A few weeks ago, I published an article about why The Paper Chase television series should be on every lawyer’s quarantine watch list. The piece got a lot of positive feedback, so I started to think about other television shows people in the legal industry should watch, and Better Call Saul immediately came to mind. As many people already know, Better Call Saul is a spinoff of the extremely popular television series Breaking Bad. Although Better Call Saul includes many characters from Breaking Bad, it focuses on the character of criminal lawyer Saul Goodman (also known as Jimmy McGill, but I’ll just stick to calling him Saul). Although the show has a ton of amazing qualities, one aspect that lawyers will truly appreciate about the series is that it is probably the most accurate legal show on television. Legal law lawyer.
Don’t get me wrong, when the show depicts Saul Goodman conducting highly unethical or criminal behavior, this does not accurately reflect the lives of most lawyers. In addition, Better Call Saul often has to be flexible with how it depicts the legal profession for entertainment value and to fit story lines into a concise time slot. However, the way that the show depicts the legal profession is usually very accurate. In addition, the conversations, scenarios, and procedures shown in the series will be very familiar to many lawyers and others within the legal industry.
For instance, the show regularly depicts the wheeling and dealing that occurs between attorneys in courthouses and beyond. Indeed, the show regularly shows montages of Saul chasing down adversaries in court, making deals, and pleading for better offers on behalf of his clients. Although I don’t practice criminal law, these scenes depicted in the show are very similar to what I witnessed while interning for a criminal judge.
In addition, even attorneys who focus on civil matters will be able to relate to these experiences in the show. For all the New York City attorneys out there, the depictions are really reminiscent of what was experienced in Brooklyn JCP or CCP before the pandemic on a regular basis. In these parts and others, I and other attorneys would conference matters in the hallways in a free-wheeling manner, and hunt down adversaries to conduct negotiations about cases all the time. In addition, the way that Better Call Saul depicts the fluorescent lighting and other aspects of courthouses is extremely convincing. Indeed, I can almost smell the lemon-scented cleaner used by most government buildings when I look at the depictions! Furthermore, Better Call Saul often accurately shows timeframes related to litigation and other matters depicted in the show. Many people criticize Law and Order and similar series for seemingly showing that cases come to trial at lighting speed to make everything wrap up neatly in one episode. Not Better Call Saul. In fact, a class action that was initiated in BCS during the first season still hasn’t been disposed of several seasons later, and this is very accurate considering how litigation drags.
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Furthermore, although Better Call Saul exaggerates some topics for entertainment value, the story lines are still usually accurate and believable. For instance, most lawyers are familiar with spoliation, a doctrine which holds that if a party intentionally or negligently destroys relevant evidence after knowing about a claim, they can be sanctioned. I am a huge practitioner of spoliation motions, and I try to make a spoliation argument in most of the lawsuits I handle.
In any case, spoliation plays a huge roll in Better Call Saul when Saul visits a nursing home that he is planning on suing. During the visit, Saul hears and sees that employees are shredding documents, and he immediately asks to use the bathroom. Then, Saul writes out a quick spoliation letter (partially on toilet paper) notifying the establishment that they have a duty to preserve documents and must stop the shredding or face consequences. This is a brilliant move to put the potential defendant on notice of a possible claim and inform them that destruction of documents may constitute spoliation. Any good lawyer would have done exactly what Saul did, and this scene made for some good entertainment.
It’s hard to relate all of the instances in which the show accurately depicts the practice of law. However, the understanding of firm life — including the monotony of doc review and the struggles of solo practice — are pretty accurate. In addition, many conversations between characters are replete with discussions of actual legal concepts like Rule 11 and summary judgment, and all of the references seem correct. The only slip up I ever noticed was when Saul tells someone to “Shephardize” cases in Westlaw when Westlaw has Keycite, but hey, Saul could have been using the term in a generic sense! Of course, Saul’s alma mater (University of American Samoa Law School, go Land Crabs!) is fake, but I have to say that I love how Saul’s older brother (who is depicted as an esteemed lawyer) is said to have attended Georgetown Law, my alma mater!
In the end, accuracy is not necessarily important for viewers to enjoy legal drama. Indeed, I loved watching the show Goliath on Amazon Prime, even though the series is almost laughably inaccurate about the legal profession. However, lawyers might appreciate how Better Call Saul has accurate depictions of the legal profession, and this is one more reason to watch this award-winning show. Also, as a shameless plug, if anyone ever wants advice on how to make legal films or television series more accurate, feel free to give me a shout! As Better Call Saul demonstrates, entertainment value does not always need to suffer from accurately depicting legal procedures and concepts.