July 8, 2011

Lawyers watching Legal Dramas


LA Law show image

I’ve been interested in the law since I was a kid. I loved watching Perry Mason. I’d sit transfixed watching how he’d weave together all the information and find the real criminal right when it counted.

The 80s fed my obsession by cranking out LA Law. Completely unrealistic and overly glamourous, it was the legal show to watch. It had intrigue, sex, drama, humor, and some law woven in to all of it. There were likable characters like Stuart Markowitz, Ann Kelsey and Douglas Brachman. The love interests, Arnie Becker and Grace Van Owen. And of course there were always the trite story lines. And I loved this show!

Law and Order came along and ruined it all with it’s somewhat adherence to reality. Besides being well written, the people and story lines read more like headlines than Emmy-winning episode titles. And it captured my attention from the get-go.

I’m a total sucker for these shows! And they drive me absolutely crazy. I blame my Contracts professor for that. Mrs. Maute was my Contracts II professor. I loved that class. In case you don’t know, most law school classes only have a final exam. I only had one class, other than Legal Writing, that had a midterm and a final. So, with just a final, there was a lot of studying for that one exam. Not enough though for most of my classmates not to cut away and catch old episodes of legal dramas.

The night before the Contracts II final a group of us caught an episode of LA Law. And, evidently, so did Professor Maute. Who must have be cramming for our final just the same because as I flipped through the questions and get to the last one I start to read a scenario that seemed so familiar. Without the ability to look around to make eye contact with anyone – it is a final exam after all – every few minutes as my classmates would get to “that question” there’d be a gasp or a sigh or a chuckle.

The question read exactly like a courtroom scene from the episode of LA Law that had aired the night prior. Slam Dunk! Or so you’d think.

This is where television and reality diverge. As much as the show had legal experts to advise the writers, sometimes the real law isn’t all that sexy. Especially contracts. Just a bunch of legalese words jumbled on a paper, or better yet maybe just merely some oral agreement. The thing is, the show got the law wrong. Completely wrong. But not in an overt, hit-you-over-the-head kind of wrong. More like the kind of wrong when your mom asks you if you brushed your teeth and you say yes because you did the night before but not this morning and she didn’t specify kind of wrong. And Professor Maute knew this, and she knew we’d be sucked in to the show and probably miss all the nuance that she’d so patiently beat us over the head with taught us.

I still remember the scenario. But Professor Maute didn’t just set up the scenario from the show and leave it at that. She added in a few of her own things to trip us up and see who actually read the entire question (and see who was watching TV instead of studying). I know this because after the test when we all sit around doing the post-mortem, a few people realized they didn’t actually read the question all the way through. Oh snap! That was trickery to the highest level of trickery-dom!

Now that I’m almost 15-years post graduate, when I watch legal shows I’m always analyzing them with regard to the real world. How would it really play out. Most of the legal shows are dramas or dramedies. A few shows stick to the business/non-criminal issues which gives me more time to think through things that I actually do on a regular basis. But in general the shows are criminal based. That seems to sell better. Totally makes sense too.

But every once in awhile a business transaction case gets front and center. All the juicy tidbits of law are laid out there for me. And this is when I start talking to the TV. It’s quite a spectacle, especially when other people are around. Me talking to the TV, as if these people can hear me. As if, like magic one day they’re going to turn around as say ‘What?”.

What it comes down to, though, is that real law isn’t really all that interesting to most people. Watching real life court cases unfold is captivating only because the commentary makes it captivating. Few people would have sat and watched the OJ trial or the Casey Anthony or William Kennedy Smith trials had it not been for the commentary and conjecture. Real live law is boring for the masses. Heck, it’s boring for many lawyers too.

I can’t tell you what draws us to these. It’s like doctors watching medical shows. It’s the opposite polarity to our profession magnet embedded in our brains. I don’t know if real fisherman watch Deadliest Catch or if chefs are drawn to cooking shows. But if they are, there’s a PhD dissertation waiting to be written.

What is this phenomenon? Are you compelled to watch certain shows because they are about your profession (or former profession)? Please don’t tell me this is a sickness and I’ll never get well. Because, really, have you seen some of these shows lately? Truly a waste of time. But I can’t help myself!



Lisa July 8, 2011 at 12:03 pm

I too love watching legal dramas – especially law & order reruns (I loved chris noth before he was “big”). Also movies!! And I think it spreads across professions – if you want to hear someone talking back to the tv sit down to a viewing of Twister with ken (the tornadoes don’t even rotate in the right direction!)

Li July 28, 2011 at 11:14 am

LOL!! Sara!! Well, I was more a fan of the medical shows than the legal shows – mostly because I was always trying to get away from the lawyering.

I did however watch Boston Legal. It’s hard because I too talk to the screen with things like “yea right,” or “try that with Judge SoandSo.” Che ALWAYS talks to the screen then debates with me. *sigh* He’s very passionate about the law.

My favorite show is Grey’s Anatomy. I walk away from there thinking I’m a doctor (Im sure many people walk away from the legal shows thinking, “I know the law!”).

The closest thing to a law show that I watch now is Law & Order SVU, and that’s because there’s a lot of crime solving and a pinch of lawyering. And honestly, I’d much rather play a lawyer on TV. 😉 [insert law of attraction here].


Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: