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Boston Legal Syndrome Creeps Into The Courtroom

I go to court a lot - for a civil lawyer.  In fact, so far this week, I've been in one court or another every day, if not twice a day.  That schedule is de rigeur for a criminal hack, but unusual for a member of the civil bar.  There are those lawyers, probably the great majority, who would fit the definition of what I some times slanderously (and now libelously) refer to as "paper tigers."  You know - the lawyer who pushes paper between lawyers and in and out of court.

In other words, the kind of lawyer who doesn't try cases. 

But not the now infamous Alan Shore.  Here's a lawyer (at least he plays one on TV) who gets to tell the judge off.  Here's an excerpt:

ALAN SHORE: My point: We're not getting services at home. The people in New Orleans didn't after Katrina, my client didn't here. And by the way, I don't think I'm that much of a complainer given all there is to complain about: education, Social Security, inflation, unemployment, health care, homeland security, the war, the fact that Osama and Britney keep pumping out new videos, there's global warming. Nothing, nothing is going right, judge, and you simply cannot put a positive spin on it no matter how many times you say "General Petraeus."

JUDGE: Thirty seconds from a jail cell.

SHORE: This war has cost us $450 billion dollars and still counting. Add to that the Afghanistan invasion, it goes up to $650 billion. Add all the indirect costs, it goes up to two trillion.

JUDGE: Twenty seconds!

SHORE: Let's just consider what the $450 billion dollars we spent on Iraq could buy us. How about free health insurance for every uninsured family, $124 billion. Convert every single car to run on ethanol, $68 billion. Primary education for every child on the planet -- all of them -- $30 billion. Hey, end hunger in America, $7 billion.

JUDGE: You are not an accountant!

SHORE: No, I'm a town crier, judge. We have to talk about the cost of this war in terms of human lives. It's in the thousands. And by that I mean American soldiers since the Pentagon doesn't seem to count Iraqis, but that's a small point. The actual cost is much, much more.

JUDGE: Suing our government, suing a branch of our military in a time of war cannot help but add to it. No, your case against the National Guard is dismissed...

One of the rareities where Shore loses, but nonetheless, his interaction with the judge is high drama on TV on Tuesday nights.  For a lawyer, Boston Legal is absolutely hilarious, and one of my favorite shows.  In the words of my partner, "it's funny because it's not real. After all, why would I want to go home and watch on TV what I do all day long?"  And he's exactly right.  It's funny because it's not real, and it pokes fun a just about everything connected with our legal system and takes some fairly left-handed swings at the political establishment too.  Humorous, indeed.

But I'm starting to see something I don't like.  Not on TV, but in real life.  I've dubbed it the "Boston Legal Syndrome."  You've heard of the "CSI Syndrome," right?  That's the one where jurors have come to expect exacting science from the crime lab.  DNA in every case, high science partial fingerprint matching, a single bone fragment that explains the whole case and puts the murderer away for life, last-minute evidence rushed into the courtroom that proves it was the guy no one expected.  Twists and turns abound.

Amuse us, jurors say.  Entertain us.  Put on a TV show.  We see it in our living rooms, now we want it in real life.

Now, Boston Legal is creeping into the relationships between judges and lawyers.

Some lawyers have watched too much Boston Legal.  Some judges, too.  The Duke Lacrosse debacle, Phil Spector's lawyer taking a time out from trial to film a TV show (while the trial continued in his absence) and a host of other unbelievable missteps.

But most troubling of is the start of a pattern where young lawyers believe they have the right to talk to a judge like a gang-banger on a street corner.  I've seen misguided attempts by inexperienced lawyers to mimic what they see on TV; a dangerous stunt that cost one youngster the opportunity to report his behavior to the state bar.  Lawyers who aren't in court on a regular basis seem more willing to insult the judge:  "with all due respect your honor" - tantamount to insulting the judge with several four-letter words, all of which would have had your grandmother washing your mouth out with soap.

But this decline in professionalism and the public's belief this behavior was acceptable was perhaps most aptly demonstrated by a comment (no, a screaming match) between a lawyer and his client in the hallway, outside a trial courtroom during a break.  Although I tried not to listen, it was impossible not to hear bits and pieces.  "I want you to attack the judge.  Just like Alan Shore!" 

"Show that judge who's boss in there.  You said you were a pit bull!  Go win my case," whereupon the apparently agreeable and charged-up lawyer headed back into the courtroom to give the judge a talking-to.

It's not my place to counsel that client or that lawyer, but real-live courtrooms aren't a TV sound stage.  It's not scripted in there.  They don't play a musical, theme-songed background as your lawyer gives a closing argument.  Cases don't start and finish within one hour. 

That's TV.

This is real life.  For the most part, lawyers and judges treat one another with respect.  Sure, there's a bit of advocacy in every argument and it is acceptable to push a judge to see your side of the case.  But respectfully and with dignity. 

So when you see your lawyer in court, expect to see a civil, intellectual conversation between the judge and your lawyer.  If you don't, then you've got one of two choices:  change your perspective, or change your lawyer. 

Insulting a judge, yelling at a judge and other bad behavior between your lawyer and the bench will put you on the wrong side of the case and make it hard to win.  Most lawyers aren't willing to ruin his or her reputation with the judges on the bench - something that's going to continue long after your case is down in the record books - for just one client. 

And as a litigant, you don't want that type of behavior to influence your court case.

If you feel you need that kind of drama in your life, turn on the TV.  But keep it out of the courtroom.

Printer friendly page Permalink Email to a friend Posted by J. Craig Williams on Thursday, December 13, 2007 at 23:16 Comments Closed (1) |
 
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