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5 ways The Good Wife is exactly like real life*

On Behalf of | May 9, 2016 | Uncategorized

* By exactly, I mean not at all.

After seven seasons of legal drama and excellent clothes, The Good Wife just ended its run on Sunday. Legal shows take on a different meaning to practising lawyers, with inaccuracies that can be either amusing or grating. Here are my favourite things about the Good Wife that don’t reflect real life law in the least:

1. Giant corporate law firms specialize in criminal law.

It always struck me that while Lockhart Gardner was basically a corporate commercial firm, every second case they took on was a criminal file. In real life (at least in Canada), the majority of criminal cases are handled by firms that deal primarily in criminal law. These firms also tend to be very small – either a few lawyers together or sole practitioners. But then that wouldn’t make for any angry shareholders meetings, now would it?!

2. Lawyers wear perfectly tailored suits. All the time.

The clothes on The Good Wife have been phenomenal, and have been a big part of the show itself. (See the Atlantic’s retrospective on the fashion choices). Lawyers in Ontario end up representing clients on more complex cases in Superior Court, where we must dress in gowns. These outfits involve a waistcoat and white shirt under flowing robes with shoulder pads fit for a football players. Not quite as sleek as Alicia Florrick’s fitted blazers.

3. Law firms have in-house private investigators.

Many defence lawyers regularly hire private investigators, but for specific cases and often with a limited budget. The Crown’s office, on the other hand, has the investigative powers of the police at their disposal, which can lead to defence lawyers being handed an unhelpful police report about a surety mid-bail hearing. I would love it if I had Kalinda in my office to run out and track down a witness at the drop of the hat.

4. Most cases have juries.

The majority of cases in Ottawa stay at the Ontario Court of Justice level. This means that trials are done before a judge alone in courtrooms much smaller than then ones were are used to in Cook County. And of those cases, many end up in guilty pleas, meaning that there is no trial at all.

5. Lawyers work exclusively on large, complex, high stakes cases.

I get it, these interesting (often criminal) cases make for great TV. If a network were to serialize the lives of criminal lawyers, it would involve a lot of montages of waiting around remand court, preparing clients for trial, sitting quietly doing legal research and a lot more waiting around court. This is not to say that criminal law isn’t exciting – frankly I think it’s the most interesting area of law. But in real life there are lots of lulls and down time and waiting in between the brilliant courtroom drama.

While the show has taken some liberties with the more mundane parts of legal practice, it provided us with an important cast of characters that many real life lawyers, particularly women, can aspire to be. From Alicia Florrick, who re-entered the workplace after taking care of kids and supporting her husband, to partner Diane Lockhart, who champions women associates, the show gave us examples of strong, competent and complex women who are excellent lawyers. So as the show winds down I will forgive the Hollywood depiction of my profession and maybe go get a new blazer.

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