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Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Closer and Attorney as Hobbyist

Guess what folks? Being a lawyer is my job, not my hobby. If I didn’t make money doing it, I could be spending time with the kids or writing a novel. So it really, really ticks me off when people imply or flat-out say that lawyers should work for free. It especially ticks me off when it happens on one of my favorite shows.

It’s been a running plot line in The Closer this season that our heroine, Brenda, is being sued. First, her hubby ponied up the money secretly because the City wouldn’t pay to defend her. When she found out, she was understandably upset. Especially since the city should have been defending her on its own dime.

The last few episodes had her complaining about the attorney’s fees. She even said that her attorney made his living off other people’s misery – as if that wasn’t what cops do. So do doctors, funeral directors, and repo guys. You don’t hear anyone saying they shouldn’t be paid.

Why is it that writers (and a shocking number of wanna-be clients) think lawyers work for free? I really don’t get it.

Then Chief Pope gets all threatening on the lawyer. He says that Brenda will just have to find another lawyer, and it’s that lawyer who will soak up all the publicity the case will generate. Gee, thanks. Pay me in publicity, because that will pay my mortgage. The lawyer should have dumped her, but instead he – you guessed it – agreed to work for free.

So what thanks does he get when he settles her case with a dismissal in the next episode? She hates his guts. Okay, so he had a legal duty to consult with her on any settlement. Somehow, TV almost never gets this right. But this was a settlement the city cut with the plaintiffs, essentially behind her back, and she didn’t even need to sign. I’m not really sure he would have had anything to do with it in real life. They would have more likely cut the deal behind the attorney’s back and dropped Brenda from the suit without consulting him.

How much publicity did he get out of a quiet settlement where his client has zero liability? Nada. So much for getting paid in publicity. I’m sure we’ll hear more about how awful this lawyer is, working for free and getting his client out of a nasty lawsuit. WTH, guys?

Here’s how they could have fixed this plotline to make it better. Have the lawyer go after the city to force it to pay her fees, as it should. Then have him fight the city’s settlement that names Brenda by name as a bad guy. He should make them take that part out, and if he puts up a fight they probably will. The plaintiffs get nothing out of putting Brenda’s name on this, so the only one who gains is Pope, who gets to blame her. Brenda and the lawyer work together as a team, as they should, instead of at cross-purposes.

There’s nothing wrong with getting paid for work done, and lots wrong with advocating a system where the people who make sure we have civil rights, defend us from lawsuits, keep corporations from selling dangerous products and make sure we’re paid for our work are expected to do it for free (presumably at night after their paying jobs flipping burgers).

Attention all writers: being a lawyer is a job. Lawyers get paid, like everyone else who works. We use some of that money to buy books, TVs and movie tickets. Stop writing about lawyers who work for free, and stop vilifying lawyers who dare to be paid for their services.

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