True Grit

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Book/film List / Legal Fictions

If you had to choose a law partner from the characters in Better Call Saul, who would you choose? I’d pick Kim Wexler (Rhea Seehorn).  When you consider the alternatives it’s really an easy decision,  When he’s not busy playing sycophant,  Howard (Patrick Fabian) is a tyrant.   Chuck (Michael McKean) is paranoid, arrogant, and more than a little weird.  And then there’s charming Jimmy (Bob Odenkirk), the one  with a moral screw missing.

But Kim also  has many virtues in  her  own right.  From the first season she  has demonstrated intelligence,  hard work, and the ability to get along with others.   When we first met Kim she was an associate at Hamlin, Hamlin, and McGill, extremely grateful to the firm for financing her legal education.  She hoped to be a partner some day, but it became clear that managing partner Howard Hamlin did not think she had the “right stuff” to be a partner in his prestigious  firm.  Perhaps he felt that Kim’s reserve did not signal  the necessary “killer instinct.”  Kim didn’t complain; instead she showed self-confidence in not only striking out in solo practice, but also savvy in successfully attracting a big client.

But the virtue that most impresses me is  one Kim  has demonstrated in the last few episodes of Better Call Saul.   Let’s call it  “grit.” You will remember that Kim was able to wrest the valuable  Monte Vista bank business away  from her old firm,  only to discover that her friend, occasional  lover, and current office partner Jimmy McGill had engaged in  dubious  behavior in order to improve her chances of prevailing.

We know Kim well enough to realize she would find the fact that Jimmy had intervened on her behalf without her knowledge  deeply offensive, not  only because of the  impropriety involved,  but also because it  showed a lack of confidence in her ability to prevail on her own. I must confess that I thought that Kim might terminate  her relations with both Monte Vista and Jimmy  in order to separate herself from any possible scandal.

But Kim is made of sterner stuff;  she does not  retreat; she advances.   She first reminds herself  that she has done nothing illegal or unethical; she is not responsible for the actions of her office mate.  But she does have a duty to disclose the situation to her client  and warn them of the public relations  problems that could arise.   She does just that, adding that she would understand if they decided to retain new counsel.  They tell her  they want to stick with her.

Then she had to decide what role she should play, if any, in the disbarment proceedings brought against  Jimmy by the victim, his older brother Chuck.  Kim not only decides  not to abandon her friend, but actually volunteers to  serve as his co-counsel in the disbarment  proceedings.

There is both a heroic and a pragmatic dimension to this decision.  It’s heroic because she is coming to the aid of a friend in need,  even though this  will tie her more closely  to his misdeeds in the court of public opinion.  But since the repercussions of Jimmy being disbarred will impact  her career as well as his, it  makes good sense for her to make sure  that he has good representation.

I think here she has made  an admirable distinction between the roles of judge  and advocate. It would be improper for her to decide whether Jimmy violated ethical rules or not, but she does have a  right to make sure he puts on the best possible defense.

I won’t spoil your pleasure in watching the ethics hearing itself (Season 3, episode  5 “Chicanery” ) by revealing all that  transpires,  other than to note that  the unorthodox but extremely persuasive case   Jimmy  and Kim present limits the discipline imposed to a year’s suspension of Jimmy’s law license. So  Kim comes out a winner, not only as an advocate, but as a friend, and also helps avoid a scandal that would probably lose her a valued  client.

Of course,  Better Call Saul is at heart a soap opera.   As we begin to see in  the latest episode (Episode 6 “Off-Brand”), Kim’s friendship  with the irrepressible and irresponsible Jimmy McGill will continue to cause her problems.  Jimmy’s cynical and amoral alter ego Saul Goodman makes his first appearance.

Future events are sure to test Kim’s relationship with Jimmy. But I am confident she  will show the same poise and good judgment she has exhibited up to now. Kim’s evolution from compliant associate to confident  professional  teaches  us that practicing law is more than an intellectual exercise;  it’s also a test of character.

I would say the moral of the story of Kim’s transformation is that while you always have to stand up for your client, and sometimes  you choose to stand up for a friend, you should  never forget to stand up for yourself.





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