When it comes to viewing lawyers in the media, most people have a stereotypical view. After having been exposed to TV dramas such as Law & Order, The Practice, Boston Legal, and now Better Call Saul, the average citizen has several preconceived ideas about what a typical lawyer does while engaged in battle among the confines of court. Some may think a good attorney has to bang his or her fist in plain sight in order to show that they are adequately advocating for their client. People often think that a good lawyer always has an answer in any given situation and must always come up with some sort of wise and profound retort. Unfortunately, however, this is simply not reality and certain myths about lawyers in the media should be looked at more closely.
As the media often does, the role of the lawyer has been sensationalized just a tad over the last several decades. Don’t get me wrong, most lawyers are extremely passionate when it comes to their craft. A good lawyer will always zealously advocate for their clients, but ways in which this advocacy have been depicted on the news and television unfortunately have been mistaken for the norm.
More often than not, most of the “magic” attorneys do is done behind closed doors. The public, and most times the actual client is not even privy to initial negotiations and tactics. Lawyers will usually contact opposing counsel well before they are set to appear in court and discuss matters at length, with the intention to come to some sort of mutual agreement or settlement. Once these “unsensational” negotiations take place, more often than not, matters are pretty much set and when the parties do appear in court, the “drama” is kept to a bare minimum.
From the perspective of a person who does not deal in legal matters on regular basis and gets most of their legal education form Law & Order, it would appear on its face that one attorney, or both, as it may, did not really zealously advocate for their client in a passionate manner. People often think that if an attorney doesn’t say more than five words in front of a judge isn’t properly doing his or her job effectively. Little do they know, however, that this “unengaged” attorney may have already put in countless hours behind the scenes negotiating with the District Attorney. Also, lawyers often “burn the midnight oil” while drafting vital court documents such as petitions, memorandums, and other pertinent motions. Filming a lawyer drafting a memorandum of law at his or her computer or doing legal research for numerous hours typically does not make for riveting television so it is usually left out.
TV also usually depicts opposing counsel battling each other as if they were Roman Gladiators set to fight to the death. Again, in reality, most lawyers have to work with each other time and time again and bridges are not always burnt on the first go around. A good lawyer does not take litigation personally when it comes to the advocacy from opposing counsel. Therefore they do not verbally bash their opponent, but rather rely on the issues and facts presented and go from there. They do not jump up on their soap box and preach sermon after sermon, day after day. In fact, if one were to go down to their local town, city, or county court and watch what goes on during a typical day, I would bet the observer would be a little bored and disillusioned with the whole process.
While watching legal dramas are often fun and interesting to watch, one should keep in mind that just like their favorite episode of Seinfeld, it is all done in the realm of fiction and in no way should be construed as “real world” lawyering. Where else but on television could Captain James T. Kirk be taken seriously as an attorney? William Shatner’s character Denny Crane on Boston Legal was a silver tongue in the court room, but the majority of his actions were as real as a Klingon.