TV Review: USA’s “Suits”

Tonight at 10/9 Central, the USA Network premieres its new legal drama, “Suits,”  which centers around high-powered corporate attorney Harvey Spector (Gabriel Macht) and his “pseudo-associate” Mike Ross (Patrick J. Adams).  We here at Abnormal Use obtained an advance screener of tonight’s pilot, and we enjoyed some of what we saw.   At its outset, “Suits” appears to be like every other legal drama past and present.  Mega-profile attorney, thousand dollar suit, big city firm – you get the picture.  However, “Suits” quickly adds a new – albeit unethical – twist to the genre.

With only a few minor, minor spoilers, the basic premise is as follows:  After achieving the position of Senior Partner, Spector is given the opportunity to hire his own associate.  Bored with the blandness of each “Harvard douche” applicant, Spector encounters good guy with tough luck Ross, who enters the interview room to hide from the police after a drug deal gone bad.  Spector is intrigued by Ross, who shares his same charisma and possesses an unparalleled photographic memory.  There is only one problem – despite acing the LSAT on numerous occasions, Ross has never attended law school.   Not one to to let a simple thing like a law license get in his way, Spector hires Ross as his new associate.

From this brief synopsis, it is readily apparent to any attorney what is wrong with “Suits.”  The show is an ethical conundrum.  Even beyond the unauthorized practice of law, the “finding good in an unethical situation” theme is persistent.  For example, in one scene we see Spector lying to a client who threatens to fire the firm while simultaneously accusing the client of acting in bad faith.  Lies and deceit do little to aid the already negative perception of lawyers in our society.  To make matters worse, it is this deceit which lands Spector the Senior Partner-gig and the opportunity to hire Ross.  Apparently Spector was wrong – bad faith does pay.

As bad as Spector’s interactions with clients might be, it is the prominence of an unlicensed attorney which pushes “Suits” into an ethical chasm.  As much as Spector makes any respectable attorney cringe, Ross is equally as enjoyable.  For starters, he’s brilliant.  He memorized BarBri’s bar review materials word-for-word and displayed legal knowledge far superior to any first-year associate we have encountered.  In addition, Ross displays a concern for clients visibly lacking in Spector.  Ross certainly has the potential to be an effective lawyer.  Unfortunately, however, someone forgot to remind the writers that the days of the apprenticeship have long been abandoned in the legal profession.  We can buy the smart guy wanting to be lawyer concept, but Spector’s decision to hire Ross knowing that, if caught, he undoubtedly would lose his license seems a bit absurd.  Of course, absurdity often makes for the best television.

We shouldn’t be surprised that a legal drama would depict lawyers in unethical situations.  Unfortunately, it is what people have come to expect.  The problem is that the show’s most noble character is the one rooted in the deepest ethical paradox.  Is “Suits” suggesting that law school is what strips us of all morality?  Are we not as smart as we think we are?  Are we replaceble by any person off the street with a photographic memory?  We here at Abnormal Use would like to think we are worth a little more than that.

The show’s ethical problems are so prevalent that they overshadow its legal inaccuracies.  Who cares that depositions can be scheduled on one day’s notice when it is an unlicensed lawyer signing the subpoenas?  We were hardly surprised to see Ross electing to move to sanction opposing counsel for failure to comply with the discovery requests he served only one day prior.  “Suits” is hardly an exhibition on civil procedure.

With all of its problems, however, “Suits” is a rather enjoyable show.  Everything that makes “Suits” bad from a legal standpoint makes it great for viewers.   We can appreciate Ross as the unexpected David competing against his Goliath Harvard-law co-workers.  As bad as Spector’s tactics may be, they are much more entertaining than watching some nice guy who refuses to push the bounds of civility.  While we do not condone the replication of Spector’s conduct in real life, Macht plays the part well and adds some excitement to the bland world of settlement negotiation.  If nothing else, Spector and Ross are well cast and believable, albeit in unbelievable situations.

After viewing only the pilot episode, we have no idea what direction “Suits” may take.  We anticipate Spector will develop morally through his relationship with his noble apprentice, while Ross continues to find himself in weekly shenanigans to hide his qualifications.  To be honest, as attorneys, we here at Abnormal Use are most anxious to see what happens after Ross graduates from the rank of first-year associate and actually has to sign his own pleadings and appear solo in court.  How long can this charade last before someone checks Ross’ bar number in the system?

Like South Park, we suggest attorneys check their ethical standards at the door before watching the program.  By doing so, “Suits” becomes less like an administration of the MPRE and more like a drama worth staying up until 10:00 to watch.  Spector and Ross are brilliantly cast and the show has great potential to break the David E. Kelley stranglehold on successful legal shows.  Don’t expect to see a microcosm of the true-to-life legal profession, but expect an entertaining 90-minutes which will leave you calendaring the show for the next week.