We swim in a sea of popular culture. Whether it comes at us in the form of television, movies, radio, novels or music, pop culture is everywhere, and most of us enjoy it.
But pop culture is no longer just the fluff of modern society. Even though it’s intended to be consumed and quickly forgotten, we need to take pop culture seriously, particularly because a great deal of it concerns law and lawyers.
Lawyers must realize that pop culture teaches the general public most of what it knows—or thinks it knows—about the legal system. And even though many of those lessons are wrong, what the public believes about the legal system has a significant effect on how lawyers and the courts do their work.
Studies show that people who watch Judge Judy think it’s the judge who asks the questions at trial. L.A. Law gave law practice such a glamorous veneer that it sparked a boom in law school applications. In surveys, regular viewers thought of lawyers as wealthy and good-looking more often than people who didn’t watch the show. The “C.S.I. effect” has created a new and often unreasonable influence for forensic evidence: Without it, prosecutors have trouble getting past reasonable doubt; and where it does exist, jurors perceive absolute proof of guilt.
People who have learned their law from TV expect that opening and closing arguments will be short and punchy and based on a strong, media-inspired storyline. They want you to use demonstrations, visual aids and simulations, and it will help if you can pull a rabbit out of a hat on cross.