As Seen on TV? Just how accurate are legal TV shows?
Whether you’re still watching network television or if you get most of your viewing pleasure via one of the many streaming services that are popular today, legal shows are everywhere. From Law and Order (and all of its versions) to Suits and all the way to How to Get away with Murder, shows centered around defense attorneys abound.
While many of these shows are highly entertaining to watch, the reality is that most legal dramas (and movies) flagrantly misrepresent the legal profession. Criminal defense attorneys are so often portrayed as unprepared, unscrupulous liars on tv that the general public tends to view real life attorneys in an unfortunately negative light.
The list of discrepancies between legal shows and real life legal work is endless, but to name a few:
· Real criminal defense attorneys have more than one case at a time – Legal dramas would naturally be too confusing if they portrayed this aspect of being a real-life lawyer. Criminal lawyers, at least those who are even moderately successful, carry a large case load that pulls them in many different directions at once. Television attorneys seem to be able to focus all of their time, energy and passion into one case per week.
· Most attorneys are honest – While networks and movie producers want you to believe that all lawyers lie all of the time, the truth is that real life attorneys are, in general, good people who have a passion for the criminal justice system. Their skill for being able to open people’s minds centers around presenting the facts so as to evoke reasonable doubt – not lying.
· No attorney can read minds – Believe it or not, even the best criminal defense attorneys don’t have the magical ability to know whether or not their client(s) are actually guilty. Television shows portray many lawyers “deciding” that a particular client is guilty, with the rest of the plot centered around the attorney wrestling with defending a “guilty” person. Real life criminal defense lawyers avoid making unfair assumptions about their clients because they believe in letting a judge or jury do the deciding. The job of the real defense attorney is to be an advocate for the accused, protecting their rights so that the justice system can work properly.
· Likeable defendants do not get off easier – On TV and in movies, mandatory sentences for specific crimes are often completely ignored if the defendant is likeable or pitiable. In real life criminal cases, a defendant who is found guilty is subject to much harsher punishments (for example: 15 years in prison for illegal possession of 30 hydrocodone tablets) regardless of how suave, attractive, funny, intelligent or otherwise appealing they may be.
· Lawyers have lives, too - Granted, TV and film audiences may be more interested in the turmoil associated with a legal drama’s most “likeable” defendant, but in the real world, even extremely busy criminal defense attorneys have lives outside of the law. Many have spouses, children, houses, and family drama just like the rest of us. TV shows rarely even give viewers a glimpse into a defense lawyer’s life when they leave the office.