The television schedules in the UK are full of legal dramas and have been for a number of years, from This Life to Judge John Deed, Kavanagh QC and more recently, Silk. In addition, American legal dramas such as Damages, Law and Order and Boston Legal are also very popular with audiences in the UK.
There is no doubt that there is an appetite for such programmes and that they can encourage an ‘I could do that’ attitude among viewers. After the airing of the first series of BBC drama Silk, there was a significant increase in the number of people seeking to obtain legal qualifications so they too could join the ranks of the profession.
The question is whether such legal dramas are damaging or of benefit and if they portray an accurate picture of life in the legal world for those who may be thinking of law as a profession.
Realistic or just a drama?
Legal dramas on television try to portray an accurate picture of what life is like in the legal profession and, dramatic licence aside, to a large extent they succeed. Such dramas aim to show that while appearing glamorous on the surface, life in the legal profession is time-pressured, stressful and hard work.
These programmes are intended to be entertaining as well as realistic, so some situations are portrayed in a certain way for dramatic effect and this needs to be allowed for. There is an argument, however, that a lack of realism is not helpful to the legal profession and encourages people to be unrealistic about what they can expect from a legal career.
Nvertheless, realistic or not, if television dramas encourage more young people to consider a career in law who would not otherwise have done so, then that can only be a good thing.
All about the glamour
Critics would argue that legal dramas only tend to cover one area of law (usually crime) that is seen as the most exciting and glamorous. This can leave viewers and the potential lawyers of the future ignorant about the many other areas of practice.
Whilst young people may embark on a legal career thinking they will be the next high flying criminal barrister, once they begin training, it will open their minds to the many other areas of practice that a legal career has to offer.
Our American counterparts
It can be argued that the existence on British television of many American legal dramas does also not help the UK legal profession. Such programmes could lead to confusion, with viewers having little appreciation for the difference between the US and UK legal systems and so having an unrealistic view of the profession in the UK. It is hoped, however, that those who would even consider a career in the law are likely to be able to appreciate the differences and embrace American programmes for what they are.
There is little doubt that the existence of such programmes can provide a catalyst for some to go into the legal profession. What is important is that those people continue on their legal journey even after they realise that real life does not always imitate art.