The Good Wife is a legal and political drama that aired from 2009-2016. The series focuses on Alicia Florrick, who returns to her career in law after the events of a public sex and political corruption scandal involving her husband, the state’s attorney. But is being a lawyer like The Good Wife? And should we use it as legal inspiration?
Many critics praise The Good Wife for moving away from the conventional legal dramas by utilising storylines that allow for lengthy courtroom dialogue highlighting the various, often lengthy and complex, steps of the legal process. Moreover, The Good Wife’s strive for realism takes them into the depths of negotiation, plea bargaining, and motion dismissal as opposed to a case which always goes to trial which isn’t realistically how the law works. The shows portrayal of the justice system is largely due to the writing staff, which included three writers with legal backgrounds, one full time legal consultant and many other experts which were used by writers regularly to educate themselves on the finer points.
One of the most appealing aspects of The Good Wife from my perspective was the connections made to real legal cases. The episode surrounding marriage equality over a bakery’s decision not to bake a gay marriage cake is reflective of a real case in the UK where a bakery refused to bake a cake with gay motifs on it due to their religious beliefs arguing religious freedom. Moreover, the episodes focusing on drones, gun control and bitcoin are all relevant legal expertise areas which are up and coming for the future of real commerciallaw firms. They are realistically subjects you could deal with in any future legal career you undertake.
Is Being a Lawyer Like The Good Wife? Perhaps Not
Lockhart Gardiner functioned as an all-service law firm, providing services ranging from family law, asset distribution, criminal investigations to commercial law and mergers. Whilst there are all service firms in existence in the UK, the lawyers in them don’t work tirelessly throughout all different divisions. In The Good Wife, we see Alicia Florrick move from advising ChubHub (a social network) in their commercial enterprises, to a death row appeal investigation to a family law case. The reality is, both in the USA and the UK, that whilst most lawyers will have knowledge on more than one sector they will focus on one area of expertise because it can take years to become an expert in a precise area of the law.
Another aspect where The Good Wife gets it wrong is in professional conduct. If a barrister raised their voice or was as sarcastic as the lawyers in The Good Wife are to the presiding judge, the reaction would not be as muted or throw-away as it sometimes is within the show. Moreover, whilst I will not try and argue that there has never been a corrupt lawyer or judge in real life, the likelihood of them getting away so lightly with their misconduct as Will Gardiner did after he confessed to stealing money from a client’s account is also very unrealistic. The professional conduct of practising lawyers is very stringently regulated in the UK.
Moreover, as in most legal dramas, the speed of proceedings in The Good Wife is incredibly exaggerated. Whilst I admit The Good Wife isn’t the worst legal TV show for beginning and ending a case within one episode, even beginning and ending a case within three episodes is too fast paced. Some cases, especially criminal cases, can take months if not years to go to completion.
In conclusion, whilst immensely entertaining and emotive and somewhat reflective of how much excitement, dedication and hard work goes into a legal career, the TV show The Good Wife is more useful for inciting a law-related ambition. Its talents lie more with inspiring students to learn what is really required to become a good lawyer, not trying to teach you how to become one. However, for current or prospective law students it is a must-watch – to be able to be entertained by a drama where you will undoubtedly recognise some of the legal rules or subjects talked about is something not to overlook.