If you haven’t watched Breaking Bad and you don’t know the fictional lawyer Saul Goodman, check out his real website. But anyone who has seen Jim Carrey in “Liar Liar” knows that Saul Goodman is just the latest in a long line of fictitious attorneys who skirt the law to help their clients. So this stereotype of the shady lawyer must have a basis in reality somewhere right? Yes it does.
In fact, Facebook has it’s own page dedicated to the top ten shady lawyers. Paul Bergrin, to name one of them, is currently serving a life sentence for crimes ranging from prostitution to conspiracy to commit murder of a witness. Here are some more details about him. But don’t be fooled, dishonest lawyers have been around since Abraham Lincoln’s time. See his notes to young attorneys archived in the library of congress. “There is a vague popular belief that lawyers are necessarily dishonest” Lincoln states in his lecture. The same could be said almost 200 years later, just look at the popularity of shows like Better Call Saul. A Google search for “do i need a shady lawyer” can bring up dozens of results.
Why do people root for characters like Saul Goodman? Maybe its because the ‘shady’ lawyers seem to know the loopholes. And maybe that is ultimately what matters: knowledge of the law. Knowing what is legal, what isn’t, and what is in the grey area is fundamental to the practice of law. Some lawyers make their entire living by arguing in the grey area. You might say that without a grey area, maybe we wouldn’t need lawyers, everything would be clear cut. Does that mean being ‘shady’ comes with the job? That depends on the definition of shady. Would you consider this billboard a shady advertisement?
The thing is, he is right. Just because you did it, doesn’t mean you’re guilty. You’re innocent until proven guilty. I have tried a number of criminal cases where I had great evidence that someone had beaten up their spouse and committed domestic violence. But, when the victim doesn’t testify, that prevents key evidence from being presented and a not guilty verdict would sometimes follow. The same principle applies for civil law. An attorney who understands legal principles like the one in the billboard above can represent you better.
So, don’t go looking for a ‘shady’ attorney. You might end up being the one cheated and you definitely don’t want to be involved in the disciplinary hearings that are likely to follow when your attorney ends up like Paul Bergrin. Instead, look for an attorney that knows the law isn’t always black and white, can argue it well, and follows Lincoln’s advice to always be honest.