Five Reasons Law Students Should Watch TV Series
Admit it - most of us grew up learning quite a bit from various television programs. We learned our ABCs, how to count in Spanish, countless scientific facts, and that Lake Titicaca lies between Bolivia and Peru. But now that you're a serious grown-up studying law you may think that television programs are just mindless entertainment. If so, you would be wrong. Here are five reasons you should be watching procedural dramas and law TV programs.
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There's a reason that programs like Perry Mason, Law & Order, and The Good Wife are so popular and long-lasting. Legal practices and the legal profession carry an air of drama and mystique that make them intriguing to the uninitiated public. People watch criminal and procedural dramas because the average person will never fight for the throne of seven kingdoms, investigate an alien conspiracy, or don a mask and rid their city of crime, but there's a very real chance that they might be involved in a court of law, even if it's just as a juror. Legal shows make people feel like they can understand the complexities of law and offer a real sense of justice and closure. But why should you, a law student, watch legal dramas when you're already very aware that programs don't accurately represent what happens in real courtrooms? Here are five good reasons.
1. Your 'customers' are watching (and 'learning')
Like we said, non-professionals enjoy procedural dramas because they offer a sense of justice and present complicated legal issues in a way that helps laypeople understand the law. But that's precisely why you should be watching as well. For some of your clients, their only exposure to things like the Miranda Law, their Fourth Amendment Right, or sentencing procedures may have come from TV dramas, and it could be helpful for you to understand the origins of their conceptions (or misconceptions). Awareness of clients' exposure to dramatized legal procedures can also help to manage expectations. Lawyers and legal professionals often talk about things like the 'Perry Mason Effect' or the 'CSI Effect,' when referring to the unreal expectations jurors have regarding evidence. The same applies to clients who might believe you can perform oratory miracles in your closing argument or resolve a messy divorce with some well-timed one-liners.
2. You'll stay current
Another reason for the popularity of law shows and crime dramas is that many use 'ripped-from-the-headlines' story lines. Dramatized cases will often mirror recent or current high-profile cases, but shows like the Good Wife and The Practice also use contemporary social and political issues for plot points. Some, like the short-lived Century City, try to predict the future of law as technology pushes the limits of human ability and ethics. The point is, while popular courtroom dramas may not present an accurate picture of legal daily grind, they can give a sense of which issues are important and could even give you a heads-up on what you should be following.
3. You'll know how to dress
During the 90s, Ally McBeal got a lot of flack for over-sexualizing professional women, but in a time when most professional women on TV were sporting pastel pant-suits and shoulder pads, Ally McBeal showed that business women didn't have to be blowsy. And modern shows like Suits and Drop Dead Diva are taking the message to a new generation. For some, the legal profession conjures up visions of dark suits, powdered wigs and robes, and old men with very serious haircuts. But as you know, legal professionals are anything but frumpy and professional lawyers are allowed to have personality. Just take a lesson from Mike Ross and Jane Bingum – keep it smart, but stylish.
4. You'll know who to trust
Okay, okay, we all know that most law firms aren't the dens of intrigue, scandal, and romance that TV shows would have us think. But we've been learning how to make friends from TV programs since Mr. Rogers, and legal dramas can teach us how to interact with the people around us. Whether you're dealing with larger than life personalities like the characters in Boston Legal or trying to mediate between clients like Kate Reed in Fairly Legal, procedural dramas teach us the importance of developing and maintaining good interpersonal relationships. And don't forget your life outside the law. Shows like Judging Amy help remind us that the family and friends who stand with us are just as important as the victims and criminals that stand before us.
5. You'll know what not to do
So, we've already established that procedural dramas are very inaccurate. But one of the biggest complaints leveled at TV dramas by legal professionals (apart from the fact that Americans do practice law outside of Boston) is the complete disregard for the law that many shows portray. And we're not talking about accused criminals getting away with murder on a technicality. Law professors frequently use courtroom dramas to show their students what not to do when it comes to professional conduct and ethics. Most law students realize that Saul Goodman is a pretty shady lawyer, but shows like Silk make corruption, back-stabbing, and drug-use seem commonplace, and many popular shows allow their characters to get off with a mild tongue-lashing when they would, in reality, be almost instantly disbarred. But don't take our word for it – must-see TV, late-night television, and streaming services are full of gripping procedural dramas and light-hearted courtroom comedies full of life-lessons. And if nothing else, you'll have something to watch when you're not studying.
The Keystone Team is comprised of experienced educators and advisors dedicated to providing valuable resources and advice to students all over the world.
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