Three unrepentant lawyers who changed careers and now create popular culture’s view of the profession – they write for TV’s “Law & Order,” “Boston Legal” and “Shark” – talked freely on Friday afternoon about how and why they often portray lawyers as unethical and disgusting, as well as mangling various litigation rules and procedures in their scripts.
And the audience of about 100 lawyers in a hotel conference room at the ABA Midyear Meeting in Century City, Calif., was seat-edge rapt and clearly as entertained as the laypersons who know the profession and the justice system by way of those very shows.
One essential lesson: There are rules and procedures of television writing that must be followed, otherwise there would be no advertisers, no money and, alas, no show.
Commercials rule in other ways, too. Four or five times per show, there must be an “act out,” which is a very grabbing and dramatic moment just before a commercial. Suspense or heightened drama keeps’em watching.
Here’s an act out for this ABA Journal story:
“I frankly don’t care (whether the dramas might hurt lawyer image),” says Bill Fordes, a writer for “Law & Order” who spent six years as an assistant district attorney in New York City, before switching to complex white collar and civil litigation with a firm. “I write what amuses me.” He points out that if you want, you can watch honest lawyers on Court TV, which gets only about 600,000 viewers at most and thus nowhere near the dollars for 30- and 60-second commercials flowing to L&O