Better Call Saul: A Tragicomic Practice Primer

By Ephrat Livni, Esq. on February 11, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Do you remember Saul, the ethically questionable attorney from Breaking Bad, played by comedian Bob Odenkirk? Maybe you'd prefer to forget because he seemed so shady.

But if you're contemplating solo or small practice, it's time to settle in for some tragicomic TV. Saul got his own spinoff, Better Call Saul, on Netflix now, and it should be required viewing for all lawyers.

Isn't Saul a Crook?

Lawyers may not want to admit that Better Call Saul says a lot about working in the trenches. The show is complex, funny, and painful to watch. It is a testament to what is most noble and revolting about solo practice, with a masterful nod to public defense.

Better Call Saul does not paint lawyers in a flattering light all the time, yet it does do a good job of casting a critical eye on counselors at all levels. Bob Odenkirk plays Jimmy McGill -- Saul before he hit on that shtick -- trying to make it as a solo practitioner while his big brother is a partner at a big firm.

Jimmy must make it on his own, so he takes cases where he can get them, including from the state, which pays private attorneys to do indigent criminal defense. At first Jimmy scoffs at the minimal fees and hard work of state-appointed cases but when he discovers just how difficult it is to find paying clients and steady work, he's back at the courthouse begging a clerk for more.

In a montage that should win an award for masterful legal television writing, we watch Jimmy McGill at the courthouse, same story different day, over and over. Jimmy drinks bad coffee from a machine, meets with poorly dressed clients, and talks to himself in the public bathroom mirror, saying "it's show time" to his reflection ahead of each argument. And every day he negotiates with an intractable prosecutor who relentlessly repeats, "Petty with a prior."

In this scene we see the strange criminal justice system at its best and worst ... and how hard Jimmy works. When the prosecutor finally does relent and make a better offer for his indigent client, Jimmy feels triumphant. But it's just one tiny battle in a war that starts over again each day.

Redemption Is Possible

Jimmy is always torn between his desire to do good and his hustler habits, crossing lines, then doing the right thing. He is not a character that any attorney would want to identify with.

Yet his struggle is very real and common; non-lawyer friends think he should be making bank and his big firm brother disdains him, unable to recognize the extraordinary efforts he makes or his struggle. No one understands Jimmy McGill. But if you ever try to do his job, you will.

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