What do most TV shows and movies get wrong about the legal profession?

I’m amazed at the number of people who believe, from what fictitious TV lawyers “accomplish,” that if the lawyers just try hard enough, do enough research, pound the pavement tenaciously, any case can be won. No. Some clients plainly do not have the facts and the law on their side. Sometimes it’s glaringly obvious. They deserve to lose. They will lose.

A good lawyer tells a client with this kind of case not to litigate that case, but instead to settle or try to make the best of a bad situation. A good lawyer does not give this kind of client false hope. A good lawyer does not try to create a silk purse out of a sow’s ear by lying in representing the case to the judge and jury in a false light. A good lawyer does not charge his client to do a bunch of unnecessary work that will be of no benefit to the client.

Lawyer shows on TV portray lawyers as wizards. People who watch TV and then later get into legal trouble are desperate for hope. They want to believe that lawyers have magic powers to deliver them from any situation. And so many of them do believe this. They really do believe it. It’s hard for attorneys to be the bearers of bad news generally, but even harder in these circumstances. “Just believe” cannot transform a lousy case into a good one.[1] Good lawyers will bear the bad news regardless. You can’t win every argument. Some cases are losers through and through. Bad attorneys prefer to feed false hope and make a buck or two in the process, rather than confront clients with the disappointing truth.

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[1] While a positive attitude is a virtue and a key to a happy life, “just believe” is a cheap and appealing way to avoid confronting reality in legal matters.

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