Top 5 TV Shows That Got The Law Wrong
The entire premise of the show Suits is a resounding legal ethical issue. The show follows Mike Ross, a brilliant college dropout with photographic memory who works for Harvey Specter, an attorney. Together, Harvey and Mike take on various legal issues all while keeping their well-kept secret that Mike is not actually a barred attorney. Later on in the show, this secret is leaked out to another attorney at their firm, who also decides to keep mum on the situation.
In the real world, no law-abiding attorney would ever take the risk of covering up such a huge legal ethic and criminal violation for a non-attorney just because he’s really smart. The consequences would be far too immense for all involved, including the law firm. Harvey would likely be disbarred, face criminal fraud charges, and face potential malpractice suites. Mike could definitely face criminal fraud charges as well as charges for unauthorized practice of law, forgery, and tampering with records. The firm would suffer a shattered reputation and likely be subject to investigation. The repercussions would be tremendous and all the while, genius Mike could have just gone to law school like everyone else.
On the other hand, maybe it’s not such a reach after all–just look at Kimberly M. Kitchen. She managed to pose as an attorney for ten years, make firm partner, and become the president of her county bar association before getting caught.
2. Pretty Little Liars
Pretty Little Liars is far from a legal drama but a lot of mysterious murders go down throughout the show and various members of the cast end up finding themselves behind bars framed as the killer. In one particular instance, main character Alison DiLaurentis finds herself in such a situation. While Alison is preparing for trial, she laments to a visiting friend that her attorney refuses to let her take the stand to testify on her own behalf and that she’s being forced to take a guilty plea.
In reality, Alison’s attorney would not be able to force Alison to do anything, including keeping her off the stand in her own criminal trial. In criminal cases, the accused have a constitutional right to take the stand and testify if they so choose. Further, legal ethics mandate attorneys to place their client’s interests first and to diligently and competently represent those interests. Thus, if Alison wanted to take the stand, the most her attorney could lawfully do is advise against it. Similarly, if Alison didn’t want to take the guilty plea, her attorney could not do anything to force her to take it. Someone ought to inform Alison of her rights!
3. The Good Wife
The Good Wife makes for great dramatic television, but might not be the best source for legal ethics lessons. The show has had a number of ethical hiccups throughout the course of its lifetime, but season 3, episode 17, “The Long Way Home,” is one of the most memorable.
In that episode, attorney Alicia Florrick is direct examining her client Colin Sweeney as to whether he had sexually harassed a former employee. Colin testifies he never had sex with the former employee, but once off the stand, he quickly changes his story. Colin admits to Alicia he was lying the whole time and brags about his sexual exploits with the employee.
Alicia is at a loss as to what to do and turns to her mentor who in turn gives her terrible, horribly unethical advice. Alicia’s mentor assures her she will be immune to any repercussions because she was not aware Colin was lying when he committed perjury. Her mentor further advises her to not tell the judge Colin was lying because she is obligated to protect her client’s interests, and because of this she may still continue to use Colin’s lies in her arguments to the court.
In real life, this is entirely wrong! Lying under oath to a judge is perjury and punishable by law. Any barred attorney knows that continuing to aid a client who you know has committed perjury and who plans to continue committing perjury is a grave ethical breach and could easily get you into trouble with the state bar and the court. An attorney in that situation should have quickly consulted their state’s legal ethics code to ensure they took the proper steps, which could amount to telling the judge and/or withdrawing representation entirely.
4. How To Get Away With Murder
How To Get Away With Murder focuses on defense attorney Annalise Keating who moonlights as a criminal law professor. Throughout the show, Keating is constantly intertwining her students with her clients and teaching them real-life legal lessons. In several instances, Keating brings her students to her firm to interact with clients where the clients will often divulge their entire story.
In reality, no defense attorney currently working a case would ever allow for a client to breach the ever-precious attorney-client privilege. Throughout representation, communications between a client and his or her attorney are protected and confidential, but that protection can be broken if such communications are made to third parties who are not serving as agents of the attorney and who are not receiving those communication for the purpose of furnishing legal services.
If an attorney like Keating were to allow her clients to discuss confidential matters with her students, that information would then be considered wide open for the opposing party to interrogate through discovery. In other words, it would be a huge mistake and the client could very well turn around and sue the attorney for malpractice and incompetent representation.
5. Law & Order: Special Victims Unit
Law & Order SVU is a hugely popular crime and legal drama set in New York City. The show follows detectives investigating crimes within the special victims unit and oftentimes the detectives will find incriminating forensic evidence, get the evidence tested, get the bad guy in court, and get the defense attorney to take him down all in the same week.
Police departments, courts, and lawyers only dream about criminal cases being rolled out that fast. In reality, it could be years before a criminal case is finally heard before a jury. Attorneys often are not handling a single case at a time and must work with opposing counsel and the court to manage the case and calendar various litigation procedures. So if you’re planning on being involved in a lawsuit, ignore Law & Order timelines and be prepared to do a fair bit of waiting throughout the process.