– Derek Allen, Attorney –
I just finished reading Chuck Klosterman’s I Wear the Black Hat, a book that deals with what we mean when we call someone a villain. By covering examples as diverse as Joe Paterno, Bernhard Goetz, O.J. Simpson, N.W.A., and Chevy Chase, the ultimate conclusion of the book is that a villain is someone who “knows the most, but cares the least.” The sole exception to this rule is the villain of all villains, Adolf Hitler. He cared a lot (in this example, about his World of Warcraft account being hacked), but didn’t know the most (he failed to learn one of history’s great lessons — don’t try to invade Russia in the winter).
The concept of villainy is a familiar one to the law. A prime example of a legal villain is the “trademark bully,” a subject that has been covered extensively on this blog (see here, here, and here). These are people who know the most because they are able to use their knowledge of the trademark system to inflict pain on others, but care the least because of their willingness to inflict the aforementioned pain.
I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t heard clients sing a similar tune in other contexts. They might feel wronged in some way, but not in a way that is likely compensable under our legal system. When this happens, it’s not uncommon to hear them say that they have more resources than the person who wronged them and they’re happy to drag everyone through protracted litigation, with a high likelihood of losing, because they know that they can handle the legal fees better than the person on the other end of the lawsuit. These clients fit Chuck Klosterman’s definition of a villain: they know the most (they hired Winthrop & Weinstine, after all!), but care the least. (I should add that these clients think — perhaps quite rightly — that the other person is the true villain, so my example might be a pot-meet-kettle situation.)
My advice to those out there who know the most, but are considering caring the least, is to make that decision with your eyes open. As the list of Klosterman’s villains indicates, villains are often very successful. Sometimes it’s because of their villainy — N.W.A. and Andrew Dice Clay are good examples from the book — and sometimes it’s in spite of their villainy — Joe Paterno and Muhammad Ali fall into this camp. So, being a villain might be the best thing for your business or you personally. But just know that if you’re perceived as knowing the most, but caring the least, the outside world is inclined to view you as the villain.