One of my favorite new shows is Boston Legal. (The other is Lost, if you were wondering.) Boston Legal is a spinoff of The Practice, which in turn was a spinoff of Ally McBeal, and mixes the best of both. Ally McBeal tended to favor humor in place of realistic legal situations, and The Practice is set up as a drama with some humor, Boston Legal has great humor and juxtaposes realistic litigation situations and office interactions with eccentric personalities and sometimes odd behavior.
But what I really love is that the writers seem to have done their legal research, and draw on realistic ethical dilemmas and litigation problems and procedures. I'm a second year law student (evening division), and so many times I'll be analyzing something that's been put forward for whether it's accurate or not, or trying to predict what strategy they might employ in a particular situation. Some of the ethical situations would make for great discussion topics in this semester's Law and Ethics of Lawyering class I'm in.
They don't go in for cut and dry moralizing across the board, either, although the continuum seems to be spread among the characters in this way:
- The junior partners are divided. One sees everything as black and white, one lives in the shades of grey, and the third struggles in each situation.
- The associates have a tendency to be influenced strongly by whichever junior partner they've been working with most closely. This becomes problematic, especially when they're emulating the grey attorney, Alan Shore (played by James Spader). They often simply don't have the finesse and experience to juggle to the extent he does. They also don't have the established power to utilize when the more senior attorneys are coming down on them for their perhaps poor choices.
- The senior partners tend to be more decisive, and put the needs of the firm and the duty to the client first.
Some of the dilemmas faced thus far:
- Your client has been shot, and it is suspected that this occurred as he was robbing a convenience store. The only real evidence that will hold up, however, is the bullet lodged in his torso. Your client is stable, but if the bullet shifts it will kill him. The police want the ER to remove the bullet, but your client confesses to you that he did indeed get shot committing the crime, and doesn't want the bullet removed.
- You discover that one of your associates inadvertently discovered that one of your opposing counsel has come into the same bar as her, and leads him to believe that she is a flight attendant in order to get him to talk about his work. He falls for it and reveals confidential information that will lock up the case for you. How do you dig out of the mess without damaging the firm?
- One of your larger, long-term corporate clients is originally from Sudan, and travels back there regularly to visit family. He wants to use some of his extensive funds to bring suit against the United States to "make some noise" about the US's inaction in the ongoing genocide. On what possible grounds could you base a suit that wouldn't be immediately dismissed?
- A friend who is a therapist comes to you for advice regarding a patient who may or may not be planning to kill his ex-wife. The therapist is unsure if he should report his suspicions to the police or the ex-wife, and asks you to sit in on a session, posing as a therapist, to assist in his evaluation. Alan Shore advises what to do if you want to cover your butt, but adds that he himself rather enjoys the feel of a stiff breeze on his rosy cheeks.
Some of the other enjoyable interactions are between the liberal and conservatives members of the firm. For example, Denny Crane (William Shatner) accuses Shirley Schmidt (Candice Bergen) of Bush-bashing. She had talked about the war on terrorism, and "when liberals talk about war, that's Bush-bashing!"
In another episode, after Denny has successfully shot a man who was holding Alan Shore hostage (don't worry, the guy lived), he explains to Alan "something you liberals don't understand. This is a frontier country. We're cowboys and settlers. We work hard, and want to keep what we earn. And shoot the bad guys... to protect the people we love."
For a glimpse at the seamier (and equally entertaining) side of the show, see Will Work for Favorable Dicta.
Bret Fausett at LexText provided this analysis of the show's presentation of ethical choices after the first episode, and found the writing a bit lacking in the reality department, but had hope that over the season the writers would get it right. I admit that I missed the first few episodes, but I think that Bret's hopes have come to fruition. And even though the characters still sometimes make the wrong choices, it's fun to try to spot the errors before the other characters do (or don't).
About the Author: Rogue Slayer Law Student, a 2LE at New England School of Law, spends her days as a technical writer for a financial software company. She says, "I live in the greater Boston area, and am an admitted geek and television/movie nut. The most helpful tool I've acquired for surviving law school is my Tivo."