Fact vs. Fiction for Real Life Attorneys

“In the criminal justice system, the people are represented by two separate yet equally important groups: the television attorneys we all know, and the real attorneys we don’t. These are their stories.”

When it comes to “lawyer TV,” does art imitate life? How accurate are Hollywood’s depictions of attorneys? Their character, their lifestyles, their caseload, their work environment, their scandals – do we see the real thing as we sit in our living rooms and watch the drama unfold? A look at some quick fact and fiction may help shed some light on the case.

FACT: Many clients are found guilty. If innocent, the true guilty party may not be known or ever discovered. The U.S. Department of Justice reported in one study that 75% of defendants in state courts were convicted, and 90% in Federal courts were found guilty.

Fiction: Perry Mason and Matlock – Of course the client is innocent! Raymond and Andy will dig up the dirt, squeeze a confession from the real murderer, and clear the client’s name.

FACT: As of 2000, 88.8% of attorneys were white, 73% male.

Fiction: LA Law – While possibly appealing to larger viewing audiences, the diversity of this group of lawyers was actually not typical.


FACT: Research, interviews, and trial preparation consume a majority of a trial lawyer’s time.

Fiction: Law & Order – We see a lot of courtroom action for the attorneys and little else, while the police investigate and prepare the evidence.


Fact: In 2009, there were about 1,180,386 lawyers in the U.S.

Fiction: JAG – With this many attorneys in existence, they can’t all be extremely attractive.


FACT: Many lawyers are employed as house counsel by public utilities, banks, insurance companies, real-estate agencies, manufacturing firms, and other businesses.

Fiction: Law & Order, Perry Mason, and Matlock – The attorneys we see on TV are usually hired by individuals or work for the state.


Fact: Of attorneys who work full time, about 33% work 50 or more hours per week

Fiction: TV seems to get this right most of the time. The characters we see do work long hours.


FACT: Courtrooms follow strict rules of order and procedure. Attorneys must adhere to these rules. They must also keep up-to-date on changing laws and new case rulings.

Fiction: Night Court – The show depicts a silly chaotic scene of anything goes and less-than-professional lawyers. A fun comedy, but not too accurate.


Fact: Attorneys practice law across the nation, in towns of all sizes, taking on cases of all sizes.

Fiction: LA Law and Law & Order – You don’t have to be in the middle of a metro area or try headline-making cases to be an attorney.


FACT: As of 2000, 48% of private practitioners were in practice alone. Only 7% were in a practice with 6-10 lawyers. Of firms, only 13% were made up of 6-10 lawyers.

Fiction: The Practice and LA Law – These portray a larger number of attorneys working together than we typically see in our world.


FACT: While courtroom sessions are usually viewed as a daytime occurrence, in some cities, such as New York, there is so much litigation that lawyers may appear in court at night as well.

Fiction: Night Court – Yes, it really took place at night, and yes, this part could be realistic.


And, lastly:

FACT: Unisex bathrooms are not common. Attorneys do not spend much of their time in the restroom with fellow lawyers.

Fiction: Ally McBeal.

Facing Cold Hard Reality

There may be some truths we can glean from the experiences of television lawyers. However, it seems wise to realize life as an attorney may not be true to the script. Does either version of the legal life pique your interest?
If the facts are appealing, possibly a career in law should be in your future. For information about pursuing a career as an attorney, follow the link provided to become an Attorney.

If the fiction is appealing, perhaps real-life litigation is not for you. Following are some helpful tips for finding fame on screen. Will you be the next Jack McCoy?
Pursuing An Acting Career
Professional Acting Resources

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *