Thursday, 23 July 2015

Legal Practice versus TV Legal Dramas

Many of you may be following this blog because you are wondering what it’s like to actually work in a law firm. I know I was. And if you’re like me, many of you are also fans of Suits, The Good Wife and How to Get Away with Murder. There was an earlier blog post titled Comparing Reality to the Suits TV Show…, which talked about how legal practice is similar to the legal dramas. Here are the major differences.

Working in a law firm
is (usually) not that dramatic.

“Civil” Litigation
One of the things that shocked me the most when I attended examinations for discovery, pre-trials and settlement conferences was that lawyers are actually very polite and civil to one another. This is in stark contrast with the cutthroat, irrational and unreasonable behaviour that is often depicted on television.

One reason for the civility may be the relatively small size of the Ottawa bar. I’ve personally run into my professors five times now! Lawyers often oppose the same law firms or counsel on numerous occasions. Acting courteously, therefore, maximizes the potential for cooperation in future cases, paves a foundation for a professional relationship and protects your reputation.

In mock trials and moots, law students often practice proper decorum by referring to the opposing side as our friends. In legal practice, lawyers might literally be friends with their opposing counsel outside of their clients’ conflict.

And Action… (where’s the camera?)
Depositions are referred to as examinations for discovery in Canada. Examinations for discovery are not filmed. The audio is, however, recorded and a written transcript is produced by a court reporter, so lawyers have an opportunity to catch the person being examined in a lie if he/she changes his/her testimony by the time the case goes to trial ;)

And Cut…
Don’t expect disputes to be resolved within a one-hour episode. Litigation can span months or years, since there are many steps within a legal action. Television shows often glamourize and focus on various proceedings, but rarely show the research and preparation that goes into preparing for a trial.

That’s a wrap!
Because the whole process can be very time-consuming and costly, the parties to litigation often settle the dispute before the action goes to trial. For those reasons, lawyers do not appear in court as often as it is depicted on television.

All in all, I am relieved the legal practice is not as dramatic as how it is depicted on television. The “behind the scenes” work have also made my first summer working in civil litigation interesting, challenging and realistic! However, I am looking forward to my first day in court.

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