Tuesday, August 02, 2005


More Blogging about The Law Firm

Donald Caster at All Deliberate Speed asks some good questions about the ethics of the reality show, The Law Firm.

For example:

1. How was the client convinced to allow his case to be tried in this forum/format? (Are they really in court, or is this actually just binding arbitration?) Why would it be in the client's best interest to turn his or her case into an episode of reality TV?

As someone noted in the comments to Caster's post, the clients are convinced because they want to be on TV. Clearly this is not a real court - the judges are apparently retired judges and arbitrators. Even if the trial takes place in a "courtroom," the case is actually resolved by binding arbitration. Is it in the client's best interests? That's up to the client to decide.

2. Were there limitations on the clients' ability to decide to settle a case pre-trial? Settlement discussions don't make for very interesting TV.

I wondered the same thing. I imagine that the client must agree to try the case, not to settle it, in order to be on the show.

3. If the lawyer-contestants are judged on criteria apart from merely who wins and who loses, has NBC created a separation of interests between attorney and client (I can't think of a concrete example, but what if an attorney decided a particular argument or strategy might win for the client, but might not look great on TV--maybe it's politically unpopular or just too complicated for the inevitable editing?) If so, how is this ethical?

Also, as we saw in the first episode, winning the case doesn't mean saving your ass from being fired. What is more likely is that the contestants will elevate their desire to win the competition over their duty of loyalty to their clients.

4. NBC's website promises us a behind-the-scenes look. So the clients agreed to waive work product and attorney-client privilege? Again, how is this in their best interests?

Again, the clients must have waived the atty-client privilege as part of their agreement to be on the show. Presumably, they received legal counseling concerning the pros and cons of doing so and made the decision that they felt was in their best interests. I am assuming that, as with People's Court, the TV show covers any damages awarded against a particular party. Arguably, a client who waives the atty-client privilege in exchange for free legal representation and indemnification for any judgment is acting in his own best interests. This is true even for the party who wins the lawsuit, because the judgment is immediately and fully recoverable (unlike real life where most judgments are not fully recoverable).

However, this raises another interesting question. Roy Black blasted one of the teams for failing to seek punitive damages against the Coroner who posed as a police officer and pulled over the plaintiff for speeding. The plaintiff's team won, but did not get a big judgment. Could the plaintiff sue those lawyers for the amount of the punitive damages she should have been awarded? Since a lawyer cannot contractually limit his liability for legal malpractice, I don't see why this couldn't happen. I would hope that the TV show agreed to indemnify the contestants for any claims of legal malpractice against them.

Update: Evan Schaeffer didn't think much of the show.

Based on my quick, informal survey of the blogosphere, I seem to be in the minority in predicting the show will be a hit.

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