Jeff Sessions is learning what it's like to be Donald Trump's lawyer, and so far, it's not been a joyride, writes Paul Callan
Alpha clients like Trump often think they know better than their lawyers which is the best strategy, Callan says
Editor’s Note: Paul Callan is a CNN legal analyst, a former New York homicide prosecutor and currently is of counsel at the New York law firm of Edelman & Edelman PC, focusing on wrongful conviction and civil rights cases. Follow him on Twitter @paulcallan. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own.
Jeff Sessions is learning what it’s like to be Donald Trump’s lawyer, and so far, it’s not been a joyride.
For an embarrassingly long period of time Tuesday, the White House declined to say whether the President had confidence in his own attorney general. Finally, on Wednesday, Kellyanne Conway said the President has confidence in his Cabinet and “the people who work for him.”
Earlier this week, CNN confirmed that Sessions had told the President he was willing to resign in the aftermath of his decision to recuse himself from the Justice Department’s Russia investigation.
Though the President apparently remained angry about the recusal, which played a role in the eventual appointment of a special counsel to investigate possible collusion between the Russians and Trump campaign officials, Sessions’ resignation offer was rejected.
The scenario which played out the White House is familiar to lawyers who have represented high-profile, high-maintenance “alpha” clients like Mr. Trump in their own law practices. They have learned that catering to the ever-changing demands of such clients often results in ulcers rather than accolades.
When you add Mr. Trump’s propensity to attack the judiciary, the FBI, the Justice Department, the intelligence community, the media, his own staff and to litigate via Twitter he is a litigation disaster zone destined to destroy his lawyer as he blows up his own case.
The attorney general of the United States serves as counsel to the most powerful alpha client on the planet, the president of United States. The attorney general also takes an oath to “support and defend” the Constitution of the United States against enemies “foreign and domestic.” Mr. Sessions appears to be getting a painful education about how difficult it is to balance both responsibilities.
He is also dealing with a client who has managed his real estate business as an instinct player often shooting from the hip with considerable success. Mr. Trump’s lengthy litigation history also reveals a rocky road strewn with many lawyers and, more tellingly, few lawyers who have represented him or his businesses on an ongoing basis.
Yes, President Trump has in-house lawyers and an occasional outside counsel such as Marc Kasowitz who have represented him in various forms of specialized commercial litigation through the years. Yahoo News reported that four major law firms opted not to pursue opportunities to represent President Trump in the Russia probe. This is the clear sign of a problematic, high-risk alpha client who is not worth the trouble.
Possession of a stable of high-profile clients capable of paying substantial fees – and providing the glow of celebrity names – is a goal that many lawyers seek but very few achieve. One of the chief difficulties is that high-profile alpha clients are often so egotistical and narcissistic that they resist even the most sensible advice about how to deal with their legal problems. Because of their own personal success stories, such clients are skeptical of the legal advice offered by an even the most talented of lawyers.
The alpha client often feels disoriented and uncomfortable ceding decision-making power to his lawyer. The client has undoubtedly already achieved enormous financial success in life and feels that he is smarter than the lawyer.
Many in the alpha realm of the business world believe that accumulated wealth is the true report card of American life and lawyers are often only in the “B” to “B+” range while they comfortably rest in the “A+” category. The client then seeks to micromanage the litigation, threatening to fire the lawyer if he doesn’t implement often disastrous strategic maneuvers cooked up by his “I’m smarter than everybody else” client.
Tweeting about travel bans in the middle of the night would clearly fall into this category. In his tweets, Trump complained about the revision of his original travel ban, which was put on hold by the courts. The President trashed the revised version, which his own lawyers in the Justice Department are seeking to defend before the Supreme Court and other federal courts.
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Alpha clients who succeed in the litigation arena are those who develop a trust in their counsel and though active participation in the formulation of litigation strategy. In the end, they rely on their attorney’s advice. Lawyers often become intimately familiar their client’s personal and professional lives and, hence, sensible clients are loath to change lawyers and begin the arduous process of relationship building all over again.
Troublesome alpha clients, on the other hand, constantly change lawyers.
The President’s litigation history and tweeting propensities suggest an extraordinarily difficult alpha client. Under the circumstances, history is likely to record Sessions as the first, but not the last, attorney general in the Trump administration.