An analysis of fictional law-based TV shows

An analysis of fictional law-based TV shows

Does your heart hurt from watching bad legal shows? Me too.

            I will be the first to admit: when I watch a scene, whether it is part of a television show, movie, clip or comedy routine, that depicts a cringe-worthy moment in an attorney’s line of work,  I can’t help but look away. From the “Okay, I did it! I killed her!” outbursts on the witness stand, to the Oscar-worthy surprised reactions of opposing counsel when the plaintiff offers a secret piece of evidence (hint, this almost never happens, as it would be a major discovery violation..), I just can’t do it. It is true –  media is supposed to be entertaining, enjoyable, outrageous, superfluous and fun, but that doesn’t mean it needs to be legally incorrect to the point of embarrassing the profession and making the public think they know what it means to be an attorney. Here are a few of the most unrealistic depictions of the legal world as portrayed in the U.S. media:



This show is by far the worst offender. Basically, a guy fakes being a Harvard-educated lawyer at a prestigious law firm for years before getting caught and being prosecuted. But wait - there's more! After going to prison for fraud and conveniently being released in a short amount of time, all is forgiven and he becomes an actual, licensed attorney. There are so many things wrong with the premise of this show that it hurts my brain every time I think of another legally incorrect and impossible issue. In the real world, Mr. Fake Attorney would have been discovered within a month due to not having a NY bar number, and he certainly would not have passed the Character and Fitness test even if he had gone to school and applied for the bar. Sorry writers, I just can't forgive you!


Law and Order

I don't care which franchise you choose, but the courtroom scenes from these shows are unforgivably too dramatic. My complaints with this show lay with the trials: the trials that seem to begin a week after the arrest, the intense stare-downs from the prosecution, the guilty-conscious defendant who leaps up and admits to everything, and even the full-packed courtroom full of jobless adults who seem eager to spend all day watching mundane cases. It is also unforgivable that the critical witnesses are almost always in the courtroom and not sequestered, which is the number one rule in every courtroom. I don't fault the actors, but I do fault the writers for trying to create drama in an otherwise drama-less courtroom setting.


How to Get Away With Murder

Stop it, Shonda Rhimes, just stop! A Philadelphia criminal law professor and full time attorney (strange, she only seems to have murder clients whose cases are always solved in 24 hours) goes wild and gets herself and her students caught up in the cover-up murder mystery of her cheating husband and two law students. That number only rises as the series goes on. Remarkably, she's able to continue teaching, continue lawyering and completely avoids the suspicions of law enforcement throughout the entire process. What is this, a legal version of Scooby Doo & the gang? I shudder every time I hear about a scene or plot line from this show.


Harry's Law

Thank the Good Lord that this show was cancelled. It was horrible: the premise, the writing, the acting, everything was wrong about this show. It refused to acknowledge an important aspect of lawyers; most lawyers aren't 'Joes of all trades.' Here, a non-litigious patent attorney suddenly becomes a remarkable criminal defense trial attorney because she saved the life of a suicidal criminal. Sure, because a cardiologist can open up shop performing plastic surgery and immediately have the money to hire associates.


Franklin and Bash

The saddest part of this show is that is wasn't even funny, let alone realistic. Like Joan Rivers once said, it seems all these two rich boys do is fight and eat lunch. And attend preparing-lacking trials. Everything from witness and evidence tampering to the lack of billable hours for a firm of this stature, I couldn't even last a YouTube trailer. Sure - the show is supposed to be about two rich, quirky best-friend-forever attorneys and their wacky shenanigans, but there's actually very little lawyering in this show outside the unrealistic party, dating and trial scenes.


            If you’re a fan of the above television shows, great and kudoos to you. If you fault my criticism for not engaging in the playfulness that these shows are supposed to enumerate, I won’t deny that. However, I am and always will be a critic of even fun television that refuses to show the realness that comes with being an attorney. Some of these real experiences include:

  • Court appointed public defense conflict work is bad paying, stressful, depressing and not worth most attorneys’ time (Better Call Saul).
  • It is incredibly unrealistic to retire from practice for twelve years and magically become an associate somewhere without political connections (The Good Wife).
  • Some defense attorneys are just as corrupt as the men and women they defend (The Wire).
  • In large firms, everyone sleeps with everyone. That’s why there are stringent rules in place preventing inter-office relationships (Boston Legal).

        It would be interesting if there was a television show about the depressive depths first year associates go to in order to meet their billable hour requirements, but let’s be real – there is absolutely zero plot twists or fun in that!

*All images used for entertainment purposes only.

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