Legal Document Review in Better Call Saul

Image Credit: AMC

I would like to thank my readers for sticking with me.  Life has intervened over the past few weeks, and I’ve fallen a little behind on this blog, so I’m going to combine the last two episodes into this edition.

The reason for my tardiness comes not only from my law practice, but from my extra-curricular activities.  I’ve been a musician my entire life and currently occupy the keyboard chair in BroHamM.  We are a funk-soul vocal band.  We don’t yet have a website, but we do have a Facebook page.  We’ve been working hard to get ready to gig.  Stand by for a link to our website, which is currently under development.

So, after that act of shameless self-promotion…

Let me say that I am very disappointed with Jimmy McGill’s character development.  Most of his dialog is contrived, and not very convincing.  Like his conversation with his brother in Episode 4, where he and Charles get into an argument regarding the commercial that Jimmy did for the Sandpiper Crossings lawsuit.  On the one hand, it’s true that he didn’t get authorization from the partners at Davis & Main, and their anger was fully justified.  Jimmy should probably have been fired.

However, it’s hard to deny the emotional appeal and the effectiveness of his commercial.  Rather than taking months, he did the commercial in an evening, for basically nothing.  In the real world, people with this kind of initiative and creativity are rewarded, not criticized.

At any rate, this is not a particularly interesting moral dilemma.

In a similar vein, Kim Wexler is also in the doghouse at Hamlin, Hamlin, and McGill for endorsing Jimmy, and has been relegated to “document review.”  I’ve never worked at a large firm with a document review department.  (It wasn’t for lack of trying, as I applied to all of them.  In retrospect, this was a stroke of good fortune).

We discussed “discovery” in a previous edition of this blog.  To refresh your memory, it is the stage of a lawsuit where the parties obtain information from each other.  Documents are an important source of information, and the folks in “document review” are combing through tens-of-thousands of pages of documents, looking for the proverbial needle-in-the-haystack.  The fate of millions of dollars can ride on a few precious pieces of paper.

Discovery Sanctions in Washington State

For example, we have a famous case here in Washington, Washington State Physicians Insurance Exchange & Associations v. Fisons Corp.  In 1986, a two year-old girl suffered seizures and permanent brain damage as a result of a prescribed drug, theophylline.  The parents sued the physician and the drug company on behalf of their child.  The physician cross-claimed against the drug company.

A year after the physician settled with the parents, a letter surfaced from an anonymous source, indicating that the drug company was previously aware of potential toxicity in children who suffer from a viral infection, and had failed to give appropriate warnings.  This was the first that the plaintiffs had seen this letter.

The physician’s attorneys asked for “discovery sanctions” against Fisons for their failure to turn over this document, arguing that it should have been supplied in response to a previous discovery request.  Discovery sanctions, such as monetary penalties, are sometimes used to punish a party who resists legitimate discovery requests.  Attorneys are required to play fair; it’s the law:

A lawyer shall not .  .  . in pretrial procedure .  .  . fail to make [a] reasonably diligent effort to comply with a legally proper discovery request by an opposing party.

RPC 3.4

Caught red-handed, Fisons turned over approximately 10,000 documents, and out of this haystack, the attorneys located a 1985 memo, further attesting to the known toxicity of theophylline.   Shortly after this memo was revealed, the child’s parents settled with the drug company for $6.9M.

Document Review: Busy Work, But Necessary

So, those folks doing the thankless task of document review actually have an incredibly important job.

In Episode 5, still stuck in document review, Kim says to Jimmy, “I am going to save me.”  To do this, she tracks down a new corporate account for HHG, (the legal term is “Rainmaking”).  Unfortunately, Howard is still vindictive, and puts her back in document review.  Ho-hum.

Frankly, I think Kim is far more of an interesting character than Jimmy.  But my favorite character is the retired cop, Mike Ehrmantraut, who exudes a sinister radiance on the one hand, but is utterly devoted to his dead son’s widow, and his granddaughter.  Sort of a Vito Corleone crossed with Don Quixote.

I also love Tuco, the meth-head dealer.  Talk about a sinister radiance!  I have trouble sleeping at night after seeing him.  He is a brutal, meth-head, sociopath, sort of a cross between Charles Manson and a komodo dragon.   (On the other hand, he’s probably not such a bad guy after you get to know him.)

I also like Tuco’s father, Hector Salamanca.  Not sure how Mike, Tuco, and Hector all survive this series, but this will keep me tuning in.