How to Get Away with Murder is a legal crime drama created by Peter Nowalk, produced by Shonda Rhimes, and starring Viola Davis as protagonist Annalise Keating. Annalise is a law professor at a prestigious Philadelphia university who, with five of her students, becomes entwined in a murder plot.
Fortunately, the likelihood of you becoming embroiled in a series of murders as a law student is very unlikely, but even with that in mind the law student experience highlighted in How to Get Away with Murder, at least in the UK, is more fiction than fact.
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Despite this, there are elements of the law school in How to Get Away with Murder which do ring true in UK law schools. One of the main factors is Annalise Keating herself.
Some of the academics who teach in law schools across the country are or have been practising lawyers just like Ms. Keating. One of the best parts of law school is knowing you are being taught by experts in their respective fields and including practising lawyers in the staff means they not only have expert knowledge but are experts in practice.
Unfortunately, the more realistic parts of the show are also the most daunting parts of being a law student.
‘Cold calling’ or being picked on in classes is something you will have to experience in your time as a student. Unlike in Ms. Keating’s class, where a whole sea of enthusiastic hands fly up when a question is asked, very few people in real life are confident enough in their legal knowledge to actively participate in classes and therefore lecturers must choose people at random from the register or simply point at you to facilitate class discussion.
Another less than glamorous part of law school which is briefly (very briefly) hinted at in the show is how much hard-work is required during law school. In the first season of How to Get Away with Murder, we see the five who work with Annalise struggling to simultaneously complete case work for her and revise for their finals for other classes often resulting in long, tiring nights of study. Law school requires commitment, hard-work and drive but it is this which makes it so rewarding in the end.
Whilst, we do get a glimpse of the work necessary as a law student, the students in How to Get Away with Murder seem to have a lot of free time on their hands which just isn’t the reality of studying law.
Outside of Criminal Law 101 we only see the five students working for cases for Annalise. When do they go to other classes? In fact, Ms. Keating suggests in an early episode that it was more important to win the trophy in her class than to attend a Torts class.
At least in the UK, the classes taken such as Criminal Law, Torts, Land and Contract are all compulsory and missing one in lieu of work for another would not be the best strategy for success in your degree.
Annalise Keating is a criminal law professor and she does cover some of the primary teaching that criminal law includes – we see her talking her class through the meaning and implications of ‘actus reus’ and ‘mens rea’ for example.
However, when it comes to content, this is where Ms. Keating ends her true representation of a Criminal Law class. Criminal Law does include the more exciting topics such as murder, but a true Criminal Law class would have to include other important topics such as insanity, petty crimes, theft, property crime and sexual crimes to name a few.
Lastly, the practical elements which the students are involved in are very unrealistic in terms of real life law school. There are a variety of different ways in which students can take part in legal clinics through their university to help develop skills for legal practice. However, these are much more low-key and certainly don’t include consulting or gathering evidence for high profile current cases.
In fact, law schools don’t train you to be a lawyer: they train you to think like a lawyer and actual practice involves a lot of different skills than those learnt as a student. At university, you are more likely to be reading numerous textbooks, analysing page of case law and poring over statutory provisions rather than learning how to destroy DNA evidence or where to hide the next person that ends up dead.
In conclusion, other than a few token factors, How to Get Away with Murder is as far from the actual law school experience as it can get. However, it is understandable why the writers of the show have allowed realism to fall by the wayside as an hour-long programme about reading textbooks in the library or making sure your human rights essay is at word count would not make for an exciting watch.
Nevertheless, real or not, this show is an exhilarating drama and as ALL law students need a break, watching this show as a reward for being so hard-working is something you won’t regret.
Published: 19/02/18 Author: Alicia Gibson
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