First there were psychologists. Then came doctors. And now it's time to welcome lawyers to reality television. According to The Hollywood Reporter, a New York law firm has signed on for a show where "everyday people" will get legal advice from expert lawyers. In an interview with The Am Law Daily, Joe Tacopina, one of the lawyers to be featured, revealed that no retainers will be paid and the "everyday people" will not be clients.
Even though I am an eternal optimist, I have to admit that upon hearing about this show, I made the "I don't think that's such a great idea" face. Why was I grimacing?
One: Every state has different laws. Legal commentators who are currently on television are analyzing actual cases in the news and not giving legal advice on pending matters. Assuming there is nationwide distribution of the show, will the generalizations and disclaimers the legal experts are forced to make diminish the value of the advice and result in greater confusion?
Two: The portrayal of lawyers on television and in movies (excluding my heroes Perry Mason and Atticus Finch, of course) has often harmed instead of helped how the general public perceives lawyers. Although the lawyers involved are probably both wonderful and competent, will the producers be pushing for a stereotypical portrayal of "lawyers" instead of recognizing the diversity that exists in the profession?
And three: my greatest concern - what sort of message will this reality show send to lawyers and their clients? It's not unfair to say that inherent in this type of show is an oversimplification of the problems clients face. A resolution will be reached in a matter of minutes instead of a matter of months. Too often, clients walk into the law office expecting their lawyers to give them free advice that will magically fix whatever problems the clients have created. This show may only reinforce this unrealistic expectation.
The real work of being a lawyer is not done by simply telling "everyday people" what the law is. It is done in talking with clients and counseling them regarding the possible courses of action. The real work of lawyers involves discovering what obstacles the clients themselves have placed in the way of a good outcome and then removing them. The real work of lawyers involves hours behind a desk researching the law and then carefully choosing the wording of your letters and pleadings. In fact, the only real legal activity on this show may be done by the lawyers who draw up the waiver forms so the "everyday people" can't sue the legal experts when they act on their advice.
Here is the ultimate question that only the audience can answer: Is there entertainment value in "everyday people" with real legal problems getting non-binding legal advice from lawyers who aren't really their lawyers?