I like to believe I am a pretty darn good lawyer. I have received honors and recognitions throughout my career. I am comfortable in the courtroom, fairly good at writing, and possess the people skills to communicate effectively with my clients and opposing counsel. Yet, despite all my efforts and attributes, I can still sense the disappointment from some clients that my legal representation isn’t anything like they have seen on television.
com csk b-rlaw Christopher S. Krimmer, U.W. 1997, is a partner with Balisle & Roberson S.C., Madison, where he practices in family law.
I blame Hollywood screenwriters. They created the public perception that lawyers can give closing arguments comparable to a Shakespearian soliloquy, we have no interest in having a personal life, we don’t bill for our fees, and we all opted for law instead of a career in modeling.
I understand why the public – and our clients – have an interest in legal television shows. What we do as a profession is important. We are responsible for making decisions that will have a direct impact on our clients’ lives. Our clients place a great deal of responsibility on our shoulders and the consequences can be quite dramatic. We all have that case where something unexpected happened and but for our intelligence, legal acumen, and skills, the client could have faced significant financial or personal peril. However, those cases are few and far between.
Imagine the disappointment of our clients when our law firm isn’t on the top floor of a city skyscraper and decorated with Lichtensteins and minimalist furnishings. The client is even more disappointed to learn that we can’t file their lawsuit on Friday and have the trial on Monday (or after the commercial break). Rarely does a television show depict the “heart-racing” drama of a client responding to interrogatories and requests for production of documents. The client doesn’t understand that we can’t break into the opposing party’s residence to obtain the “smoking gun” evidence of their case. Nor do we have that surprise witness who bursts through the courtroom door at the last minute to save the day.
“Despite all my efforts and attributes, I can still sense the disappointment from some clients that my legal representation isn’t anything like they have seen on television.”
The lawyers in The Good Wife, The Practice, and Ally McBeal were all consumed by the law (and apparently the gym). If they weren’t in the courtroom, they were at the office, at a client’s house, or on the streets to interview witnesses. Yet, somehow, despite these 16-hour days of billable work, their clients never seem to pass out when they receive their attorney’s bill. Our real-world clients want Patty Hewes’ representation but at Saul Goodman’s price.
I don’t blame the clients. Most clients have never been involved in litigation before. They only have the depiction of lawyers on television and movies to rely on. And to be fair, there is a little part of me that went to law school because of that depiction. I recall vividly my closing argument in Trial Advocacy class pretending to be Harry Hamlin from L.A. Law. I was emotional, stirring, and … loud. I failed miserably. I wasn’t being genuine and it came across like a parody of a lawyer. The giggle of one fellow law student in the class still haunts me today. The lesson I learned is that I can be an effective and successful lawyer by just being myself and not worrying about how Perry Mason would have done it. At the end of the day, clients will appreciate the outcome of their case more than the theatrics behind it.