Sunday, July 24, 2005

DAVID E. KELLEY TRIES TO GET REAL WITH "THE LAW FIRM"

As you may have noticed I have upped the legal content on this site, in part because I've made a conscious decision to get more involved with law again, though I still am not sure whether I want to try it again on a full time basis myself. At the very least, though, I've decided to write more about it.

David E. Kelley is back in the news again with a new show called The Law Firm. It's a reality show that pits teams of lawyers against each other and frankly, it kind of looks similar to The Apprentice. In fact The Apprentice and The Law Firm have one thing in common: they both had plenty of lawyers on as contestants. Interesting.

These two teams will be trying cases against one another and will be working like mad to prepare each case. The "firm" is led by managing partner Roy Black, who many of you know is one of the most prominent criminal lawyers in the United States. He's best known for working on sex cases: he got William Kennedy Smith acquitted of rape charges. He was not as successful with Marv Albert, accepting a plea deal that saw Albert plead guilty to assault in that sodomy trial. He'll be the one doing the Donald Trump routine and I expect he'll be firing members of the losing trial team every week. So conceptually it actually sounds promising and with David E. Kelley in charge it may actually stand a chance. And people love courtroom shows at the moment.

The thing is that David E. Kelley is supposed to not like reality shows. He was all upset years ago because FOX scheduled "Joe Millionaire" against The Practice on Monday nights and literally destroyed that show. So he called it "crap" and went on a rampage against reality TV. He was right then and right now, but yet he's turned around and is doing a reality show. Maybe he thinks he can do a better job. Heck, anyone can do a better job than most of these clods producing reality TV these days. I heard a few months ago that Kelley was working on a legal-type show, and there were actually a few ideas being tossed around as to how to actually do it. There was one show that was supposed to be on NBC that was thinking of doing the "street-smarts"-"book smarts" thing, but that concept eventually ended up on The Apprentice 3. This new show won't be doing that so maybe they scrapped the idea or brought in different producers.

Anyway, who knows. Maybe with David E. Kelley in charge the show might actually stand a chance of being a quality production. Certainly the promos look promising. It looks like it's going to be better than The Princes of Malibu, or that hideous Average Joe show. I hope so.

What worries me is that these trials may not be fair ones. A lot of the time these trials are decided based on precedents, so you may end up having to fight a bleeping losing case that you know for darned sure is a bleeping losing case, whether you want to or not. If you're stuck trying to defend against a spilled-coffee lawsuit, for example, or defending some tobacco company in a liability case, good luck. You'll need it. I sure hope these contestants get a choice whether or not they get to accept any of these cases that might end up sinking their careers on national television. Lawyers in real life make those types of decisions all the time, whether to accept cases or not, and if it looks like a loser they'll say so and demand their money up front. That's asuming they even accept the case.

The other thing I noticed was that a lot of these 12 contestants were trial lawyers in real life- most of them criminal lawyers, in fact. Some were PI lawyers and some did other types of litigation, and a couple did entertainment law. Now, this is not the normal composition of the legal profession, folks. The legal profession is not filled to the gills with criminal/PI/trial lawyers. In fact, criminal law and PI experience is something a lot of law firms look down on; it's seen as sleazy, especially PI work. So most of these contestants come from the two sleaziest wings of the legal profession in the eyes of most law firms.

Most firms would rather would have people who can do bank law and really bring in the business. Winning or losing cases doesn't matter. In fact, I am sure there are partners in these corporate law firms who've never tried a case, much less won them. I know lots of lawyers who were fired by law firms even though they had winning records in court all the time. Doesn't matter; it usually comes down to office politics. I read Rikki Klieman's book and she says that she was humiliatingly voted down for partnership at the Boston white-shoe law firm she was working at because the people there didn't want her doing criminal law. They didn't want her criminal-element clients sitting in the same lobby as these bankers, or something. It didn't matter that she was winning all these cases and getting all this recognition as one of the top criminal lawyers in the United States. Same thing with prosecutors. Prosecutors win in court pretty much all the time; heck, they're usually up against people who are guilty all the time. But if your boss, the D.A., is defeated in the election, you end up fired. That's what happened to Kimberly Guilfoyle-Newsom. She lost her prosecuting job in San Francisco because her boss was defeated, and had to move to L.A. (Eventually, she was re-hired.) I believe Nancy Grace also lost her job in some similar circumstance ( resigned before she was fired ) and that's how she ended up on TV. So it really doesn't matter at any of these places whether they won all these cases or not. It matters to the clients, though, but I guess the clients don't count in the real world with real law firms.

This show may give people the impression that the way to make it in a law firm is to win a lot of cases or be a criminal lawyer. It's not true and sadly that's kind of too bad, because it would be a much more meritocratic profession if firms operated that way.

But the part about people being fired every week is true. Okay, I'm half-kidding, but people do get fired a lot for nonsensical reasons.

So to be honest I am not expecting to see a lot of reality from this reality show. I just hope it's good entertainment. David E. Kelley may have a legal background (he worked in a Boston law firm before getting into the TV show business) but the thing that you notice about all of his shows is that there is not a lot of reality to them- they are sort of outsized versions of what legal life is like. In fact, that's why a lot of lawyers like his shows: because they sort of represent what they wish law practise really was, but isn't. Frankly, a lot of lawyers wish they were part of cool law firms like the ones in The Practice or Boston Legal, and lots of women wish they could appear in court all the time all fashionable in those short skirts like Ally McBeal. In the real world, though, Ally would be stuck in a dungeon office doing paperwork, and wouldn't be caught dead wearing those fashions. Most real lawyers want out of this crummy profession, because it's not like it's portrayed on TV. In fact I wouldn't be surprised if some of these contestants on this show are hoping it will be a big hit so they can become famous, then they can get out of their boring high-stress law jobs and into show business. So I expect some of these people to get into catfights and do the Omarosa thing, just to make the most of their 15 minutes of fame.

Not likely that we're going to see these lawyers churning out billable hours on this reality show. Too boring.

UPDATE- Here's another article on the show, which airs Thursdays at 9 EST on NBC, and you know, reading this article, this show sounds very promising: apparently it won't all be about winning or losing every case and Roy Black is not going to go for any contestants sticking around based on theatrics or whether they look good on TV. Producers won't be whispering in his ear about who to get rid of. That's good. There may be hope for reality TV yet.

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