Beware of Trickster Lawyers [Gaille Energy Blog Issue 50]

Beware of Trickster Lawyers [Gaille Energy Blog Issue 50]

  • Posted by scottgaille
  • On August 16, 2017
  • trickster lawyer

Fans of Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul are familiar with the character of Saul Goodman (aka Jimmy McGill):

Jimmy is a good example of . . . a “trickster lawyer.”  The idea is that many talented lawyers resemble the Trickster of myth and fable who uses creativity and guile to beat adversaries. . . . The Trickster Brer Rabbit uses wit to escape becoming Brer Fox’s dinner.  A trickster lawyer like Gerry Spence showed a similar creativity in crafting his masterful final argument in the Karen Silkwood case.  But sometimes Tricksters are too smart for their own good.  They become so obsessed with showing their cleverness that they take self-destructive actions (John Denvir, Guile Is Good).

My favorite example of a real-life trickster lawyer involved the sale of a gas plant, including its machinery and vehicles.  Prior to the closing, the buyer visited the plant and conducted its due diligence, carefully taking inventory of everything there.  Unfortunately, the buyer’s lawyer failed to notice that the stock purchase agreement only conveyed plant assets “owned as of the Closing Date.”  Between the due diligence visit and the closing date, the seller stripped the plant, removing valuable machinery and driving off its vehicles.  By the closing date, the seller no longer owned these assets.  While this language may have seemed clever to the seller’s lawyer, it merely led to the client being sued.

Saul Goodman’s fate was even worse:

Our final sighting of Saul Goodman on Breaking Bad finds him working behind the counter at a fast food outlet in Omaha, Nebraska wondering if the next customer will be a DEA agent or a mafia hit man.  This is where his cleverness has led [him]. . . .  There is no scarcity of lawyers in real life who are so delighted with their own deft moves that they have no awareness of how their behavior affects others, or even themselves (John Denvir, Guile Is Good).

I’ve come across several trickster lawyers in my career.  When I was a General Counsel, I even made the mistake of hiring a few—although once their trickster nature came to light, I showed them the door.  You see, the energy industry is a small community.  The same lawyers come across each other again and again.  Tricks are remembered, and often repaid.

About the Gaille Energy Blog.  The Gaille Energy Blog discusses issues in the field of energy law, with weekly posts at  Scott Gaille is a Lecturer in Law at the University of Chicago Law School, an Adjunct Professor in Management at Rice University’s Graduate School of Business, and the author of two books on energy law (Shale Energy Development and International Energy Development).

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