Most of us love to watch legal dramas and movies featuring intense courtroom scenes. It’s thrilling to see someone wrongly accused of a crime be exonerated and liberated by a heroic lawyer or see a truly nefarious actor get their comeuppance at the hand of a prosecuting attorney.
The problem is most of these TV shows, and movies get a lot wrong about lawyers, courtrooms, and the law. Accordingly, most of us have skewed ideas about how lawyers and the law actually work.
Let’s take a look at some unpopular and unknown truths about lawyers and the law that directly contradict what we’ve seen in TV shows and movies.
Most Lawyers Avoid Going to Trial
If you based all your assumptions on what you saw in TV shows and movies, you might think that court cases are insanely common – and that daily work for most lawyers involves attending courtroom proceedings. But the reality is most lawyers avoid going to trial unless absolutely necessary. Trials are long, expensive, drawn-out endeavors; they usually work against every party involved. Instead, it’s much more common for lawyers to negotiate decent outcomes that both parties can agree on too long before a case goes to trial.
This is one reason why legal funding has become so popular. It’s very common for plaintiffs in personal injury cases to seek a negotiated settlement as compensation for damages, but even these settlements can take some time to receive. Legal funding makes it possible to receive your cash in advance, so you can use it at your discretion until your settlement money comes in.
There Are Very Few “Good Guys” and “Bad Guys”
In most popular fiction narratives, lawyers and their clients are clearly presented as either “good guys” or “bad guys.” There’s usually at least one clear person who is not only totally innocent but morally virtuous as well. There’s also usually at least one clear person who is malicious, destructive, or deceitful.
In real life, it shouldn’t surprise you to learn that there are very few good guys and bad guys in court cases, at least in terms of strict definitions. Even people who commit violent crimes are sometimes the victims of extenuating circumstances, and even people who are completely exonerated of wrongdoing in a given case can live problematic lives in other ways.
Not All Lawyers Make Absurd Money
The median salary for a lawyer in the United States is about $126,930 – which is certainly impressive. But if you look at how lawyers are presented in mainstream media, you might think all lawyers are millionaires. The bottom 25 percent of lawyers made a median salary of $84,450 – and there are plenty of lawyers making far less than that, especially in the earliest stages of their careers. The truth is, not all lawyers are rich, and some lawyers are genuinely struggling to get by. Much depends on the specific type of work you do and where you’re working.
Practicing Law Requires a Team
In TV shows and movies, you rarely see clerks, researchers, paralegals, legal aides, and other staff members. But these people all play critical roles in managing clients, preparing for cases, and executing other forms of legal work. Practicing law requires a team; it’s not just one rock star of a lawyer leading the charge.
Most Lawyers Juggle Multiple Cases Simultaneously
In most legal dramas, the film or TV episode is almost exclusively focused on one case. The way it’s presented, you might believe that lawyers focus only on one case until that case is completed. But in reality, this would be an impractical and inefficient way to do things. Negotiations and court cases can sometimes take months, if not years, to settle – so most lawyers are juggling multiple cases simultaneously at all times.
Courtroom Dynamics Are Very Strict
Court proceedings are notoriously strict. You can’t scream out that you have an objection whenever the opposition says something you don’t like. You aren’t allowed to question witnesses in ways that deviate from established standards. You don’t have the option of standing up and delivering a heartfelt speech whenever you feel impassioned to do so. Judges in real cases aren’t very lenient, and they expect lawyers to act in a very dignified, regimented way.
The Prep Work Is Exhaustive
It’s also worth mentioning that the prep work for lawyers is absolutely exhaustive. You can’t improvise your way through a case, or else you’ll lose decidedly. Some lawyers spend weeks of their time carefully reviewing documents, gathering evidence, and practicing what they’re going to say in court. Obviously, this prep work doesn’t make for good drama watching, but seeing it would result in a much more true-to-life depiction.
Just because movies and TV shows aren’t very accurate from a legal perspective doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy them. In fact, we probably wouldn’t be entertained by perfectly accurate depictions of courtroom interactions.
All that matters is that you understand these depictions aren’t always accurate and that you take what you see in the media with a grain of salt.