When I first got the idea for the (F)law Review, a recurring post dedicated to exposing flaws in the portrayal of legal issues in television shows and movies, I was concerned that I might quickly run out of material. After all, the pool of entertainment works that attempt to portray legal issues is pretty shallow. But on September 25, 2014, the skies opened up and ABC’s new series How To Get Away With Murder, (which returned from Winter break January 29, 2015) rained down. Many movies and television shows have struggled to depict what life in law school is really like. This show correctly recognized that real law school is really boring, so it created a fictional, top-tier law school, Middleton University, with several artistic embellishments.
First, the criminal law professor who is the show’s driving force, Annalise Keating, is teaching criminal law while also actively representing criminal defendants in her “regular” job. A law school class at a prestigious law school taught by a practicing attorney is about as rare as a drop in law school tuition: you occasionally hear stories about it even if you never personally experienced it. But a core curriculum class like criminal law being taught by a practicing attorney at a top-tier law school is more like student loan forgiveness: it simply doesn’t happen.
Second, Professor Keating does not teach based on settled case law. Instead, she discusses her own cases—active cases. So, for example, Professor Keating regularly shares her litigation strategy with her entire class of first-year law students. Sometimes she has her entire class listen to her client tell her side of the story. My hope is that the show survives long enough to depict the same students when they take professional responsibility in their second or third year of law school and learn about the attorney-client privilege and how thoroughly and flamboyantly their first-year criminal law professor had her clients waive it.
For my third point, if you went to law school, think back to the very beginning of law school. You likely didn’t know how to decipher all those letter and numbers in a case citation or how to brief a case. You were somewhat terrified about getting cold-called in class. And you were utterly incapable of defending someone in traffic court, let alone in a murder trial. Professor Keating is so unfazed by these concerns that she hires a small cadre of the first-year law students to work on her cases, conducting factual investigations and crafting defense strategies. If you were on trial for murder, would you want first-year law students playing such a vital role in your defense? If you would, I have some good news for you. You can probably get away with not making your student loan payments during the term of your inevitable prison sentence.