Just as you shouldn’t assume that you can perform surgery after watching a season of Grey’s Anatomy, you shouldn’t assume that you know the ins and outs of the legal system after watching Law and Order (even if you’ve been watching since its first season in 1990).
From Saul Goodman of “Breaking Bad” to Annalise Keating of “How to Get Away with Murder,” criminal defense lawyers are portrayed in many of the most popular TV shows of the past few years. People love watching the drama unfold, but how much of what we see depicted on screen actually happens in an actual criminal defense trial?
In order to make good TV, the case needs to wrap up by the end of the episode meaning the trial must start pretty much as soon as someone commits a crime. In reality, however, cases can take months to go to trial, and the trial itself can last from weeks to months to years.
Additionally, in most TV shows, criminal lawyers are only dealing with one case at a time. If this were how things worked in real life, it would take even longer for anyone to resolve a case. For example, a Toronto criminal defence lawyer may have hundreds of cases a year, with several cases running at once.
Shows that centre around crime and the law are often full of lies and deception from all angles— including from the lawyer’s perspective. In truth, most lawyers entered the profession because they genuinely care about the law and believe in the criminal justice system. It is their job to present factual information to make people think what they want them to, but this does not mean lying.
A lot of research and reading must be done before heading to court in order to understand the case entirely. Because no one wants to watch a lawyer in their office reading and writing for hours on end, this is usually not included or only shown in short snippets.
In the end, it’s not the lawyer’s job to decide if the client is guilty or not, so it doesn’t really matter what they think. Their job is only to present the evidence in a way that defends their client’s innocence. TV shows, however, can often make it seem like the lawyer has a say in the outcome based on what they believe to be the truth.
Although some shows make it seem like lawyers work around the clock and never leave the office, lawyers do, in fact, have lives outside of work.
It can definitely be a very demanding and time-consuming job, but a lot of criminal defense lawyers have partners and children and are still able to take up hobbies and travel. This, however, isn’t where the entertainment value lies, so it’s often left off-screen.
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