Depending on the state you live in, you might be a fan of different sports and support various sports teams. America loves its basketball, football, and baseball but America’s favorite forms of entertainment are movies and TV series. People love watching movies, and a big chunk of these viewers love films or TV series that revolve around lawyers and the justice system, and when there’s a demand Hollywood will not hesitate to supply. There is no shortage of lawyer portrayals in pop culture, from Atticus Finch of To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) to Elle Woods of Legally Blonde (2001). So why do people love watching these?
To most non-lawyers the legal system seems like a mysterious maze that is hard to navigate, this is why they like watching lawyers in movies or TV series because they feel like it gives them a map they can follow to help them navigate the legal system. These shows and films also give them a small glimpse into the legal system which they can relate to, a human factor that they feel is lacking when they think about how the law is set-up to govern the people or that trial cases are all based on facts, and there’s no room for emotions. The dramatic moments from these also make for good entertainment. Passionate speeches, the satisfaction of the “good guys” winning, serving justice – these are things that bring drama to these shows and films, but are their portrayal of the legal system accurate?
One of the most glossed over part of being a lawyer in pop culture is the amount of tedious work that goes into building a case. There is a lot of research involved before a case goes to trial. Lawyers have to go through multitudes of documents, interview transcripts, photographic evidence, and precedents to build their case and make sure that they represent their client zealously. One example of a TV show that closely portrays this part of being a lawyer is The Good Wife (2009). The show demonstrates the need for research with scenes depicting lawyers staying late in the office looking for something to help them win a case.
Another thing that pop culture usually forgets to show the audience is that there are consequences for unethical actions. One of today’s most popular legal shows is How To Get Away With Murder (2014) and this show, filled with thrilling drama and twists, has gotten away with unethical practices like violating client confidentiality and withholding evidence during discovery. If these things happened in real life, the lawyers involved would face disbarment.
If you want to see something that closely resembles what a trial in real life may look like, many lawyers agree that you should watch the 1992 comedy My Cousin Vinny. Although it’s a comedy movie, it portrayed the legal system close to what happens in reality. Many of the situations in the film often occur to real-life lawyers and the witness cross-examination scene shows excellent lawyer skills. Some law professors even use the movie in their curriculum, and the American Bar Association Journal has named it number 3 on their 25 Greatest Legal Movies list.
No matter what you think about lawyers because of the things you’ve seen on the big screen or TV, you should always remember that a lawyer’s primary goal is to help his client get a favorable outcome so do not hesitate to consult with an attorney when you need one.
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