Are Legal Dramas Missing An Important Part?

By Sofya Abdurakhmanova Legal dramas, like Law and Order, The Practice, and Suits, are meant to enthrall, entertain, and even comment on the human condition. However, they are never meant to provide information about the actual law because the shows manipulate and change the legal system to make it more dramatic. In an ideal world, viewers would recognize these changes and never use Law and Order as a source of legal information. The problem is that this is not the ideal world and when the shows look realistic, the public buys into the content as well as the performance. Previously staple shows like Law and Order were very careful to carry a disclaimer at the end but as the number of legal shows grows exponentially, the time of the disclaimers has gone and there is a seriously troubling flow of false legal information. The perfect example is an NBC show called Harry's Law, that stars Kathy Bates as a patent lawyer who after a near death experience quits the large firm and open a small criminal defense firm in a crime ridden area. The show has the typical manipulations of the legal system but the problem arose in the 9th episode entitled "The Fragile Beast" – which garnered 10.16 million viewers. The episode begins with a Mexican man approaching Harry for help in releasing his girlfriend from her husband, who locked her in the basement. The caveat was that Harry could not call the police because the wife was an illegal immigrant. In fact, the statement about her being an immigrant was repeated continuously throughout the show. Those familiar with immigration law were probably feverishly praying that no immigrant was watching this episode. This particular plot line just spit on the past 15 years of advocacy and lobbying of every women's rights organization. These organizations provide representation and try to get the word out to immigrant communities about the Violence against Women Act (VAWA), which allows women in abusive marriages with U.S. citizens to have a legal recourse while not have to stay with their abusive spouse or risk deportation. The show's legal content was opposite to the actual law but at the end, there were no disclaimers and no PSA announcements to even suggest that. Out there were 10.16 million people who were reinforced with the biggest myth used by abusers to keep their immigrant wives on a leash. Surely, it cannot be too much to require a legal show to hire a consulting attorney or to have someone do the legal research on the topic being produced. If the writers know that they are using incorrect or highly skewed legal information that should be communicated to the viewers because it is also commonly known that people believe what they see. If ABC Family can have PSAs on teen pregnancy or eating disorders, there can be one on legal dramas. The costs for such regulation are minimal but the harm that they prevent is serious and could be grave.

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