Law & (Dis)order: myths and legends in the dramatisation of lawyers for tv and film

In modern day film and television, lawyers are (mis)represented by two separate yet equally important types of media: accurate stories of the experience of being a lawyer, and the more prevalent, exaggerated, and disordered plot lines of legal drama. These are those stories. Dun dun! 

Show: Suits

Myth: You can surprise the other party with evidence in court 

I mean, you sort of can, but you shouldn’t… 

The concept of ambushing the opposing party with incriminating evidence in court with the intention of “throwing them off” is commonly seen in representations of courts in both film and television. Suits are no stranger to this – as seen in season 7 episode 16, where Mike dramatically reveals in court that he was in possession of the opposing party’s insurance policy. 

Busted: Discovery, or disclosure, in litigation requires both parties to “show their hand”, or disclose all documents that may be relevant to an issue.

Myth: You can validly enter into a contract while you’re drunk 

Need a contract but out of paper? Head to the kitchen and draft a contract on a napkin like an intoxicated Keith Hoyt did in an intense poker game in season 2 episode 6 of Suits. With all elements of a contract – offer, acceptance, and consideration – being satisfied, in the show Hoyt’s loss in the game meant that he lost his company. At the time Hoyt had an estimated BAC of 0.16%.

Busted: When someone is intoxicated to the point that they cannot understand the nature of the contract they’re signing, the contract is unenforceable – with a few exceptions around the edges. 

Show: How to get away with murder

Myth: A lawyer can waive legal professional privilege 

One of the biggest transgressions in HTGAWM is when university criminal law professor and lawyer Annalise Keating invites her students into a meeting with her client charged with murder – and then asks them to think of potential defenses two days out from trial. 

You know, just like every unpaid internship ever. 

Busted: This one, too, is busted. LPP is a privilege belonging to the client. It’s not for a legal professional to determine when to waive it. Especially when a client is not fully informed as to exactly what they might be consenting to. In Australia, Annalise’s conduct could very well amount to professional misconduct.

Show: The Twelve

Myth: Wearing inappropriate clothing to jury selection can influence whether a party makes a challenge

In local Australian production, The Twelve, a juror wore clothing to jury selection that she thought might influence whether she was selected for jury duty. 

Confirmed (partly): The only point at which a party to a jury trial is able to challenge the selection of a juror is when those called by random ballot present for swearing in. At that point, with little more information than the appearance of the potential juror, a party may make a challenge to their selection. But each party only has a certain number of challenges. 

For more on The Twelve check out Hearsay: The Legal Podcast’s own Sidebar episode Legal dramas – fact or fiction? Dissecting Australia’s smash hit legal drama The Twelve. And if you need more information, Hearsay’s CPD offering for Australian lawyers has you covered. Check out the list of topics on the Episodes page.  

By: Hearsay: The Legal Podcast with research by Sophie Yeh, Sales Consultant

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