One of the internet’s greatest and most curious powers is its ability to magnify the masses’ attention on matters of trivial importance. This week alone the internet was gripped by the “totality” of the eclipse, the president staring at the eclipse (alright, relatively trivial) and, most recently, the so-called Rally Cat.
More on the cat in a second.
Whatever one’s view of the virtues of this particular trait unique to the internet (and perhaps human nature), the fact is there is no reward for swimming against the tide. And as long as that’s the case, lawyers could do worse than taking some marketing advice from Albert Watkins, the Rally Cat’s lawyer.
The St. Louis-based Watkins (pictured right), whose own law firm biography page describes him as “self-centered, egotistical, and a self-proclaimed expert in all matters,” most recently showed up on the national scene to defend a kitten that scratched the nation’s attention when it meandered onto the field of Busch Stadium in the middle of a tense game involving Major League Baseball’s St. Louis Cardinals on Aug. 9.
A grounds crew member grabbed the kitten, got bit by the critter and on the next pitch Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina hit a grand slam. The legend of the Rally Cat was born that night as the Cardinals prevailed over their intrastate rival the Kansas City Royals.
Without inquiring to the health of the kitten, suffice it to say that it was now viral.
But the internet’s attention span didn’t flame out at that. And that’s mostly thanks to Watkins, whose history of histrionics has burnished his reputation as the go-to man in the Midwest for clients in need of a loud mouth.
“In my own pompous, egotistical, self-centered and slightly narcissistic way, my reputation preceded me,” Watkins said in a Friday interview with The American Lawyer. “I often refer to Donald Trump as Skippy the Punk compared to me on the narcissism chart. It’s a great skillset to have as a lawyer. A great character trait. It really is terrible on the home front.”
While representing one-time Cardinals first baseman Jack Clark in a suit brought by then-Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols, Watkins wrote a public letter asking Pujols to take a polygraph test to prove that Clark’s claims of Pujols’ alleged “juicing” were false.
The Associated Press got enough of a taste of Watkins during his high-profile representation of a St. Louis-based company called The South Butt in litigation with The North Face that it called him “normally loquacious” after Watkins declined to discuss a settlement in that matter.
Of a client who was dragged into a national story in 2013 involving a Barack Obama-mask-wearing rodeo clown at the Missouri State Fair, Watkins told the press at the time that his client was, “shaking like a small dog passing razor blades.”
It was a talent for talking in public that St. Louis Feral Cat Outreach was seeking when it called upon Watkins this week for help in a brewing Rally Cat custody battle with Cardinals ownership, which prematurely announced to fans that the kitty would be a semi-permanent fixture living at Busch Stadium.
The volunteer group said it found the Rally Cat in a park near the ballpark. The nonprofit later announced that it would not be returning the cat, upset at it what saw as a profiteering baseball team. The Cardinals relented, stating that they did not want to get into a “cat fight” with a quotable character like Watkins.
“Commercial exploitation simply must take a back seat to that which is right for this four-legged furry creature,” wrote the sports website Deadspin, quoting from Watkins’ press release.
“Nobody likes a bully in the litter box,” read another Watkins’ quote in The Washington Post.
And Sports Illustrated also weighed in: “Much like any custody battle for children the world over, what’s important here is what’s in the best interests of the health and welfare of the cat,” Watkins told SI.com.
As Watkins told The American Lawyer, “I made it very clear: For the Cardinals, there is no side to this story except a downside. They need to be dealing with baseball, not fur balls.”
Those quotes are Watkins’ unique branding and he knows it. He enjoys the humor in garnering outsize attention for curious cases. And it has worked for him.
“My occupation involves sitting in my desk staring out the window with my feet up waiting for the phone to ring,” Watkins said.
But was it always that way?
“No, it took me a long time going from one public restroom to another, scrawling my name and phone number into the stall before the phone rang with any regularity,” Watkins replied. “That was pre-internet.”
For a self-proclaimed narcissist, Watkins is strangely self-aware. Or at least enough to know that his particular brand of legal firepower is well-suited for the internet age. Media outlets cover what gets clicks. Watkins’ absurdity does the trick, even if the legal matters he gets coverage for are trivial.
“That’s being too kind,” Watkins corrected this reporter. “This isn’t even trivially important.”
He continued: “That’s not to discount the importance of this to [St. Louis Feral Cat Outreach], but in the grand scheme of things, given what’s going on all over the world, one might think that this story; the story of the Obama-mask-wearing rodeo clown; that maybe there are more important things to be addressing.”
And Watkins may be right. But the internet moves people in its own way. Just ask the 700 people who Watkins said have emailed him inquiring to adopt the Rally Cat. Other lawyers are also involved, although not as publicly as Watkins.
The Build-A-Bear Workshop Inc., a St. Louis-based retailer known for selling teddy bears and other stuffed animals, is already touting a Rally Cat on its website. Trademark records show that Lewis Rice filed the application for Build-A-Bear on Aug. 10, a day after Rally Cat took the field.
Michael Whittle, general counsel for the Cardinals, did not take a page from Watkins’ playbook. The former Armstrong Teasdale partner did not immediately return a request for comment.