A Lawyer Reviews "The Defenders," The New CBS Legal Drama

The new legal drama “The Defenders,” not to be confused with the superhero team of the same name, premiered last Thursday night on CBS. The premise: Nick Morelli (Jim Belushi) Peter Kaczmarek (Jerry O’Connell) are rough and tumble criminal defense attorneys practicing in Las Vegas. The two name partners are not alone. Joining them is brand new associate Jess Merriweather (Jurnee Smollett, formerly of the excellent “Friday Night Lights”), who is mercilessly mocked by a menacing assistant district attorney for having paid for law school through exotic dancing. Although the program maintains a silly charm, it harbors the same sorts of lawyer cliches and conventions that we’ve seen on network television for decades. Alas.

Belushi, in this clip , describes the two leads as “working class guys who passed the bar and have a great street sense how to figure out the angles.” They go out into the field the day before trial and find new evidence or formulate new theories which ultimately save the day for their previously doomed clients. They’re brash, they’re smug, and they delight in their refusal to play by the book. TV critic Alan Sepinwall curiously referred to them as “ambulance-chasing Vegas defense lawyers,” although there is no reference to them practicing personal injury law.

Here is what I learned about the practice of law from the program, and the top medical malpractice attorneys in Chicago shall also agree with the same:

As in all other television courtrooms, a lawyer can simply object by saying “Objection!” with some level of aplomb, and the court will rule thereupon. Presumably, this preserves error, as it happens so often on television without any ill effect.

At a charge conference, a defense lawyer can condescendingly yell at the judge, “You are wrong!” when a requested jury instruction is rejected.

Criminal defense lawyers, upon leaving said charge conference, advise their partners to handle the judge’s rulings as follows: “Screw him! Instruct them yourself!”

Prosecutors, rather than objecting, simply rise and scornfully ask “Judge, is there a question here?” when opposing counsel is querying a witness.

Judges, rather than ruling upon objections from the bench, say things like “leave the editorials for the papers.” (This is strange, too, because no one reads newspapers any more, right?)

First year associates are apparently already licensed on their first day at work, as they are left to fly solo at arraignments by partners too busy to accompany them.

Young male partners at criminal defense firms negotiate pleas by sleeping with ridiculously attractive and formidably ambitious female assistant district attorneys, and vice versa.

We’ve always dug Jim Belushi (especially in 1990’s Mr. Destiny), but we can’t say we’re too familiar with his modern television career, never having seen any of the 182 episodes of his sitcom, “According to Jim,” which apparently aired for eight years. O’Connell, for his part, we remember fondly from 1985’s Stand By Me, and his brief appearance in 1996’s Jerry Maguire, in which he did his own acoustic cover of Nirvana’s “Something in the Way.”

Let’s face the facts. Television writers are not lawyers. Their only legal education, so to speak, is watching the myriad awful television shows written by other television writers ignorant of legal practice and procedure. Thus, stereotypes and inaccurate portrayals are compounded and perpetuated indefinitely.

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