THE ONE CASE AT A TIME FANTASY
April 11, 2018
I watch a lot of legal dramas. Most of the time they are more drama than legal, especially if they're on ABC. Some people are surprised at my taste, thinking that I can't relate to the fictional portrayal of the legal system and profession. I enjoy the fantasy TV law, where lawyers don't have to worry about collecting fees or running an office, or being jammed up in one court only to have to go to another. My favorite departure from real life law is that the lawyer characters work on just one case at a time (although the instant trial is a close second).
There are a lot of good reasons for shows to focus on only one case. It makes for a tighter narrative, keeping the story within an episode and also within the attention of viewers. Although I think it might be an interesting show for a lawyer to be running from court to court while ending out emails and taking calls along the way, it would take away from the murder of the week element. Take a look the last week I had in court: DUI in New Haven on Monday, status conferences and a TPR (termination of parental rights) trial in Middletown juvenile on Tuesday, Meriden for a DUI for one client and a violation of probation, interfering and assault for another, short calendar at Middletown juvenile on Thursday morning and finishing a neglect trial in the afternoon, and then a pretrial in Milford for a reckless driving case on Friday. Outside of court I had to prepare for cases coming up in the next few weeks, juggled phone calls and met with clients. This week involves a DUI in Norwich, a DCF administrative hearing in Meriden, finishing another trial in Middletown and a deposition in a civil case. Such is the life of a typical attorney in Connecticut. Many of us "ride circuit" and take cases in multiple courts and multiple areas of the law, wherever our clients need us.
The Tuesday 10pm time slot features two legal dramas: ABC's For the People and BET's "In Contempt." For the People is about a young class of federal prosecutors and public defenders in the Southern District of New York and their inter-office interactions. It plays the one-case-at-a-time trope straight, often with a pair--one prosecutor and one defense attorney--handling a case. There are multiple storylines in each episode but individual lawyers don't handle or even talk about other work.
In Contempt, which premiered tonight, chronicles public defenders in a New York City state court. This show averts the trope by showing the attorneys carrying stacks of files, meeting with multiple clients in the lockup and talking about different cases. In just its first episode, the show doesn't take a gritty tone but looks promising.
Sometimes I have time to watch TV shows when they're on at night. Other times I'm busy working or watching baseball. Fortunately there is DVR.