By Amy Eager
I must confess that I am guilty of binge watching TV series and what would be considered bad TV series… including Made in Chelsea and Keeping up with the Kardashians. I know, I know they are far from intellectually stimulating material, but it is relaxing, you actually don’t have to think about anything and often is a mindless stress-free escape from my day to day routine.
Like many other lawyers, I am also partial to the sensationalised legal drama, that glamourises our profession in many ways, but nonetheless are still entertaining dramas. Law & Order SVU has always been my favourite, I mean who isn’t impressed that you can deliver an Oscar winning, closing argument with 5 minutes preparation, until I discovered Suits.
Suits follows the legal lives of it’s main characters, Harvey Specter (the best closer in New York), Louis Lit (the scariest senior associate you have ever seen), Jessica Pearson (the fearless Managing Partner), Mike Ross (the graduate lawyer), Rachel (the best paralegal ever) and Donna (the legal secretary every lawyer wishes they had) at the elite New York based commercial law firm Pearson Hardman.
Of course, Pearson Hardman only recruits their graduate lawyers from Harvard and the story follows the legal adventures of young Mike Ross, who is a genius but a complete fraud and SPOILER ALERT actually never went to Harvard or any other law school but suddenly finds himself employed as Harvey’s associate.
Harvey and Mike become a legal dynamic duo as they battle with billable hours, malleable legal ethics and generally the lonely lives of narcissist lawyers that are battling it out for supreme legal domination. All of this occurs in a funny and entertaining way of course.
However, like many legal dramas, I feel there is some gigantic leaps between the life of lawyers as portrayed on Suits and the every day life of a lawyer that I have experience.
Whilst viewing hours and hours of Suits, it has crossed my mind, that this maybe what people actually think I do at work and why has no one ever gifted me a $12,000 bottle of scotch and some Tiffany’s glassware as a starting gift, like Scotty got from Harvey? Maybe I should start expecting such gifts… Alas this is where Suits and the portrayal of lawyers is grossly misleading.
Here are my top 3 issues with how Suits portrays the life of lawyers:
1. Harvey Specter
Well firstly, isn’t he dreamy. Secondly, Harvey is kind of a jerk, even if he is the best “closer in New York”.
That’s before you forgive Harvey for his unprofessional and sometime unethical behaviour due to the fact that he is an emotional complex and brilliant lawyer and is the king of inappropriate one-liners and legal speech including “My advice is hold tight and enjoy the ride” the exact words you want to hear from your lawyer!
But really, Harvey’s behaviour as a lawyer is some what unrealistic and flies in the face of everything any graduate lawyer has even learnt about professional courtesy, legal ethics and general life lessons about how to be a decent human being in the workplace.
Harvey really smashes all these social/workplace boundaries in almost every episode. On that note, so does Louis Litt when telling opposing Counsel they just got “Litt up” in negotiations.
Whilst Harvey and Louis are fictional character, perhaps a disclaimer should come with each episode just reminding viewers that if lawyers actually behaved this way, they would quickly be sued, unemployed or probably punched in the face.
2. A lack of any actual paperwork
Lawyers generate a lot of paperwork. I know it is terrible for the environment and I am all for using biodegradable paper and moving to an electronic legal world, however despite these efforts lawyers generate a lot, and I mean a lot of paperwork.
Whether it is in the form of briefs, letters, emails, to do lists, mind maps, case plans, file notes or research. There is a lot of paperwork. In Suits, apart from a brief view of the file room or a pile of briefs for a really big case, paperwork is usually just the background scene or a content-helpful prop for some intimate moment or fight between Mike Ross and Rachel, or Jessica and Harvey or Louis and everybody…
So my real criticism is that there is a distinct lack of any paperwork or actual work being generated throughout the 4 seasons of Suits. It is unrealistic.
Harvey’s desk is always so neat and empty (except maybe for Donna).
Where are the coffee stained draft letters, the disorganised stacks of important documents that your client thought may be useful, but failed to give you months ago, where is the endless stack of post-it notes on every empty desk surface?
Perhaps this contrast is illustrative of my office and working style and sure Rachel walks around with the odd file or Donna is standing at the photocopier for some unknown reason, but you never actually see the lawyers writing a letter or file note or surrounded by a mass of unfinished to do lists or draft letters.
So please, Suits writers start weaving in some actual legal work and paperwork into Season 5, I feel it would really add to a realistic portrayal of office life.
3. Looking like an A list celebrity at work
Depending on where you work, the professional dress code differs from smart casual if you work in the legal community sector to high end designer suits if you work in a top tier commercial firm, however Suits seems to suggest that all lawyers dress like they have their own personal stylist, designer wardrobe and hair and makeup team every morning before they walk into the office. Yes yes, I know it is a HBO show and they are all beautiful people, but please let’s get realistic.
No actual functioning lawyer can wear 6 inch stilettos for over 8 hours a day, the pain in your feet actually reduces your intellectually ability to problem solve. Also where are the coat racks of emergency Court jackets, ties, robes and the pile of various shoes (ranging from stilettos, pumps, flats and slippers) under everyone’s desk??
Please don’t tell me it is just me that has such emergency items on standby in my office?
Also on this tangent, all the characters on Suits pull all nighters all the time when they are working on the most urgent big case. For someone who values sleep, I just don’t see these all nighters as necessary, however of course in reality they do happen.
Where Suits is misleading, is after pulling an all nighter everyone still looks put together, still with their suit jacket or heels on. This is grossly inaccurate. No one could actually keep their 6 inch stilettos on all day and all night. That’s crazy talk. Where is the messy hair, the crinkles in your shirt and walking around barefoot in a mad dash to the photocopier?
Also there is a distinct lack of diet Coke, empty take away coffee cups and plastic takeaway containers littered across the lawyer’s desk after an all-nighter. Again grossly inaccurate.
If you haven’t already binge watched Suits, then set aside a weekend, or a couple of week nights when you don’t have Court at 9 am and sit back and enjoy, what legal life should be like according to Hollywood!
You may even pick up some dramatic negotiating skills and good one liners to use when talking to the other lawyers and therefore binge watching Suits may even be considered a broad approach to your continuing legal education.