Criminal Attorney Oklahoma Defense Lawyer Adam R. Banner OKLAHOMA CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY AT LAW

The Oklahoma Legal Group Blog

Interview with “Better Call Saul” Writer Bradley Paul

Adam Banner - Wednesday, May 27, 2015

As a criminal defense attorney, one of the last things I want to do is bring my work home with me. I grind out my daily workload either in the courtroom, on the road, or at my desk; when I leave the office, I want to be finished with the troubles of the judicial system for at least a few hours. I think that’s one of the reasons I never really got into “Breaking Bad”… even though I believe that every person is innocent until proven guilty and constitutionally entitled to a vigorous defense, it’s difficult to deal with methamphetamine cases during the day, just to go home and listen to methamphetamine cases in my small amount of leisure time.

I know, I know. Plenty of friends and family have berated me over the years for missing out on “Breaking Bad”. They all tell me it’s one of the greatest television series of all-time. Lucky for me though, I’ve been given the chance to fall in love with its prequel of sorts: “Better Call Saul” – airing on AMC – which is set to start its second season in early 2016.

I’ve heard about Saul Goodman over the years, and to my uninitiated mind, the (fictional) attorney seemed like a bit of an ass. He’s crooked, he’s conniving, and he’ll do just about anything to earn a buck. But those who have watched the first season of “Better Call Saul” episodes know that Saul Goodman wasn’t always the snake in the suit they viewed on “Breaking Bad”… once upon a time he was Jimmy McGill, and once upon a time he had an inkling of a moral compass. “Better Call Saul” focuses on his transformation into the quintessential butt of damn near every lawyer joke ever written.

So…long story short: as a huge fan of the show, I was lucky enough to get in touch with Bradley Paul, one of the writers for “Better Call Saul” – but what’s even cooler is that Mr. Paul was willing to take some time out of his busy schedule to answer some of my questions. It goes without saying, but he has a hell of a head on his shoulders, and I appreciate him giving me the time of day. I hope you do too. Here’s what I asked, and here’s what he replied:

1) Traditionally, Defense Attorneys are sometimes unfairly regarded as villains by the audience due to their association with their clients. This is flipped here (ie Saul is good and cops can be questionable). How does the show leverage this to its advantage?

We were lucky to have conversations with a number of lawyers before we started writing. One thing we were struck by was how many defense lawyers really are true believers in the principle that everyone deserves a defense. Sometimes they have to take on clients who have done some things that are not pleasant, but often — maybe most often — they take on clients who are caught up in the gears of a really huge system that is designed to get convictions. I don’t think we see any one profession as inherently good or evil — most of the cops on the show are honest — but there is always the feeling that any human is corruptible. That’s the heart of fiction. Jimmy already has cut corners even as he’s pretending to himself that he’s going straight.

2) To date, there have been minimal scenes set in the courtroom. Was/Are there any thoughts to having more scenes in the courtroom to showcase Jimmy/Saul's legal knowledge and trial expertise?

Everything’s always on the table, but I think one goal is to keep Jimmy out of court as much as possible. Ultimately this isn’t a law show; it’s a crime show. And while we’ve gotten early indications that Jimmy can actually be quite effective in a courtroom, his real area of genius is out on the street. But, in a way, isn’t that true of any defense lawyer?

3) Do you rely on actual criminal defense attorneys and prosecutors to keep aspects of the show grounded in reality to some degree?

We visited courts and we had some conversations with attorneys. While any TV show (or novel or movie) is going to take certain liberties to remain interesting, there were a few things we knew we wanted to capture. For example, most of what happens in a courtroom isn’t the dramatic showdown between the barnstorming prosecutor and the guy who announces his guilt on the stand; it seems like a huge percentage of what happens in a courtroom is silence and procedure. Lawyers asking questions of the judge, the judge having conversations with the clerk about what’s going on, and so on. Lots of waiting while papers are filed. And signs everywhere saying “No Cell Phones!” I think that level of tedium and banality was something that interested us early on.

4) Why do you think courtroom scenes/shows of a legal theme lend themselves to such drama?

Because when you get down to it, you do have very primal events and emotions. If there’s a trial, somebody has done something wrong and somebody is a victim. That’s obviously true if the defendant is guilty; but if the defendant is innocent, then he is the victim and the prosecutor or plaintiff is wrong. Either way, the scales are out of waco, and dramatically we want to see justice. Plus, you get to see a wide range personalities and character types on display. Court is one of the few places where you will see many people of different backgrounds, different races, different mentalities, and so on all in one place.

5) When I try jury trials, I have to explain to the jury that our case isn't likely what they have seen on television. How do you feel about real-life judicial proceedings being influenced by television courtroom proceedings?

As a citizen I do certainly worry about what some people have called “The CSI Effect,” where a jury might not be convinced unless there’s a big accumulation of DNA evidence, video evidence, and high-tech analysis. But to give credit where credit’s due, it seems like most people who are put on a jury really are capable of putting aside the outside noise and following the legal instructions given to them by the judge and weighing the case that the lawyers present. I’m not a lawyer, of course, so maybe I’m wrong, but just from what I read I worry about people’s social assumptions and prejudices and the the allocation of money and power more than I do the effect of TV.

6) What are your favorite legal movies?

The Verdict is a good one. In addition to being well written, the protagonist is deeply flawed and redeems himself by somewhat accidentally doing the right thing. I also like The People Vs. Larry Flynt; it’s witty and colorful and driven by a likable but unsavory character. And then there are a couple of guilty pleasures: Reversal of Fortune and Primal Fear, which (especially in the latter case) veer into the tawdry, but the over-the-top defendants are a hoot to watch. Maybe this says something about a writer’s mindset: I’m always more interested in the characters than the specific legal process.

There you have it. Mr. Bradley Paul is a man with a plan. He writes for an amazing show, and I hope anyone out there who hasn’t caught an episode will tune in. Get ready for a binge though, as Jimmy’s slow and steady transformation is hard to take your eyes off of…even if you’re a criminal defense attorney all day, every day.

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