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What TV And Movies Have Gotten Wrong About Lawyers

Real lawyers? Fictional lawyers? Where is the boundary?

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If I asked a random group of people if they’ve seen a television show or movie about or featuring lawyers, chances are many would say ‘yes.’ You’d be hard pressed to find a regular person who hasn’t seen at least a clip of Law & Order.

However, since we are well into graduation season, it’s notable to mention the number of undergraduates who opt to attend law school each year. While the number has dropped significantly in recent years (just from 2015 to 2016, the number has dropped by 2.6%). According the American Bar Association, as of Fall 2016, 110,951 full-time and part-time students attended the 204 ABA approved schools. That’s a lot!

But like many professions, being a lawyer isn’t what many think. It isn’t a breezy way to put away bad guys and an excuse to drink martinis at 10am. Given the popularity of shows like Law & Order, it isn’t surprising that many misconceptions about lawyers and their jobs come from popular media. So, before we send our hopeful, future lawyers into paralegal internships and their path to their law degrees, let’s take a look at a few of the fictional lawyers that have lit up evening television, and how they misrepresent the profession.

Elle Woods - Legally Blonde

Before we take a look at Jack McCoy and his fellow district attorneys, it is necessary to discuss the true pink lady, Elle Woods from Legally Blonde. Looking at her killer fashion and legal style, who wouldn’t want to go to Harvard Law? Well, obviously, if Elle was a real person, she would be an outlier. Getting into law school is hard. Don’t get me wrong, she worked hard to raise her LSAT score from 143 to 179. 180 is a perfect score; the average score is 150. Just know, that if you (or someone you know) aspires to get into Harvard Law, it will take more than just diligence. Without being in it for the long haul, you may just end up retaking the LSAT forever.

Jack McCoy - Law & Order

I’ll be honest, if I could be half as good a lawyer as Jack McCoy, I’d be taking the LSAT right now. Sam Waterston’s famous and long-running career portraying Jack as an attorney in New York on Law & Order is a cornerstone of TV/Movie lawyer cannon. Despite his sometimes questionable methods, Mr. McCoy has a mind-blowing record of cases that involve powerful opening statements and persuasive appeals. And while his dedication and work-a-holic nature is realistic to real life lawyers (not to mention the continuous frustrations that arise during prosecutions), but his means of getting evidence, of fudging the law to execute it, while effective, is unethical. Many lawyers are frustrated by Law & Order (and its spinoffs) due to this portrayal of the lying, heavy-handed litigator.

Ally McBeal - Ally McBeal

Whether you celebrate her or condemn her as a feminist icon, Ally McBeal spurred more young women to examine law as a possible future for themselves. And while the chatter about the show’s view of young women may have been negative, it brought more attention to feminism in the mid-1990s. There was a TIME cover dedicated to the downfall of feminism because of Calista Flockhart’s character. Ally McBeal creates this dangerous precedent: exhibiting law as a career for beautiful (and rather scatterbrained) young women looking for financially, and frankly romantically successful job.

Alicia Florrick - The Good Wife

Julianna Margulies portrayal as powerful litigator Alicia Florrick on The Good Wife is the most recently popular fictional lawyer. Her strained relationship with her husband is the major drive in the show, but her drive and the consequences she faces, while simultaneously attempting for protect children and career are the center points of Alicia Florrick’s character. The show itself was born from a discuss about the lawyer wives of high level politicians and their difficulty maintaining their reputations following scandals. However, as with Law & Order, The Good Wife has a history of misrepresenting the ethical aspects of the profession. As Alicia becomes more obsessed with power, her actions whether personal or professional, begin to affect her legal career. Perhaps the projection of the political atmosphere Alicia Florrick must navigate is accurate, but the legality of the show itself is questionable.

These characters live far beyond their portrayal of lawyers, but they also add to the negative opinion of the profession, as many people see lawyers as sharks. But unlike these shows or movies, real life lawyers are more focused on serving their clients while upholding their ethical integrity.

Michael Saile Jr., managing attorney of Cordisco and Saile, LLC, notes how important clients are: “Being a lawyer, especially in personal injury cases, is a tough but rewarding job. It is not as glamorous as many people think, but helping people when they're injured is important, and while it is nothing like what the media presents it as, I couldn't choose a more satisfying and challenging business to be in. The client is our first priority, and being a lawyer is all about representing those who need it most.”

Like with all media, you must take it with a grain of salt (and popcorn), but knowing how popular media portrays lawyers can help new law school hopefuls navigate the sea of opinions, while also improving how the public looks at lawyers.

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