Lies Pop Culture Told Me about Law
I’d be lying if I didn’t say that Legally Blonde, To Kill a Mockingbird and The Castle didn’t play a fundamental part in my decision to study law. Movies made it seem like great fun and all the lawyers on TV were always busy but still had lives outside of work.
Any career that would allow me to wear a suit, earn big money and argue while still maintaining a social life seemed like a great path. If only I had known that pop culture was lying to me…
Lie #1: Australian Courts use gavels
It was an embarrassing four years into my law degree that I discovered that Australian courts do not use gavels! It was a very disappointing revelation.
Lie #2: If you’re great at arguing, you’ll be an amazing lawyer
I suspect that this sentiment is largely responsible for my decision to study law. Growing up, fights with my parents would be met with comments that I would always have a career in law. Pop culture doesn’t do much to dissuade this line of thinking, with shows such as Ally McBeal and Boston Legal featuring characters who live to argue. But in reality, an ability to be convincing and eloquent is much more important than getting the last word in.
Lie #3: As a lawyer, I will live a life of glamour, caviar and champagne breakfasts
Suits shows Harvey Spector with plenty of free cash, driving fancy cars and carrying around a cheque for $500,000 to buy into the firm. In contrast, Ally McBeal works for a flashy boutique firm and shares an apartment with her Assistant District Attorney friend. While some lawyers earn the big bucks, it’s definitely not the norm.
Lie #4: The courtroom is a place for epic soliloquies and reflective monologues
Boston Legal, Ally McBeal, Legally Blonde and To Kill a Mockingbird all feature emotional closing arguments that touch hearts and convince all in the courtroom. If a lawyer were to emulate Atticus Finch or Alan Shore in court, they might not get the results they see on TV.
Lie #5: OBJECTION!
The courtroom isn’t the place for outbursts or screaming and yelling. While there is a time and place for objections, pop culture would have you believing that every second sentence said by the other side is debatable. Jury members are often surprised when their time in court isn’t the dramatic debate they expected to see.
Lie #6: Lawyers are bad people
This is not a lie solely perpetuated by pop culture, with reality helping the situation along. Let us take a look at many of our pop-culture lawyers.
There’s Peter Florrick of The Good Wife who hires prostitutes. Daniel Hartman of Suits cheats on his dying wife when he isn’t too busy embezzling. As evil as some of these pop culture lawyers are, the reality is vastly different. Being a lawyer does not define a person as bad. Perhaps people automatically consider lawyers as evil thanks to the apparent wealth (see above), but lawyers are generally hardworking, good people.
Lie #7: A case progresses from the crime to sentencing within a week
This lie is one that is perpetuated regularly on legal dramas. Occasionally a character will make reference to a long-term case that one has been working on for years, but generally the case progresses swiftly. Take Ally McBeal: where a character makes the decision to sue (or commits a crime) and the matter is resolved within a few days. While I never believed that the law moved as quickly as pop culture would have me believe, it would be nice if there were an element of reality to this aspect of legal pop-culture.
Lie #8: Law is easy and involves little to no real work
Elle Woods. Mike Ross. Lionel Hutz. Denny Crane. The list of lawyers in pop-culture who appear to be rather unintelligent is apparently endless. Elle Woods starts out as a sorority sister, obsessed with all things pink. Lionel Hutz can’t win a case and Denny Crane is a loose cannon. Then there’s Mike Ross, who passed the bar without attending law school and manages to fake being a lawyer without raising any red flags.
Pop culture makes law look easy, something anyone can do if they just ‘put their mind to it’ and brush up on the process of a perm. But for those of us struggling to make it through law school, late nights filled with unintelligible legislation and case law is the unfortunate reality.
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