Real lawyers weigh in on reality TV’s lawyers

first_img Real lawyers weigh in on reality TV’s lawyers Florida litigators pull no punches in reviewing Roy Black’s new show ‘The Law Firm’ Jan Pudlow Senior Editor The camera pans a sleek high rise in Los Angeles, then zooms in to the glitzy interior of “The Law Firm,” where a dozen young trial lawyers gather in the conference room nervously clutching their briefcases.In strides Roy Black with the confident air of a top-notch Florida lawyer with national notoriety for successfully defending William Kennedy Smith on rape charges and offering legal analysis for NBC and CNN on high-profile cases like Scott Peterson and Kobe Bryant. His Web site brags that he got the highest score on the Florida bar exam in 1970, after graduating from the University of Miami, where he teaches a workshop in criminal evidence.Smart, effective, media-savvy Black is the managing partner of “The Law Firm” that airs Thursday nights at 9 on NBC.Real lawyers try real cases with real plaintiffs and real defendants, with real witnesses, before real retired California judges. The outcomes are final, legal, and binding for the parties.Like any managing partner, Black has the power to fire those who fall down on the job.“I don’t care what law school you went to or what your GPA was,” Black tells this polished collection of competitive, type-A personalities he personally selected to vie for $250,000 in cash and proud recognition from Black as “the finest young trial lawyer” in the firm.What matters, Black says, is “how you can perform under pressure and stress in the courtroom.”At the end of each of eight episodes, Black will kick two lawyers out of the firm until only the very best trial lawyer wins.Black said he agreed to do the unscripted series after he talked to Emmy Award-winning producer David Kelley (“Ally McBeal”and “L.A. Law”) and NBC President Jeff Zucker.“Both assured me it would be a program that would highlight how hard lawyers work preparing a case and show the behind-the-scenes, as well as the courtroom performances,” Black said.“Generally, this turned out to be true. Of course, this is television, so they needed entertainment, tension, and drama, as well. Usually, trials contain all of that in spades, but they also wanted to show the tensions that develop between the lawyers while working on the case. So purists may balk at some scenes,” Black said.“After spending over 35 years doing this, it doesn’t seem far off the mark.. . . I think it works.”Does this show — described by the Palm Beach Post as “essentially ‘The Practice’ minus the soap opera-y personal stories and Lindsay Dole’s incessant whining” and the Los Angles Times as “‘People’s Court’ meets ‘The Apprentice’” — succeed in making lawyers look good? Does it work?The Florida Bar News asked a couple of experienced Florida trial lawyers to watch the first July 28 episode and share their honest thoughts.“I am a big fan of Roy Black, but not a fan of ‘reality shows.’ With those two predispositions, I sat down to watch the first show of ‘The Law Firm.’ I remain a big fan of Roy Black,” commented David Rothman, a Miami trial attorney and member of The Florida Bar Board of Governors.Bill Corry, a Tallahassee trial attorney on the board of directors of the Academy of Florida Trial Lawyers, agreed with Black’s premise that the public has little understanding of the time and energy required for trial work.“They see the glamour and the big verdicts. They think lawyers are just rich and don’t have to do much to hoodwink the stupid jury. They hear about runaway verdicts and too many lawsuits and so much propaganda the insurance industry tries to spread,” Corry said. “So, yes, I think it probably helped to improve the image of lawyers. Those young attorneys work very hard.”Corry’s biggest disappointment was not seeing enough of Black, who introduces the lawyers to their cases in the beginning of the hour, slips into the courtroom to hear closing arguments, and then evaluates their performances at the end using the Socratic method, complete with jabbing index finger for emphasis—not unlike the mock trials and critiques Black uses with his UM students.“I think Roy Black came across as dignified. He is a very fine attorney, and I was hoping he would be more involved in the dynamics,” Corry said.As Black says, “This show was designed to showcase the lawyers, not be an infomercial for me.”Feedback Black has received from legal colleagues so far is that “it was fun to watch, but most advised me not to quit my day job. Some, of course, wanted to know if The Donald gave me hair advice (fortunately not) nor did he agree to loan me any money,” Black said.In the first episode, Black divides the dozen lawyers into four teams of three to handle both plaintiffs’ and defendants’ sides of two cases:One involves a woman whose small dog had his leg gnawed off by her flamboyant next-door neighbor’s pair of huge mastiffs.The other is about a man with a flashing light on his dash who stops a woman who cut him off in traffic, demands to see her driver’s license, and chastises her about her driving skills. She thinks he’s a cop, but later finds out he’s really the county coroner.They may not be big cases, but they are important to the clients, Black tells the young trial lawyers.“I’d better see real commitment and passion in representing these clients — or you’re gone!” Black bellows.What the viewer sees watching “The Law Firm” are behind-the-scenes strategy sniping, personality clashes, and stressed-out deadline pressure to prepare for trial.“The lawyers work up to 20 hours a day concentrating on the case, tracking down evidence and witnesses, working on legal memos, preparing arguments—the type of work the public rarely sees and is generally unaware of,” Black said. “They argue over strategy, which witnesses to use, how to handle the judge and jury, all of which can result in heated discussions, just like lawyers and law firms do.”In the dog case, the maimed pooch hobbles up to the bar on three legs. The coroner/cop wannabe case is dissected before a stern arbitrator with the personality of Nurse Ratchet.Rothman was not impressed with the skills of most of the young lawyers chosen for the show.“Based solely upon their ‘performance’ in this one episode, with one, maybe two, exceptions, I would have fired all of the young lawyers who appeared in the show. Some, because they are lousy lawyers, some because they are rotten human beings, and all because they can’t act a lick,” Rothman said.“Roy Black, however, was terrific as the managing partner. One scary thought: One of these young lawyers is actually going to win $250,000 at the end of the show. I have seen better lawyering from third-year law students.”Corry wasn’t as harsh on the attorneys as he was on the quality of the cases.“I would have hated to be those attorneys and have those fact scenarios assigned,” Corry said. “A three-legged dog getting through a fence and a traffic stop by a coroner? I can’t imagine a firm in Tallahassee taking either case.”What was realistic, Corry said, was the inability of the lawyers to control their witness, the mastiff dog owner who just took off with a colorful narrative on the witness stand, and the frustration of the lawyer trying to deal with the rude arbitrator in the coroner case.As Black tells Kelly Chang, the L.A. lawyer booted from the first show because she allowed the arbitrator to run roughshod over her opening statement with a barrage of interruptions: “Great trial lawyers get judges to listen to them.”And Jason Adams, of Ventura, California, was the second lawyer to be told: “The verdict is in: You are out!” because he made the rookie blunder of objecting when the mastiff dog owner, on the other side of the case, made an outrageous comment about the three-legged dog: “You could cut all its legs off and it’d still be a menace to society!”“Great lawyers have good instincts,” Black said. “You couldn’t see a major blunder and take advantage of it.”Even with all of his years of experience as a trial lawyer, Corry said he “relearned to not be so quick to object.”Corry will watch the show again, especially interested “to see if Roy Black is more involved the second time. I’d like to see a case that’s more difficult that would generate significant damages.”Keep watching. Black promises the cases get progressively more difficult, including “a wrongful death involving murder” at the end of the series.Who does Black think the best audience is for his new show?“Good question. If you like David Kelley shows and highlights from Court TV, you will love the show,’’ Black said.“If you want plastic surgery, eating bugs, or celebrity appearances, this show is not for you.” Real lawyers weigh in on reality TV’s lawyers August 15, 2005 Senior Editor Regular Newslast_img

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *