Do Legal TV Shows Ever Get It Right?Almost every year, new legal dramas and comedies on television highlight the types of cases that people have in real life. The shows often focus on criminal cases, but there have been popular shows that highlight other areas of the law. The shows profile the legal system from various viewpoints – criminal and civil defense lawyers, prosecutors, judges, plaintiff’s lawyers, victims, defendants, witnesses – and just about anyone and everyone.

JAG which ran between 1995 and 2005 highlighted military trials and terroristic threats. Judging Amy starred Judge Amy Gray who struggled to be a single parent while handling family cases. Night Court was a humorous look at New York’s less offensive crimes, in which the court was presided over by the antics of Judge Harry Stone. Today, Bull is a legal show that focuses on a consulting firm that specializes in helping lawyers select jurors.

As with most fiction, viewers should understand that the shows are indeed fiction. Real-life courtroom cases are often handled much differently and less dramatically.

The ABA Top Five

Now, we’ve talked before about how police procedurals often misrepresent the criminal justice process. But what about legal shows? Do they get it right?

Sometimes, yes – they do. The American Bar Association compiled a list of its top television legal dramas. The list includes some shows that go back to the era and black and white television.

  1. The Practice(1997-2004). This show was about a defense team that often competed with the blueblood and pedigreed firms by “making up the difference with street smarts and sheer tenacity.” The ABA likes it because “The Practice appreciated the cognitive dissonance between applications of the law and real life.”
  2. Law & Order(1990- 2010). “Producer Dick Wolf is said to have conceived the show’s format—first half, investigation and arrest; second, trial and verdict—after watching tapes of a British show while working as a writer on the 1980s hit Miami Vice.” The show produced a number of spin-offs.The show has become infamous for its “ripped from the headlines” plots.
  3. The Defenders(1961-1965). The criminal defense lawyers, a father and son team, took the hard cases. It was rated highly because “it offered some of the most sophisticated dis­cussions about the nuances of the legal system that television had yet seen.”
  4. Perry Mason(1957-1966), This show gave many viewers their first taste of the criminal justice system. It was noted for Raymond Burr’s portrayal of Mr. Mason who often succeeded in having the person who committed the crime confess in open court at the end of the show.
  5. L.A. Law(1986-1994). This colorful show about a boutique law firm depicted its lawyers and partners as “smart, driven, fallible, sexy and as varied as the rest of humankind.” And while this show didn’t always depict the real world of the legal community, there are a lot of attorneys out there who were inspired by the dynamics of the firm.

It’s good to know that there are shows out there which strive to get it right, but we should all remember that what we see on TV isn’t always the whole story. Cases take far longer than 60 minutes to develop, and trials can go for days, even weeks. The reality is often far more complicated than what you see presented on TV or in film.

At Shepherd & Long, PC our lawyers understand that TV is no substitute for the experience, resources, and tenacity necessary to represent the accused. To reserve a consultation at our office in Maryville, please call 865-982-8060 or complete our contact form. Our firm handles a wide array of legal matters, and is proud to represent clients throughout East Tennessee.