There is no professional group that has been the subject of more media, literary or dramatic attention in my time than lawyers. The fictional depiction of lawyers in the movies and television is unrealistic and bears no resemblance whatsoever to the really down-to-earth legal eagles that I came in contact with in my two-year stint as Municipal Court Prosecutor.
Today’s TV and movie lawyers are generally shown as groupies. They always seem to travel, work and scheme in a pack of four, sensitive to gender, racial and other diversity qualities. They spend a lot of screen time sitting around in beautiful conference rooms seemingly at the end of the work day discussing the activities and problems of the day. They seem to have no concerns about mundane issues like office overhead, where their next client is coming from and the other everyday issues that confront and befuddle the “county seat” one-man office lawyers that I saw and jousted with on a daily basis.
All of the time of the fictional lawyers is spent on big issue, big money, big fee cases involving highly talented and sophisticated lawyers. Of course, they always win within the allotted 60 minutes. They are always prepared, articulate, polite and never seem to be concerned about where their next fee is coming from.
Then, there are the real lawyers.
The issue of fees came to my attention early on. After the entry of a non-guilty plea by the defendant in a fairly serious case, the Honorable Carl M. Blank set the case for trial several weeks hence. The lawyer immediately began to remonstrate with the Court to the effect that he would need much more time to prepare his defense case.
When asked by Judge Blank to explain, he said that he was still trying to locate a Mr. Green, who was his key witness. The judge immediately advanced the trial date by a month. Later in the day, I told Judge Blank that I had taken a careful look at the file, and there was no one named Green involved.
Judge Blank then smiled and said, “Young man, whenever a lawyer mentions Mr. Green, he means he hasn’t been paid and needs time to see if he will be paid.”
Preparation is generally considered essential to the successful outcome of a trial. One morning, just before the selection of a jury for a trial was about to begin, the defense lawyer leaned across the aisle and whispered to me, “Larry, give me a couple of sheets off your legal pad.” I, of course, extended the courtesies of the profession and the requested sheets.
He then looked back at me and said, “Do you have an extra pen?” I couldn’t turn him down.
The extreme politeness and courtesy of today’s TV lawyers was not on display one day when a local farmer appeared for trial on a charge of littering the highway. He had been cited by a highway patrolman because huge clumps of mud were being thrown off the tires of his tractor and wagon onto the surface of the road. His defense was that there was nothing he could have done about it.
I began to question the patrolman, and to every question I asked, the defense lawyer objected. This was unnecessary, annoying and just plain rude. So, when it came time for the farmer to take the stand, I decided to give him a little of his own medicine. To every question, I objected. After six or seven such objections, the lawyer paused, looked at me for several seconds, and said, “Say, you are a noisy young thing, aren’t you?”
The glib, smooth delivery of the movie and TV lawyers was not in evidence early on when I successfully prosecuted a defendant for illegal possession of barbiturates and amphetamines. At the sentencing stage of the trial, his lawyer, who was not noted for being articulate, began to plead with Judge Blank for probation for his client. I often thought this lawyer’s rambling style was because his brain went faster than his mouth.
At any event, he told Judge Blank that his client did not know that little pills like “barbarians” and “amphibians” were illegal and that, therefore, his client should be acquitted. The judge replied that the law didn’t see things that way, and ignorance of the law is no excuse.
The lawyer replied, “Well then, Judge, the law is looking through rosary colored glasses.” Guilty, no probation.
Moral of the story: The real lawyers are not on TV.