TV on trial

By: September 20, 2016

Do popular legal shows get anything right about real-life lawyering?

It seems the masses can’t get enough lawyer-drama to satisfy their cravings. One glance at the most popular shows and it’s a miracle anything else gets made. But which ones appeal to real-life lawyers? We asked three TV-loving lawyers if the shows they’ve seen are as realistic as they are entertaining.

Kerry Washington in Scandal


Reviewed by Mary Paterson
Partner at Osler, Hoskin and Harcourt LLP in Toronto

This outlandish show stars Kerry Washington as Olivia Pope, a former lawyer and White House aide who spends her days protecting the images of the political elite.

Though she’s left the law behind, she and lawyers have one thing in common: difficult clients. So it can be damn satisfying to watch Olivia lay into those who disregard her advice. “There are moments where she delivers a devastating soliloquy,” says Mary Paterson. “It burns bridges, but you always have these soliloquies running through your mind. To see someone deliver one is very cathartic.”

Still, the show is nonsense. The subplot involves a secret, world-dominating organization, headed by Olivia’s father. “None of the background is believable.”

Entertainment: ★★★⭐︎⭐︎

Reality: ⭐︎⭐︎⭐︎⭐︎⭐︎

A scene from SuitsSuits

Reviewed by Kyla Lee
Criminal lawyer at Acumen Law Corporation in Vancouver

In this legal dramedy, hotshot New York City lawyer Harvey Specter (Gabriel Macht) hires Mike Ross (Patrick J. Adams), a college dropout who never went to law school, but has a photographic memory. The pair con the partners into thinking Mike is a Harvard graduate.

The rest of the show is as far-fetched as its premise. Harvey jumps from M&A law one day to criminal law the next. “Lawyers don’t deal with everything,” says Kyla Lee. “We find our niche.”

Lee, who specializes in defending people charged with impaired driving, was especially annoyed with Suits’s ridiculous treatment of a hit-and-run, in which Harvey and Mike march their client down to the police station and advise he turn himself in. “You don’t just feed your client to the wolves. I was actually yelling at my TV.”

Entertainment: ★★★⭐︎⭐︎

Reality: ★★⭐︎⭐︎⭐︎

A scene from the WireThe Wire

Reviewed by Eric Gilman
Crown counsel at the Public Prosecution Service of Canada in Toronto

This crime drama, which explores Baltimore’s drug scene and criminal jus- tice system, is touted as the pinnacle of modern-era television. And, according to Eric Gilman, it deserves the reputation. “Drug kingpins are portrayed as villains and sympathetic characters,” he says. “As a criminal drug prosecutor, I see this every day. It’s hard to look at everything in black and white.”

It also nails the complexity of a long- term police investigation — a massive achievement for a show so gripping. “It’s not just about the individual busts, but also about the investigation of larger drug rings or gang activity.”

Entertainment: ★★★★★

Reality: ★★★★★

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