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Realistic Expectations? The Glamour and Glory in the TV series Suits

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My son has been trying to get me to watch the series Suits for quite some time. I keep telling him that I don’t want to watch at night what I live every day. Over time, however, he wore me down and one night I found myself with nothing to binge watch, so I decided to give it a try. I hate to admit it, but I’m hooked now. I love the fierce Jessica Pearson and it’s so nice to see a strong woman at the helm of a big law firm. And you cannot help but love Harvey Specter. He’s good looking with a quick wit and a sharp tongue. He swoops in on trials and depositions in his $5000 suits and he always wins. Always.  The reason that I love Suits is because it is so far from the reality of being an attorney that it’s entertaining. Suits and Boston Legal and L.A. Law are all fantasy. But as I started the third season the other night it occurred to me that these legal shows are what many people watch and think is a true representation of the practice of law. I pondered whether clients who walk into my office think that even some of what they see on TV is real.

Within a day of a client coming in to meet Harvey Specter, depositions are taken. The next week there is a trial. There is always a smoking gun or a surprise witness that is unleashed upon the unsuspecting adversary at the last minute to clinch the victory for Harvey. Harvey is then whisked away by his driver to move onto the next impossible case that he will win. You never see Jessica Pearson or Harvey Specter staring at a computer screen for hours doing legal research. You never see them pouring over thousands of pages of records or preparing for a deposition long into the night. In court, their counsel table is empty except for a thin manila folder that contains the smoking gun. They never have dark circles under their eyes because they are up late preparing or because they can’t sleep worrying about a case or a deadline. They always get justice. The reality is that despite the bad reputation that lawyers have, it is a noble profession made up of men and women who work very hard for their clients but don’t have the ease and resources that TV portrays, nor is there the glory that Harvey Specter seems to get in every episode. Real trial lawyers spend hours drafting hundreds of pages of motions and briefs for a single case. Real trial lawyers spend an average of three to five hours taking a deposition rather than the fifteen minutes and six questions that are portrayed on TV. Before that deposition even starts, we spend ten times that amount of time preparing for it. Counsel table in a real court room is piled high with binders that are full of medical records and deposition transcripts. We spend more hours than people can imagine preparing for a trial where there is no surprise witness or smoking gun. The reality is that we know exactly what the other side has and we know what the other side is going to say. The only unknown is how our adversary is going to use his or her skill and style to try and beat us. The even harsher reality is that it has usually taken three to four years to even get to the courtroom to try that case. Unlike Harvey Specter, I don’t have a driver that takes me to court and to my depositions. I sit in traffic just like everyone else. If I’m late for my deposition or if I’m late for court because of an accident on the Turnpike or because my power went out that morning, there’s no one that comes to my aid to fix that. It’s just a part of the job. The difficulty that these shows pose to real attorneys is that it somehow becomes the expectation for the client. They come into my office expecting that I will get them justice and that I will win, and that it will be quick. They do not know the personal sacrifices that attorneys make to do this job.  They don’t know the countless hours that we spend trying to get the justice that they seek and that they deserve. They don’t know the nights that we lay awake worrying about the weaknesses of their case or worrying that we might not win. The reality is that we don’t win all the time. I’ve sat in my car and cried because I lost a case. I have second guessed myself and beat myself up for days because a deposition didn’t go the way that I wanted. I’ve missed family dinners and family functions and time with friends because I’m preparing for a case. But the biggest fantasy that the TV legal shows portray is that justice can always be found, no matter the cost. The reality of this world is that justice is often impossible to obtain. Sometimes no matter how hard we work or how many hours we put in or how hard we fight, we simply cannot win. We are fiercely competitive and we want to win for our clients. Not because of the glory but because we know that our clients come to us in the darkest time in their life. They come to us hoping for some small good to come out of something very bad. They come to us hoping for vindication. It is not a task that we take lightly. The next time that a client sits in an attorney’s office seeking representation, I hope that he or she doesn’t expect the glamour or the glory or the theatrics or the quick resolution. I hope that client looks at the attorney sitting across from her and understands that we will devote all of our time and our energy and our skill and ourselves to work in a flawed system in the hope that we can bring them a little light in a dark place.

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