Sunday, November 9, 2014

Bad Judge and the legal profession

A few  days ago a link to a blog on the American Bar Association website made it to my mailbox. Female lawyer organizations were rejoicing and taking credit for cancellation of NBC's dramedy, "Bad Judge". As I read it, I thought it spoke volumes- not about the show itself, but about the legal profession. I've seen the show a few times. It's on my DVR on "I get to it when I get to it" basis and I will not particularly miss it when it's gone and neither will the American public. If a freshman show continues to perform under 1.00 share in the 18-49 demographic you know it's in trouble. "Bad Judge" continued to redefine what is the new acceptable low for a network as forgiving and desperate for a hit as NBC. I'm surprised that it wasn't not only cancelled but yanked off the air weeks ago. The network kept it on, not because it hoped it would recover, but primarily because there wasn't any suitable replacement.  Every single ratings website I know of announced it as certain to be cancelled. It's all about ratings, not about how offensive someone might find the content. So, what about the content? Yes, the show was titled "Bad Judge". Yes, she was rude and crude, had a fake handicapped parking pass, gave the finger to the press in the pilot. And I know that judges in particular need to conduct themselves in a certain manner in and out of courtroom, but this was a comedy not a documentary. The point was to show her as a flawed character. In the same vein there was "Bad Santa", "Bad Grandpa", "Bad Teacher" (both a cancelled TV show and a movie). And  despite the title, if the protesters bothered to watch a little beyond the opening titles they'd see that while the main character is a  disaster when it comes to her private life and how she conducts herself she is anything but a bad judge. She's unorthodox and creative, she cuts  through the red tape to give people in her courtroom a fair shake. And I really wonder if the same groups protesting "Bad Judge" were as outspoken about "Ally McBeal" that portrayed a young semi-successful female attorney as a person forever  frustrated by her single status, pinning for a married colleague, clumsy, having delusional visions of her injuring opposing attorneys and  dancing babies who only finds fulfillment in motherhood as she leaves her firm and moves away. While "Bad Judge" is no "Ally"-  her antics humanize the legal profession. She is more approachable than other judges on the show (and some judges I know). She spends most of her time with her bailiff and never once lets him feel like she's better than him because their differences in power. I've always perceived the legal community as a bit elitist to say the least, as if taking an oath makes us better people.

And I don't know about flawed judges- but I've met attorneys and law students with some pretty significant flaws. Quite frankly, in America your general education ends with your college degree. Law school isn't something that will give you plenty of opportunities to learn about the world. What you know coming in about history, geography, sociology is pretty much what you have to build on on the flipside. Law school teaches you a unique set of skills, but it doesn't widen your horizons. I've seen plenty of now former classmates make often narrow minded or bigoted comments  with conviction in class because they were never exposed to a different perspective.  A lack of experience, a lack of education. I highly doubt that three years of legal training and a multiple choice test has the potential of transforming them into different people. What's the harm in presenting lawyers on TV as living, breathing human beings as anybody else down the street? Of course the network is to blame. When will the stations learn that launching a show with quasi-controversial title like "Cougar Town" or the show based on the book "Good Christian Bitches" just gives the debuting series one more problem to overcome, especially if content compared to the title is tame? Bottom line: As I met with one of my former professors who had been practicing law for decades longer than I had I realized how different what we do today must be to what being a lawyer meant thirty, twenty, even 15 years ago. Today professional rules in a state where I practice still put more and more restriction and regulation on lawyers. I guess the thought behind it is we are still the chosen profession and people look up to us. And I feel that's a little self involved. Especially since we live in the times of internet, when an unhappy client can target and go after an attorney with all his might. When people ask me if I recommend going to law school I point to all my friends that do anything but law. I think the nature of the profession is changing. I doubt it will ever have as much prestige as it used to. When you ask around, you hear that the job market is bad, but then that's what I was told on my graduation day in 2009. It's hard to predict where it's going, but I don't think there's any going back. I don't think the community is ready for any change. I for one don't think that I'm in any way, shape and form better as a person because I practice law.

 Yes, I try to be responsible and build a reputation for myself, but it has more to do with wanting to be a good person and the way I was raised than what I do. In a way we are all flawed, "Bad Judge" has them more than most people, but if you ask me having no sense of humor is one of the biggest flaws there is.

 And as a sidenote: A funny story: I stuck with law at least in part thanks to Ally McBeal. In my first year studying it back in Warsaw I've met plenty of people who were humorless and focused on getting an early start at having a career of their dream that it was that they could see. Despite being very young they already felt burnt out to me. I think it was my third semester when "Ally" premiered on Polish TV. She was funny, impulsive, motivated and smart. Although a fictional character and miles and miles away- something about her life and how she carried herself, although I'd laugh off her crazy antics today back then  was really appealing to me. The ways of an American lawyer showed me that I can have interests and hobbies and be eccentric, that I don't have to be just one think or another but whatever I choose and however I make it work. Back then I wanted to do a lot of things in life and I felt I didn't need to compromise and have a profession define me. I didn't know it yet, but seven years later I would move to America, get my LLM and then my JD and get admitted to law practice in Florida and DC. And I give some credit to American TV shows that shaped my teenage mind. Series that featured strong, commanding lawyers that knew how to move, structure a case and deliver strong closing arguments, but at the same time were very, very human.

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