In my humble opinion, legal television shows cannot be dead-on if they are going to be interesting.
Written by: Patricia I. James**
I have to chuckle when I hear a lawyer saying something like, “That episode of (insert name of legal television show here) was so unrealistic. That would never happen in court/a law firm.” Or someone, obviously not a lawyer, saying something like, “That episode of (insert name of legal television show here, maybe the same one that was listed above) was so interesting. It must be so exciting to practice law.” (Actually, it depends on the day).
I remember an episode of “Equal Justice”, a television show from about 20 years ago. In it, Joe Morton played a prosecutor for the Pittsburgh District Attorney’s office. Joe ran up behind the Judge’s bench to, if I remember correctly, look at some piece of paper. (I don’t remember what, maybe a docket, which is a list that shows what cases are on the Judge’s calendar and in what order). And, in TV Land, it was as if that was not the least bit unusual.
We’ve all heard on television, and some of us in real life, a lawyer say, “May I approach the bench, your Honor?” I recall watching this episode and thinking, “Are you kidding me?” In real life, the bailiff would never have permitted that. And, if Joe was too fast for him, he or she would have Joe yanked off that bench and, I don’t know, put him in handcuffs, thrown him to the floor, given him a good talking to? Nevertheless, for me, and I had been an attorney for about 12 years at that time, that was good television. That was exciting. And, for me to remember it 20 or so years later, it made an impression. But realistic? Not in my world.
Now, I can’t speak for other attorneys; I can only speak for what happens in my law firm. What I see on a day to day basis is my partner, a board certified trial attorney, taking and defending depositions, poring over exhibits, preparing opening and closing arguments and direct and cross-examinations and making the final determination on jury instructions, among other tasks. In other words, he spends an extraordinary amount of time preparing for trial in order to get ready to go into court and say, “Ready for trial, your Honor.”
My days are spent researching the law, preparing motions and opposing them, choosing jury instructions, and various other sundry tasks in order to get the case to trial. My paralegals participate by, among other things, preparing exhibit books, getting blowups of pictures (which can be embarrassing, but that’s for another Post), summarizing depositions and basically arranging everything for trial.
This does not globally show all that we do. It is more a thumbnail sketch of what is done behind the scenes that, if included for any length of time in a television show, would be mind-numbingly boring. However, it’s necessary and, if we can get justice for our clients, incredibly satisfying.
So, Networks, you’ve exaggerated things a bit (and you know who you are) but that’s okay. Just keep those legal consultants at the ready.
**No portion of this Post is intended to constitute legal advice. The views expressed are solely those of the author.