In praise of: James McGill’s good side
Breaking Bad is a TV show that, for some, is about as addictive (a friend of mine has watched all five seasons back to back three times) as the crystal meth that the main character, Walter White, manufactures. Saul Goodman is the man to whom White turns when he is told he needs a ‘criminal lawyer’ (with the emphasis on the word ‘criminal’).
Spin-off series Better Call Saul tells Goodman’s back story from when he practised law under his real name, James ‘Jimmy’ McGill. Despite a dodgy past, McGill is trying hard to do the right thing and establish his public defender practice. A scene in the first episode must feel close to reality for legal aid lawyers on both sides of the Atlantic, as he remonstrates with a clerk when he receives a fixed fee of only $700 for representing three defendants in a jury trial. Many lawyers will also identify with McGill’s struggles to establish his firm against the competition; his audacious ruse to obtain media coverage for his fledgling legal practice, while turning the tables on a rival firm, is one of the comic highlights of the series.
Mike Ehrmantraut is McGill’s henchman, who, with his cool understated manner, is a brilliant foil to the lubricious lawyer. Ehrmantraut and McGill hatch a plan to save some delusional clients from themselves. Despite this good deed, sparked by a shocking betrayal, by the end of the first series, McGill has returned to his conman roots of ‘slipping Jimmy’ and embarked on a career path to serve the criminal classes firmly on the wrong side of the law. This, of course, rules him out as a potential role model for aspiring criminal lawyers, but makes Saul Goodman one of the most entertaining fictional lawyer characters since Rumpole.