By: Sarah Jane Ricciardi
I applaud your efforts in making the legal profession a compelling subject worthy of dramatization on national television. Unfortunately, the legal system is not as “loosey goosey” as it appears on your shows. The good news is that many of you are guilty of the same offenses – which means they can easily be corrected. For those of you who do not employ a legal consultant (or those who employ a legal consultant who has never set foot in a courtroom), here are a few tidbits for your next episode.
First, lawyers cannot stop and deliver a monologue in the middle of an examination of a witness. When a witness doesn’t say what you want them to say, you can’t say it for them. If you could, there’d really be no point in having witnesses at all. So writers, when there’s a witness on the stand, the lawyer asks questions. That’s it.
While we’re on the topic of examinations, not every question is “argumentative.” The fact that a question hurts your case does not automatically mean that it’s objectionable. And if it is objectionable, find the proper objection. Relevance, hearsay, leading, asked and answered, speculation, legal conclusion, improper opinion, prior bad acts . . . . Do a bit of research. Having lawyers spit out clearly inaccurate objections is like having a nurse hand a syringe to a doctor who asked for a scalpel. It just doesn’t make sense.
For those shows where law enforcement plays a large role, police officers cannot force people to go to the station for questioning. Imagine if the opposite were true. You could be sitting on your couch eating Captain Crunch in your underwear and the cops could knock on your door and force you down to the station to ask you about a murder spree in Istanbul. What a world that would be!
There are also quite a few shows out there with concepts that are just so off base they should air on the SyFy channel. For example, “Bad Judge” should be entitled “Disbarred Judge.” Because seriously. The Rules of Judicial Conduct are a thing. Check ‘em out. And Shonda Rhimes, I appreciate your work. I really do. But “How to Get Away with Murder” actually physically hurts me. A law professor cannot give a lecture to 150 students about an ongoing case involving her client. And she most certainly can’t bring those 150 students to interview said client. Does “confidentiality” mean nothing to you?
Now this may seem like an angry tirade by a bitter law student. And it is. You see, it’s exam time. So naturally, I’ve been watching television shows about the law rather than studying. At first, I thought it was a productive way of procrastinating. But now, I’ve come to realize that these shows are so unrealistic that I should just go back to watching Hallmark holiday movies. Thank goodness I DVR’d “A Royal Christmas.”
Lacey Chabert’s number 1 fan
P.S. I’ll be available for hire as a legal consultant in September 2016. Call me.