So I watched the premeire episode of "The Law Firm" last night. For a show not produced by Mark Burnett, it sure had the look of "The Apprentice" down perfectly, from the cutshots showing the downtown L.A. skyrises to the confessionals with the contestants to the boardroom (an office in this case) firings.
There were 12 attorneys divided into 4 teams of 3, fighting one another in two different cases. Case 1 involved a woman suing the local coroner, who had pulled her over and cited her for a traffic offense on the pretense that he was a police officer. I wasn't paying full attention, but it was some sort of tort/infliction of emotional distress-type claim. Case 2 involved a woman whose three-legged dog was mauled by her neighbor's mastiffs; he promised to pay the medical bills but then reneged.
We got to see the teams strategize, meet their clients, and try the cases. With still 20 minutes left (real time, i.e., including commercials), the "managing partner," criminal defense lawyer Roy Black, brought the contestants into his "office" and decided which two to fire.
(continue below the fold for spoilers and thoughts)
Both women clients won. The traffic stop case wasn't all that interesting, other than seeing contestant Kelly deliver a horrible opening statement. The dog case, on the other hand, was notable for a number of reasons, foremost the fact that the mastiff owner was a complete nutcase whose lawyers couldn't/didn't try to control him. He rambled, he made bizarre noises and arm movements, and he blurted things like "if the little dog lost its other three legs it would still be a danger!"
Interestingly, both fired associates were on the winning teams. I wonder if winning exacerbates the relative differences in trial skills among the team members, whereas losing simply gets everyone muddled together. In Kelly's case, her opening was awful, while her teammates performed quite well. Deep cross-examined the coroner very effectively, and Michael's closing argument, while obnoxiously aggressive, was also strong and clear. In Jason's case, he lost because of one dumb objection; when the mastiff owner made the comment quoted above, which was a gift to Jason's team because it showed what a jerk the mastiff owner is, Jason objected and then tried to strike it from the record. The statement was used effectively by Jason's teammate Keith, who ended his closing argument by contrasting the noble motives ascribed to the mastiff owner by his lawyer with the mastiff owner's own words.
All in all, I was entertained by "The Law Firm," but I wonder how much appeal the show will have for the general (i.e., non-lawyer) public. Unlike "The Apprentice," which has the over-the-top "rewards," the Donald (speaking of over-the-top), and the backstabbing boardroom, this show is quite a bit more sedate. The firing scenes did not involve much of the attorneys' defending themselves. Black asked questions of a few, told them why they were wrong, and then announced who he was firing and why.
And he didn't do the "Cobra" motion that Trump does when Trump says "you're fired."
Another thing I wonder about is the limited variety that this show can offer in terms of tasks. In "The Apprentice," we see a whole bunch of different tasks -- the street sell challenges, clothes designer, QVC productions, and so on. Unless the producers of "The Law Firm" are very imaginative, this is going to be kind of like 10 weeks of "The People's Court" with better production values and behind the scenes shots. (Though I'm not sure that these facetious suggestions are an improvement. . . .)
Still, the casting for the show looks good so far. In looking at the bios on the website, I loved Deep's response to the following question:
What's your verdict on reality TV?
Reality shows are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of turning average Joes (no pun intended) into quasi-celebrities who will do anything to ride out their 15 minutes of fame. I hope to be able to count myself among such an esteemed group of individuals.
- The building that the "law firm" is supposedly set in is the "444" building, which featured prominently in the opening credits of "L.A. Law." No surprise there, since producer David E. Kelley cut his teeth writing "L.A. Law" scripts for Steven Bochco.
- I wonder how they convinced the "clients" to turn their cases over to these lawyer/contestants. I suppose that these are the sorts of cases where the clients would have been likely to represent themselves, so they were getting free lawyering. If that's right, however, it may further limit the variety of cases, since we'll be dealing with otherwise pro se clients.
- Also, I wonder how they got around ethical rules about having lawyers from the same firm represent opposite sides in a case. Obviously, there really isn't a "law firm," but all the same, did the producers get some kind of opinion from the California State Bar?
- It's way too early to tell, but Chris and Deep look like the strongest contestants.
- What will the show do next week, now that we are down to 10 lawyers? Two teams of 5 and one case? Or four teams again, with two teams short-staffed?
UPDATE: Law Prof Eric Goldman weighs in, with lots more on the PR (that's professional responsibility) issues involved in the show, and in particular, the dog mauling case.
And another take, from baseball blogger/soon to be law student Jason W.