Earlier this season on the CBS drama The Good Wife, character Will Gardner turned to his co-founder at the law firm of Lockhart/Gardner and asked, “Why are we being punished for Dewey & LeBoeuf?”
For fans of the show who also happen to work in the real life legal industry, the moment offered an odd sense of recognition. In the past few weeks, several lawyers have mentioned the moment to me, noting their surprise at hearing the words “Dewey & LeBoeuf” on a television program, particularly a primetime drama. The Wall Street Journal Law Blog found it notable enough to recount the episode for their readers. But this is not the first time The Good Wife has used the real financial woes of the legal industry to inform its portrayal of the fictional firm. While the show exaggerates everything to keep viewers interested, the writers have found a way to infuse episodes with many of the realities of contemporary law firm life.
Lawyers are a permanent fixture of television and movies. From L.A. Law to Law & Order, along with the entire John Grisham oeuvre, producers and screenwriters have long turned to legal drama to help drive storylines. Yet, despite decades of portrayals, Hollywood rarely gets lawyers, and particularly law firms, quite right. On L.A. Law, Ally McBeal, and Boston Legal, the firms were buzzing social playgrounds where lawyers were always either arguing in court or flirting with their colleagues. In movies like The Firm and Michael Clayton, firms were simply fronts for criminal activity. Storylines have occasionally nodded at the business side of legal practice with references to billable hours or the importance of a major client. But I cannot recall a film or television program that found much drama in the real challenges of keeping a law firm running, until now.
To be fair, The Good Wife is full of many of the classic tropes of legal television shows. There is the requisite focus on personal relationships, and it seems not a day goes by without the show’s lawyers appearing at trial – it is hard to believe the firm is having financial trouble given its apparent litigation workload. And as WSJ points out, even the firm’s bankruptcy proceedings have unrealistic timing. Yet, for viewers who have watched the show since its 2009 debut, there has often been a ring of truth to the business of Lockhart/Gardner. After one of the founding partners left the firm in acrimony, taking major clients with him, the firm struggled to pay its bills amid a nasty recession. The managing partners fretted about high expenses and too few paying clients. A merger kept it afloat, but produced resentment and infighting among the partners. Now the firm is trying to keep its creditors at bay while its landlord raises the rent on their elegant Chicago offices.
Because this is fiction and CBS would like its hit show to have a fifth season, we can expect Lockhart/Gardner to have more success than real life firms like Dewey & LeBoeuf or Thacher, Proffitt & Wood. The firm will likely survive its creditors, the bankruptcy trustee, and the recession. But I also anticipate that The Good Wife will continue to keep close tabs on the industry it is portraying, taking fictional liberties, yes, but sometimes also telling the truth.
Posted by Emily Fisher