TV shows about lawyers and paralegals are notoriously inaccurate when it comes to both the law and to the daily operations of the average law firm. Sex and intrigue are always more central to the plot line than any actual legal procedure.
For most of the audience, that’s exactly why they tune in. And hey, even paralegals are allowed to carve out some couch time to indulge in a good legal drama, even if they do find themselves rolling their eyes at the absurd inaccuracies.
Some of these shows offer the kind of guilty pleasure even paralegals can’t resist… The ‘80s favorite L.A. Law and the seemingly-always-on Law & Order series both scored near the top of all-time favorite legal TV shows in a 2014 survey conducted by staffing firm Robert Half.
Many others, though, are not only a waste of screen time but also make lives difficult for folks in the legal profession by portraying unrealistic outcomes and legal remedies that simply don’t exist in real life. When clients come in with their own half-baked legal theory concocted after a couple hours of binge watching “Suits” it just makes everyone’s life difficult.
Here’s our pick for the top 5 TV legal dramas that paralegals love to hate…
- SuitsThe premise of “Suits” is not only ludicrous—that a brilliant law school dropout could masquerade as an associate at a prestigious New York City law firm—but the portrayal of daily life at the firm as revolving around intriguing and challenging cases and a revolving cast of improbably young and attractive lawyers and paralegals hopping in and out of bed with one another would quickly pop the whole suspension of disbelief thing for anyone who has ever even been in the lobby of a real-life law firm.
Even worse, the show particularly denigrates paralegals, with paralegal work being portrayed as the worst form of legal manure shoveling. Most paralegals don’t even recognize the alternate-universe legal system portrayed in the show, either; with a case-a-week format where the wheels of justice turn at the impossible pace of tires on a Formula 1 race car. Cases shown as going from conception to resolution in an hour of screen time would actually take years in real life.
- The Good Wife“The Good Wife” was anchored by solid acting and received much deserved critical acclaim throughout its seven season run, but it still managed to be one of those legal dramas that grate on the nerves of the average paralegal.
Like “Suits,” the case-a-week format stretched the boundaries of imagination to the breaking point in terms of both speed and the neatness of resolution. The ripped-from-today’s-headlines source of many of the cases made this extra ludicrous… the pre-trial jousting involved and the necessity of analyzing precedent and evaluating the potential profitability of cases ensures that most such cutting-edge legal questions take a long time to get to the courtroom in real life.
But it might have been the overly dramatic plot gyrations that ultimately doomed the show for many paralegals. The central theme of loss and resurrection was introduced as main character Alicia Florrick was forced to recover on her own from her philandering husband’s downfall. That initial plotline was powerful and interesting, but as the show progressed it launched one crazy twist after another, all while presuming that the business of law could proceed as usual in the background.
- How To Get Away With MurderA lot of lawyers and paralegals have probably wanted to kill someone at some point along the way while trying to complete school or pass the bar… but not many take it as far as the show’s lead characters have in actually offing a few people. Even more remarkably, they manage to cover it up over the course of four seasons while having the usual array of affairs, unusual legal cases, and all the cray-cray drama we have come to expect from legal dramas on TV.
Paralegals will have trouble recognizing the heady blend of sex and murder that HTGAWM (as fans call it) regularly serves up, and it quickly becomes clear that actual legal issues are very much playing second-chair to the titillating devices driving viewership.
When the show’s main character threatens to turn in her own defense client – a shocking breach of both professional etiquette and common sense – that’s about the time most paralegals reach for the remote.
- Doubt“Doubt” was hardly on the air long enough to give paralegals a chance to hate it, which probably tells you most of what you need to know about it. The Katherine Heigl-propelled drama became the first cancellation of the 2016-2017 season after viewers found the tale of a defense attorney who falls in love with her murderous client unpalatable after only two episodes aired.
Paralegals probably didn’t even need to watch all the way through the pilot to come to the same conclusion; it’s hard to say if it was the ethical issues of sleeping with your client or the fact that the two leads didn’t have any real chemistry that were the problem.
As a low-energy knock-off of “The Good Wife,” this show probably never stood a chance even without the sloppy legal procedure.
- Chicago JusticeChicago Fire, Chicago P.D., Chicago Med… you could probably see what was coming next in the inexplicably popular franchise of shows based in… let’s see, which city was that, again? Oh, right. Chicago.
Well, for any sticklers for authenticity that remained in the viewership of the series after 5 years of watching the writers butcher the inner workings of the fire, police, and hospitals, “Chicago Justice” was the final stake in the heart. It only lasted a single season, putting many paralegals and lawyers mercifully out of their misery as they signed on to watch this adjunct cross-over from the “Special Victims Unit” universe (a franchise that is and remains popular with many legal professionals).
Whereas the Law and Order universe adheres to a certain procedural formula that paralegals often find compelling and even morally provoking, “Chicago Justice” followed in the footsteps of its other progenitors with more slavish attention to drama and sex appeal than legal procedure. Although legal dramas don’t have to be accurate to be good, “Chicago Justice” was neither and paid the price.