Law & Order – Great TV, Bad Benchmark

Have you ever turned a courtroom drama show and been glued to the set? Some handsome young attorney is yelling, pleading, coaxing, and wrapping the jury around his finger. An unhinged witness suddenly explodes with a big bombshell about the defendant? The judge manages to deduce the answer with a brilliant line of thought?

Those shows are riveting and the writing in them is often very good. The title of this blog is about Law & Order, but really, this isn’t just about that one show. Crime and court dramas are everywhere, some great, some less great. They’re in movies, they’re in books. You can’t search on Netflix for five minutes without stumbling across one. But there’s a problem with many of them:

They’re not realistic. That’s not to say they’re not true; many of them base their plotlines on real court cases. The problem is that these shows and movies portray a few things very wrong, or at least portray them too glamorously. Here are some things that courtroom drama shows get wrong, and how knowing this could change how you view your own lawsuit.

Not every accident results in a lawsuit

Since most of these dramas take place inside the courtroom, it makes sense to only show trials. This might lead a viewer to think all accidents go to trial. Not only is that not true, but not all accidents even result in lawsuits. Smaller fender benders might be resolved with the two people involved and their insurance companies. Even if a lawyer is brought into the fold, your lawyer will quite often reach a settlement with the insurance company. For motor vehicle cases, it’s probably more common to settle before a lawsuit is ever filed. Even more complex cases can resolve without going to court.

Attorneys spend more time with paperwork than in the courtroom

The idea of a beautiful attorney in her power suit strolling through a silent courtroom gets people to watch these shows. The same attorney in a business casual outfit in a small office filling out paperwork would not. The fact is that attorneys spend much of their time doing research, writing or modifying legal documents, preparing demand letters, and talking to other attorneys and insurance adjusters on the phone. As a matter of fact, some attorneys never go into a courtroom and instead hire out other law firms if they need to go to court. If your attorney is not actually in court on your case, it doesn’t mean they are ignoring the case. Much of the work is done behind the scenes.

The timescale is WAY off

If the dramas were to be believed, two weeks after your accident you’ll be holding back the tears as you testify before a jury. It just doesn’t happen that fast. There’s a lengthy process that has to be followed. Information has to be exchanged. Medical treatment has to happen. A demand needs to be made. Counter offers might be received. If there is no resolution, a lawsuit needs to be filed. More information needs to be traded. Meetings need to be set up. Questions need to be asked and answered. Sometimes experts are called in to write reports. Dates are set and then often rescheduled. More information needs to happen. And on and on and on. Two weeks is not realistic. Two years is more likely.

The courtroom scene itself is probably less exciting than you’d think

In some cases, like automobile cases, they may only be trying to establish one or two things. Your injuries, for example, are already known. The defense might just be trying to prove that their client was not 100% responsible for the accident. Doing that might mean they have to pay less to you in the end. As such, court scenes are just questions and answers asking about how you remember the accident. It may come down to one witness to the accident being more reliable than the other. It’s not that common to hear someone yell “AHA!” like you do in courtroom dramas.

If you win, you don’t immediately get the money

In those shows, after the plaintiff wins a verdict, the next shot of them is on a yacht. Not only do you not get money the next day (sometimes it can take weeks or even months to get paid), most times you don’t get to spend it on luxury items. Your bills probably piled up during the lawsuit unless you were able to get a pre-settlement loan on your case. Those have to be paid. Sometimes a plaintiff still needs medical care even after their suit is over. That isn’t free. The truth is a settlement, even a big one, is usually not a victory; it is you getting justice for your pain and suffering. Getting your life back on track often takes more than just money.

If, however, you won in court but it could be months before you get paid, there are ways to get funding on those settlements. Contact us for more information. And remember, not everything is as you see it on TV.

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