Friday Links

Behold, the cover of Justice League of America #81, published way, way back in 1970.  Five members of the Justice League have apparently been involuntarily committed by none other than the Man of Steel himself. On the cover, Superman tells a institution guard, “I had to put them away! They – They’re hopelessly insane!,” referring to his super colleagues The Flash, Batman, Hawkman, Atom, and Black Canary.  Here’s our question: Wouldn’t they be placed in proper asylum garb somewhere between their initial confinement and the commitment hearings? The warden of the asylum is letting them continue to wear their costumes? Do you think Batman got to keep his utility belt, too, as well as his cowl? Where did they get a tiny straight jacket for the Atom? (And for that matter, how effective are those prison bars against the Atom, who can obviously walk through them?) What kind of asylum is this?

Lawyers are always talking about quality of life issues and work/family balance.  As attorneys, we all must find ways to ameliorate the stress of jobs in our daily lives, right? You can’t go to a CLE these days without hearing the topic which is, of course, important and worth discussing. That issue leads us to our recently received screener of NBC’s “The Firm,” the new television legal drama based upon the John Grisham novel and the 1993 film adaptation starring Tom Cruise.  It premieres this Sunday on NBC at 9/8c. If you’re concerned about your mental well being and the calm tranquility of home life after a full day of legal toil, don’t watch this new series. It’s too frustrating to watch due to all of the grievous legal errors and nonsense.  We only made it twenty minutes into the pilot before switching it off.  We couldn’t handle any more than that.

Starring Josh Lucas as Mitchell McDeere (the character originally played by Tom Cruise), the series chronicles his exploits years and years after the events depicted in the film.  It’s been a long while since McDeere worked at Bendini, Lambert, & Locke, the nefarious Memphis firm whose downfall McDeere prompted in the film.  In fact, as the new narrative begins, McDeere is a solo practitioner. It’s not until later in the pilot that he joins a new firm.

Whereas the original film had some nice touches for lawyer and non-lawyer viewers alike, “The Firm” is the sort of hokey legal television show that we’ve seen a million times before with all the overly familiar stereotypes. McDeere is the vexing  type of television lawyer who only seems to represent innocent defendants and reasonable, careful plaintiffs wronged by some evil multinational corporate conglomerate.

In the first few scenes, McDeere casually discusses a potential products liability case with his assistant, Tammy (Juliette Lewis, the same character played by Holly Hunter in the film).  Apparently, one of McDeere’s clients had a “defective stent,” which prompts discussion between McDeere and Tammy about “thousands of plaintiffs” and this being McDeere’s “biggest tort case of the year.” (They never cause to consider the Plaintiff’s pre-existing medical history. Of course the product must be defective!). Pausing to assume that the corporation is, of course, sinister, Tammy  remarks: “I’m sure they’ll settle; the last thing they want is a trial.”  Right, of course. McDeere’s brother, Ray, (played by Callum Keith Rennie here and by the far better David Strathairn in the film), is now an investigator for McDeere’s solo outfit.  Decrying his inability to find dirt on the drug company, Ray says, “The company knows better to leave a paper trail!”  Of course they do! More tired cliches about nefarious corporate defendants, just like so many other lawyer shows these days. Sigh.

“The Firm” also exists in a universe where lawyers are summoned to court solely to be appointed to a new pro bono case by a judge.  (Apparently, it doesn’t occur to court administration to send such appointments through the mail.). McDeere appears in court – twenty minutes late – for what he thinks is a hearing in one case; the judge, however, called upon him to appoint him to represent a new criminal defendant, a teenage boy wearing a bloody shirt.  McDeere and his new client then go to a conference room in the courthouse to discuss the case. That’s right.  In this universe, the defendant is allowed to meet privately with his lawyer while still wearing evidence before it’s collected by the police and crime scene investigators.  (McDeere even tells the defendant the police will ultimately want to collect the shirt later!).  Spoliation, anyone? Wouldn’t the police have already collected that evidence? Why would the system allow the minor defendant to get all the way to the courtroom for a pro bono legal appointment while still wearing the same bloody clothes in which he allegedly committed the crime?

Maybe these issues were resolved later on in the pilot, but we couldn’t bear to watch any longer. We understand that McDeere once again ends up at a large firm which seems like a dream job, which of course, actually is not.

In the end, “The Firm” is yet another lawyer show written by writers who know nothing about the legal process except from what they’ve seen on television on other bad lawyer shows. There are enough of those already.

For a far more professional television review of this program, see this piece by noted television critic Alan Sepinwall.