Legal TV shows – a rant and a plea

by Cyclone Covey


Raymond_Burr_Barbara_Hale_Perry_Mason_1958I don’t watch much television. When the TV is on at my house (and it’s not tuned to some animated action cartoon) it’s usually on while I’m cooking breakfast or exercising.  And then the channels are Sports Center or Tennis Channel. Both of them give me bite-sized TV snippets that I can watch for 20 seconds before the next sprint on the treadmill or cutting the next onion. At night I find I get more work done because the constant flow of phone calls and emails slows to a trickle. So usually I’m asleep soon after I stop work.  But occasionally I’ll head upstairs to bed early enough to watch a TV show with my wife before bed.

I have a singular problem, which is that I have a really hard time watching shows that pretend to be real, but require more suspension of disbelief than you need to watch Star Trek. Shows about lawyers and the legal system are particularly hard to watch because they are so unrealistic.

I decided to post this rant/plea for help after suffering through the first two episodes of a particularly wretched legal drama – Suits.

The Rant

The first episode is the pilot. In this episode a newly minted partner at a major prestigious firm decides to hire an associate who never attended (let alone graduated from) law school. Nor has he passed any bar exam. “Don’t worry,” I told myself.  “They surely will fix’ this issue in the next episode. Right?”

The second episode consists of the partner telling his pretend-lawyer associate to file a patent on a complex piece of new technology in a single day because the patent is critical to a new round of investment. The associate fails to do so (there’s a lot of underlying drama) and a competing patent claim is filed by a competitor. These events occur in the span of less than a single day. After this unfortunate turn of events the partner then proceeds to attempt to file an injunction to somehow block the competing patent filing. The judge refuses to grant the injunction – not because the show writers have made a mockery of civil procedure – but because (surprise!) the judge suspects the partner of sleeping with his (the judge’s) wife. The show gets more convoluted, but eventually the partner threatens to “reveal” the details of the patent to the public in an attempt to stymie the opposing patent even though it was already filed.

I turned off the TV. My wife, who is not a lawyer and who knows nothing about civil procedure patent prosecution or patent litigation, was getting into the show and she protested. I told her I refused to watch any more of the show because it had no basis in reality whatsoever. I don’t recall if the acting was good or bad or the quality of the cinematography or anything else. The plot ruined the whole experience. So if you’re a lawyer, paralegal, judge, or anyone else who works in the legal profession – my advice is to skip Suits unless you’re able to overlook these egregious liberties the writers took with our legal system.

Plea for Help

There are over 100 legal dramas that have been produced in the US alone. But even some of the most famous ones – such as Perry Mason and Matlock – are no more realistic. The first part of my plea goes out to everyone reading this. Please suggest a legal drama that I could actually watch. Law and Order is probably the most realistic show I’ve seen, but that’s more a police drama than a legal drama. Also some of the crimes are a little too graphic right before bed. Any other suggestions would be most welcome.

My second plea goes out to the producers of TV land. Would it really be that hard to get a small group of real lawyers to consult with the writers to come up with something realistic? You can still throw in the slimy clients, adultery, and everything else that makes TV interesting to watch. But it can’t be that hard to at least try to respect real civil or criminal procedure. In addition to making the shows watchable for lawyers there will be an added bonus that non-lawyers might actually learn something about our actual legal system. That certainly would be a boon to our society. And it would help at least one couple find a TV show that they both can enjoy together.



Saretta Ramdial

Posted on 2015-03-25 01:49:18

Thanks for your comment, Liz - the AgileLaw team is in agreement with you!


Posted on 2015-03-24 20:51:59

Minor point but it drives me crazy when lawyers on TV in the middle of a huge trial go out to the bar in the evening, and drink with the other side and/or the judge. Maybe I just am not smart enough, but I actually work in the evening during trial.

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