From the perspective of an attorney watching events unfold in the daily news, President Trump does not appear to be a very good client. The president’s revolving door of lawyers, his Twitter rants and off-the-cuff remarks on pending matters, and the reports of his interactions with his legal team do not paint a pristine picture of life in the foxhole with the commander in chief.
Sure, the work is prestigious and high-profile – and the pay substantial – but countless lawyers can attest that money and power do not equate to job satisfaction. To survive the day-to-day rigors of legal practice with your head intact, it helps tremendously to have good clients.
Good clients are honest, reasonable and cooperative. All three traits are crucial if the representation is to be successful. Clients must tell you the truth when they report facts, be reasonable in their expectations, and be cooperative when their attention and participation are required. The last two pieces involve listening to the attorney’s advice and giving it serious consideration. If any of these three traits are absent, the lawyer’s job becomes significantly more difficult.
As John Dowd, Marc Kasowitz, Jay Sekulow, Ty Cobb, Rudy Giuliani and countless others who have represented the president over the years can likely attest, Trump does not particularly strive for any of these three traits when interacting with his lawyers. He views lawsuits and legal battles as guerrilla warfare, where wins and losses are defined not by the particular result obtained, but by the perception of dominance.
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An out-of-court win on the nightly news may be just as valuable as a courtroom win, if the prior is viewed as an asset to the Trump brand.
In Trump’s world, acceptable legal advice reportedly involves understanding what he wants to do and telling him how – and not whether – to do it.
“Donald would say, ‘I hate lawyers who tell me I can’t do this or that,’ ” said Jay Goldberg, who served as Trump’s exclusive litigator from 1990 to 2005, after Trump parted ways with his mentor and top attorney, Roy Cohn. This likely explains why the president’s ill-advised Twitter rants persist in the face of multiple legal controversies, and also why the president’s appeals to some of the country’s top lawyers for representation have been rebuffed.
Time will tell as to whether veteran D.C. lawyer Emmet Flood, who will replace Cobb as Trump’s lead counsel in the Russia probe, will be able to forge a working relationship with the president.
It is also clear that Trump has little respect for the rule of law. A judge who rules against his interests instantly becomes a “so-called judge,” and courts that do not comply with his policy pronouncements are deemed “slow and political.”
It is no wonder Trump has little patience for legal advice that conflicts with his objectives, given his refusal to accept the decisions of the courts that adjudicate his disputes.
What is clear now, as the president finds his legal troubles intensifying – rather than abating – is that he must rely upon the advice of the experts he has retained to protect his interests. Overriding the advice of his counsel may have worked in the context of domestic real estate transactions, where Trump had keen instincts and vast experience, but it won’t work now. The matters are too complex – and the stakes too high – for the president to navigate this terrain on instincts alone.
As history has repeatedly proven, even our nation’s most powerful figures are subordinate to the rule of law. This president is no exception. He should listen to his lawyers – and listen well.
Blake Shuart is a Wichita attorney.