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5 Things Movies And TV Shows Get Wrong About Lawyers

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It’s an old belief that becoming a lawyer is one of the best careers to have. Attorneys are held to a high prestige, and the media loves to create narratives around their high-stakes careers. However, being a lawyer isn’t as glamorous nor as exciting as they make it out to be in the movies. Here are five ways in which Hollywood inflates the lives of lawyers.

Good Lawyers Represent Innocent People

Most lawyers on T.V. either represent good or evil, depending on the clients they serve. For example, in The Godfather, the Corleone family is able to dodge responsibility for their crimes due to the help of their sleazy lawyer, Tom Hagan. In contrast, the protagonist of To Kill A Mockingbird, Atticus Finch, is on the side of the innocent. Though this works well for the narrative, lawyers represent both innocent and guilty people. It doesn’t make them good or bad people— they’re just doing their jobs.

Their Salary

Because getting a law degree is so difficult, and because many movies show lawyers as having multi-million dollar careers, many people believe that all lawyers are making top salaries. In the movie The Firm, Mitch McDeere, a first-year lawyer, is offered six-figures and a Mercedes when he signs on. However, the L.A. Times interviewed a senior attorney who quoted, “There’s no first-year associate around that is worth $90,000.” In fact, public defenders’ median salary is closer to $58,000.

The Lawyer Does All The Work

In most television dramas, the story is wrapped around one lawyer’s case in which they become the hero that “cracks the code,” and rescues their client or puts the bad guy away. For example, in Better Call Saul, Jimmy and Chuck crack the Sandpiper case single-handedly before presenting it to the firm HHM. In reality, this would take a team of paralegals, clerks, investigators, and office staff to find the evidence and present a convincing case.

Lawyers Get Heated In Court

There’s no doubt that being a lawyer is an emotional job. Your skill could be putting someone’s future on the line, so attorneys likely feel very passionate about their clients’ cases. However, it is very rare for lawyers to raise their voices, give rousing speeches against the court, or say, punch defendants in the face as Harvey Dent does in The Dark Knight. Most of this would be considered contempt of court, so lawyers are much more subdued in their defenses than seen on TV.

The Length Of Trials And Prosecution

Due to time constraints on television, producers skip over much of the grunt work and time-consuming parts of a legal case. However, this can lead to a misconstrued understanding of the legal process and the time it takes. In Law and Order, all mysteries are wrapped up in a tidy 30-minute episode, distorting viewers’ understanding of the trial process. According to studies done by the International Academy of Trial Lawyers, it typically takes over 50 months for a verdict to be determined on any one case.

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