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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Good Wife Has A Conflict of Interest

In the season finale on The Good Wife, The Dream Team, the writers went completely off their rockers. They had the firm file a multi-million dollar class action lawsuit with multiple plaintiffs. The firm wins a $25 million judgment. Huzzah! But then it all goes terribly awry.

Two regular nemeses of the firm (played by Michael J. Fox and Martha Plimpton) team up and sue the firm. They say the firm must have bribed the judge or done something wrong. They ask the firm to drop the class action suit and they say they’ll then drop the suit against the firm. The firm says no. Later, the firm changes its mind and agrees to drop the class action if the lawyers will drop the suit against the firm. Fortunately, they say the deal is off the table.

Hello? Anybody home? If the writers wanted to end the show and have the firm shut down in disgrace, they could let the firm make this offer. Otherwise, it’s a non-starter.

The firm has a duty to act in the best interests of its clients. It can’t dismiss a suit without client permission. It can’t dismiss a suit because the dismissal benefits the firm. It can never, ever, act against the interests of the client.

This plot device was so colossally stupid I almost didn’t make it through the episode. Fortunately, they didn’t have the double-dealing dismissal actually go through.

How could they have made the plot as interesting without sacrificing any sense of real world attorney ethics? How about having the clients offer to dismiss their suit to save their beloved lawyers? Okay, I’ll try to stop laughing. What about having the firm notify their malpractice carrier about yet another suit, and have the insurance lawyers try to double-deal the firm? If their carrier hasn’t dropped them by now, it should. Maybe next season.

While we’re at it, can we all promise to stop having depositions and hearings happen the day after the suit is filed? No? Puh-leeze. I can’t get a hearing on even the smallest issue for at least 2- 3 weeks. I’d love to see shows that actually use the delays to help create tension in the show. But that’s a blog post for another day.

C’mon, Good Wife writers. I’m a lawyer and a fan. Try not to make me throw things at the TV. I’ll be watching in the fall. You have plenty of time over the break to catch up on your research.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

The Good Wife and At-Will Employment

A couple of weeks ago, The Good Wife dealt with at-will employment in an episode called The Penalty Box. In that episode, Cary Agos, the former colleague of our heroine Alicia, who joined the prosecutor’s office in a huff a few years ago, decided to interview at Alicia’s firm. The prosecutor’s political consultant saw him and ratted him out. 

Cary had pretty much decided to stay at the State’s Attorney’s office, but his boss confronted him and asked if he’d been interviewing. When he admitted it, his boss fired him. Fortunately for Cary, he had an offer from Alicia’s firm, so he got a soft landing.

But this situation comes up all the time in real life. In all but one state, Montana, employees can be fired for any reason or no reason at all. That means you can be fired for looking at other job opportunities. I see people who had potential employers call current employers for a reference. They don’t get the job and they’re fired. Can they do anything? Probably not. They’re out of work and out of luck. Maybe the can sue the potential employer for tortious interference, but it will be tough to prove.

I’ve seen people fired for not taking their CVs down from Monster or Career Builder. The employer saw the resume, assumed they were looking, and gave them the ax. 

If you’re writing about your characters’ employment, never forget that they can be fired for any reason, including arbitrary ones. They can be fired because their boss didn’t like their shoes or shirt that day, because the boss was in a bad mood, or because they got caught looking for another job. If you need conflict in your story, look no further than at-will employment.