Written by: Caitlin Hamilton
Emmy Award-winning show, Succession, depicts several legal issues throughout its four seasons. The question is, how accurately do the scenes portray the law? Spoilers ahead. While CEOs of large companies generally cannot fire half of their board in one sitting, attorneys across the country have agreed that overall the show complies with the factuality of legal principles.
University of Virginia law school even has a one-credit class dedicated to ‘The Corporate Law of HBO’s Succession.’ For instance, when trying to find a divorce attorney, Siobhan had trouble finding one because Tom had made mass phone calls to several of the same attorneys. Although one may choose not to work with a specific attorney, once their situation is discussed, an opposing party is forbidden from working with them unless the initial party gives permission. The legal term for that situation is called ‘conflicted out.’
There are also countless episodes in which Waystar’s legal counsel is seen negotiating deals and share prices in the wee hours of the morning. While that level of dedication may seem exaggerated, real-life corporate attorneys often work grueling odd hours that continue until a decision or solution is reached. One example that showcases prolonged negotiation is when Waystar attempts to buy the Pierce Corporation. When a company is in financial debt, as Waystar was, a common tactic is for companies to buy out other companies, putting them more in debt, which would deter interested companies from attempting to ‘bear hug’ or buy them out. Hence, Succession followed a common tactic among large corporations.
In season four, after learning their father had passed away, the Roy children are seen discussing how long they should keep the news from the public. While the information would affect the share price and thus the financial stakes the children have in the company, there is also a legal matter at play. Corporations owe a fiduciary duty to their stakeholders to act with diligence and reasonable care that comply with the best interests of the parties served. Hence, while it may have seemed rushed or presumptive, Karolina drafting a statement before the plane with Logan’s body had landed is not too far-fetched or out of the ordinary.
Where the legal scope gets hazy is during some of the board negotiation scenes, as well as the scenes with Congress. For example, in real-life, Siobhan wouldn’t have been able to scheme her way into receiving a board seat that quickly. Furthermore, the time it took for Logan to change the divorce settlement terms with Caroline is an unrealistic representation of what that process entails. However, the scene that stretches the legal scope arguably the furthest is during the season two congressional hearing with Congress. Perjury, or false statements made in court, is a felony and subject to prison time. Thus, while Tom finagled his way out of making statements such as how he “didn’t know Greg,” the penalty is greater than weakening the legal case at hand or appearing poorly on TV. It is also fair to say that any reputable attorney would rarely, if ever, let a witness take the stand that unprepared in real life. However, it certainly does make for good television.