I have to admit it. I’m a lawyer, and even though I should know better, I can’t stop watching Law & Order. Even when the prosecutors are making some truly cringeworthy mistakes of law, I can’t tear myself away. The early seasons of the show actually offered some good legal lessons (and at various points, some quality Chris Noth viewing – not that Jeremy Sisto is hard on the eyes nowadays), but later seasons have gone further afield. In the past few seasons, I can’t think of an episode featuring a case anything like one that the lawyers I know would ever encounter. Still, the strained reasoning and “ripped from the headlines” craziness is entertaining, I like the different personalities of the characters, and I can’t stop watching even if it is so completely implausible.
It’s rather like when I used to watch JAG with friends who were actual JAG officers. I knew that the JAG Corps wasn’t singlehandedly keeping the world safe for truth, justice and the American Way, but it was still fun television. So it is with Law & Order. After days of the usual frustrations that come with putting together and trying real-life cases, there’s something delightful about entering a world where you can so effortlessly get around the rules of evidence. Oh, for the ability to get my neighborhood gossip/triple hearsay into evidence so easily!
In Law & Order-land, you can:
-get from commission of crime through investigation, trial prep and all the way to the verdict in an hour
-wear spiky heels for hours without limping or taking the occasional header into the jury box
-buy designer suits on a prosecutor’s salary
-spend shockingly little time in one’s office slaving over actual case files and research (yeah – I wish my trials would prep themselves, too)
-always have a witty magistrate at arraignment
-win your case even if your only major witness gets completely annihilated on cross examination
-have 2 intrepid attorneys who apparently have no support staff take on everything from small-time thugs to big corporations without going mad as they drown in paper case files
-jurisdiction? Who cares about mundane things such as boundaries? If the crime happened somewhere kinda near Manhattan, we’ll find a way to get our detectives out there to investigate.
Must be nice. Then again, some of the drudgery involved in real-life legal practice wouldn’t make for the most dramatic television.
Even better, on Law & Order, the good guys don’t always win, but they certainly do get to tilt at some windmills they would probably never even get to touch in real life. After all, Jack McCoy has gotten to take on cults, terrorists, organized crime and big, eeeevil corporations, just to name a few. A fortunate lawyer might get the opportunity to launch the occasional crusade of this sort, but Jack gets to do a few every season. It may be unrealistic(and the legal reasoning sometimes tenuous), but it’s great fun to watch. After all, the current ADA Cutter may be good, but no one gives a closing argument like Jack McCoy.
I could do without the political correctness that seems to get more heavyhanded every season, but the theatrical nature of Law & Order will never lose its appeal for me. The issues in a case are rarely so clearcut in real life as they are in Law & Order-land’s New York, but after a day of dealing with the ambiguities inherent in real cases or a rather untheater-ready hearing, the TV courtroom makes for a much-needed escape. And picking out the “You have GOT to be kidding me!” moments is almost as much fun as focusing on the plot itself.