Have a question about how to use the law in your story? Need a character, plot twist or setting? Ask me in the comments section and I'll be glad to answer. I welcome all comments and questions.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Better Off Ted Gets Employment Contract Right, Hilariously

Better Off Ted is consistently one of the funniest shows on TV. They skewer a fictional company, Veridian, that cares only about profits at the expense of its employees. In the latest episode The Lawyer, The Lemur, and the Little Listener they got a couple things so right it made me howl.

First, they got the way some companies treat fired employees right, then they kicked it up a notch. I’ve had hundreds of clients come to me over the years describing that they were called into the Human Resources office, presented with termination papers, and escorted out. They weren’t allowed to go back to their offices to pack. Instead, while they were whisked away to HR, their belongings were packed for them and waiting when they left. They had to do the walk of shame in front of everyone and felt like criminals while they were marched out with an escort. Better Off Ted created a company Extraction Team. Instead of packing up while the employee was out of the office, the Extraction Team packed the office, picked up the employee from their chair, and painted the empty office the moment they left. The writers took an all-too-true sad situation and made comedy.

My favorite part, though, was when an employee dreaming of escape wrote a children’s book. (I won’t go into how wrong they got the publishing industry or the children’s book market, because it was still funny). The company scientists pointed out that she had signed a contract giving the company rights to anything she created while she worked there. And that’s exactly what happens. People laugh at me when I ask them, before they sign, whether they write novels or songs, design games, paint, or do anything else creative. The horrid truth is that greedy companies will try to take your work if you’re not careful. I won’t tell you how the writers twisted the story in an unexpected way – rush to your TiVos and try to pick it up on reruns, or watch it online here: http://abc.go.com/watch/better-off-ted/187472/244404/the-lawyer-the-lemur-and-the-little-listener .

This is a great example of how writers got the law right and used it to make the story better. In the law, truth is almost always stranger than fiction.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Desperate Housewives Gets Pregnancy Discrimination Wrong

I must admit that Desperate Housewives is one of my guilty pleasures. Yes, I know it's silly. Mostly, it cracks me up. But something's been bugging me this season, and I can't sit quietly by any longer. It's this: they seem to think pregnant women should disclose their pregnancies before accepting a promotion, and if they don't, they owe an apology and deserve to be fired.

If you don't follow DH, here's what's going on. Lynette, mother of about a zillion kids already, is pregnant with twins. Insert comment here about birth control. Lynette was a high-powered advertising executive before she went out on the mommy track. When the kids grew up, she got a great job with Carlos's company. Carlos is Gabby's husband. Gabby is a good friend who lives across the street. Following so far?

When Lynette gets pregnant, she doesn't announce it right away. As most women do, she waits to make sure things are okay in the first trimester. Carlos comes into her office and announces that she's getting a big promotion. Not only that, but that she's getting it because the woman who should have gotten it is pregnant, and therefore he won't give it to her.

Right there, I hoped Lynette would go to HR and report the jerk, but she did what most of us would do. She accepted the promotion and hid her pregnancy as long as she could. She did a great job. Then Gabby found out.

Instead of the writers having Gabby swat Carlos upside the head for refusing to promote a pregnant woman in the first place, Gabby tells Carlos and tells him to fire Lynette. The writers missed a great opportunity to show a woman standing up to a sexist pig husband.

The lawyers for the company told Carlos to offer Lynette a promotion far, far away. That was genius. Real employers do this type of thing. It was way better than just having him fire her. I held out some hope that they might get things write.

Then they went completely off the deep end.

When Lynette turned down the promotion, Carlos stripped her of her duties and put her in a closet. Lynette sued. Good for her, except she'd first have to file a charge of discrimination with EEOC. Had the writers done this, they could have shown her watching Carlos squirm as he had to explain to Human Resources what he'd done.

Instead, the writers have me almost ready to stop watching. Because they have Gabby demanding that Lynette apologize. Lynette has come to the realization that she was all wrong. No! No! No! Lynette did what she should have done. Carlos should be fired. The jerk. And Gabby is no friend, demanding an apology for Lynette taking a promotion while pregnant.

DH has never been a bastion of feminist thought. But this time, they've crossed a line for me. I don't know if I can stand much more of them making pregnant working women feel like they have something to apologize for. If the writers had bothered to get the law on pregnancy discrimination right, their plot would be much more interesting.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Good Wife Writers Miss An Opportunity

So far, I enjoy the new show The Good Wife despite the fact that legal shows usually make me want to throw things at the TV. Maybe it’s because Julianna Margulies makes anything watchable. Whatever it is, the show is pretty compelling.

However, last week’s show had a scene that had the main character essentially testifying during her examination of a witness. The scene involved a key piece of evidence exonerating a murder defendant, the time a set of sprinklers went on.

I understand the writers’ urge to speed through what might be pretty boring testimony about plumbing. But a lawyer who did this would be chastised, wouldn’t be allowed to do it, and would probably be committing malpractice. That’s because they need a witness to come on the stand and testify about the sprinkler times. If they didn’t bother to call the witness, the evidence couldn’t come in and their client would be in trouble.

Here’s what the writers could have done to satisfy my legal colleagues out there who would love to find a watchable legal drama.

There was a great character they underused. It was the owner of the house with the sprinklers who was also the father of a witness. The witness was a teen who wanted to testify, but would have had to admit to having drugs in the house. The father came out, screamed at our main character that she should leave his son alone, that his son would never testify, and threw her off the property. I thought he was pretty interesting, but that’s the last we ever saw of him.

The writers could have put the father on the stand. We wait for the fireworks. He’s ready to blast the lawyer, to deny his son’s involvement. She asks him only about the sprinklers. The prosecutor and the witness are scratching their heads. A great dramatic moment where the audience is wondering what's happening. Then she springs on us the importance of the sprinklers. The killer is unveiled.

Doing it the right way would have added about another minute to the show. I’m sure something else could have been cut. Had the writers been more accurate in their legal writing, they could have also had a better show for all of us.

There are over a million lawyers in the U.S. We watch TV and read books. With a little creativity and a bit of research, most writers could put together something we find watchable, and that also entertains the non-lawyer audience.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Are Reading Logs Killing Reading?

If there’s anything I can cite to that explains why reading is falling off in popularity with the youth of today, I would cite to the Reading Log. For some reason, teachers have decided to make students catalog every tiny bit of reading they do, and then grade them on how correctly they catalog their reading. So my daughter, who used to read for pleasure, already has started to consider reading a chore. She has a reading log to fill out during the day for books she reads during school, and one for books she reads at home. I haven’t seen her pick up a book for fun since she started middle school a few weeks ago.

I think this is great. Think of all the savings! We already spend way too much on books. If she is taught to hate reading, we’ll get to cut our book budget by 25%. When our youngest gets to middle school, we’ll cut our budget fully in half. If my teachers had managed to grind the love of reading out of me, I wouldn’t be wasting all this time writing and reading books. I could be playing video games and incessantly tweeting instead.

Even longer term, think of all the money I’ll save on college. She loved elementary school, so I was certain that she’d want to go to college. She wanted to go to Yale Drama School. By the time she’s finished with middle school, she’ll probably want to get a GED and go to beauty school. More money for my retirement!

Way to go, teachers. Keep grinding kids into the dust. Keep punishing them for their reading. Keep making reading a horrid chore rather than a break from school work. Within 20 years, we can guarantee that the book industry dies completely, and save all the trees.