Lawyers on television are a dime a dozen. You can find excellent lawyers like Perry Mason, unethical but effective lawyers like Saul Goodman, or eloquent lawyers like Jackie Chiles. But none of them are as astoundingly bad at their job as Arrested Development’s Barry Zuckercorn, played brilliantly by Henry Winkler.
Here are five things we can learn from Barry’s many, many mistakes.
Don’t Cut Corners When Getting Started
At one point Barry admits that he went to law school in the Virgin Islands and had a lookalike named Stuart take the California bar exam on his behalf. This may have made getting started easier, but it left Barry with a crippling lack of knowledge.
He has almost no understanding of California law. He tells the Bluths that a husband and wife can’t be charged with the same crime, that if they never sign anything they will never be found guilty, and that they will be safe from legal repercussions as long as they hold all their meetings on a boat in international waters. Of course none of this is true, and it comes back to bite him and his clients. Put in a little extra work when you are getting started so you will be prepared for years to come.
Know Your Client and Their Case
Barry’s knowledge of his clients is seriously lacking. He spends years taking credit for Michael’s “divorce” only to find out later that Michael’s wife died. He is also completely unfamiliar with George Sr.’s case.
He arrives at a hearing without having read the plea bargain because it was too long and then ends up running out of the courtroom in a panic when he hears all the charges listed because he had no idea there were so many. Know your client well and have a handle on all the details of their case so nothing takes you by surprise in the courtroom.
Stay Out of Legal Trouble Yourself
Barry’s personal legal trouble is one of the many things holding him back from being a competent lawyer. He runs over Tobias with his car, gets arrested for soliciting prostitution from an undercover cop, and is constantly in the middle of a lawsuit whether it is for calling his assistant names or wrongfully suing the LA Kings.
His legal troubles frequently cause problems for him at work. Once he is late for a hearing because he had his own court date to attend. It should be obvious, but whether you are an injury lawyer or a divorce attorney, personal legal troubles will quickly tank your career.
Read the Fine Print
One of the many times Barry gets the Bluths into trouble is when he tells them George Sr. can get out of jail for a special occasion with a $20,000 refundable bond. The Bluths are not much smarter than Barry, so they decide to go through with it. Unfortunately for them, Barry skimmed the details and was mistaken about the bond being refundable.
Always pay attention to the little details so you can give your clients the best possible advice.
As we already established, Barry cheated on the bar exam, so we know that he, like the people he represents, is a pretty dishonest person. This dishonesty gets all of them into trouble regularly. On one occasion he tells Michael to lie when he is being interrogated and on another occasion he advises them to steal evidence from the prosecutor’s home. Lawyers are consistently caricaturized as dishonest and sleazy, but dishonesty never gets you ahead in the long run, so learn from Barry’s mistakes and keep everything you do above board.
Most of the things mistakes Barry makes are painfully obvious, but remembering his bad example will leave you and your clients better off in the long run.
Michael David is a freelance blogger who writes about a variety of subjects including entertainment and law. For more legal advice, visit Boland Howe Barristers.