Jimmy, for all his faults, at least knows people. 

By: William J. Kovatch, Jr. 

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