Law School Lessons from TV

Law School Lessons from TV

Today we welcome back Shirlene Armstrong, 2L guest writer, to discuss law school lessons that can be learned from TV.

Unless you are or have been a law student, it is difficult to demonstrate the life of law students and the legal world. Honestly, it’s difficult to even explain it to a “layperson.” However, Hollywood has attempted to tackle this issue and show the “typical law school experience” in the form of media. Television is great and it allows viewers to get a taste of what something is like. There is a difference though between “reality” and “reality tv.” Hollywood tends to dramatize everyday life and law school is no exception. Although these entertainment pieces may give you a perception of what law school is like, your expectations of law school will be very different from reality if you rely solely on Hollywood’s version.

Legally Blonde

Who doesn’t love Legally Blonde? This movie is the staple of law school movies. It tells the story of the young, blonde Elle Woods and her endeavors of getting into and being (very) successful in her first year of law school. Since this was a big Hollywood movie, it is easy for reality and reality tv to be far apart. Of course, there is added drama with any movie, but there are some parts that are stretched a little far. The fact that Elle got to give an actual cross examination is amazing but very unlikely for 1Ls. (Further, summer associate positions as 1Ls are very uncommon as well). However, Legally Blonde is a great inspiring movie for incoming law students and 1Ls and has some realistic touches. For example, cold calls are a real, everyday fact of life for law students (note: the first classroom scene when Elle gets kicked out) and professors are going to get frustrated if you are not prepared (and believe me, they will know). The movie also teaches you how to work hard to get opportunities and be successful in law school. Elle was seen as a dumb blonde/sorority girl at the beginning of the movie but worked hard and spent hours studying/in the library and ended up graduating top of her class. This is the reality of a law student who wants to ensure his/her success or wants to pass Con Law.

How to Get Away With Murder

A recent television series, How to Get Away With Murder follows a defense attorney that teaches Criminal Law at a local law school and gets involved in some murderous plots. While this show is really thrilling and addictive, it strays a bit from the path of the typical law school experience. This is largely due to the fact that in order to include the law students in the plot, the normal law school schedule had to be altered. For example, most 1Ls do not work in the first year, let alone for their professor’s firm (especially at the get-go). Further, the ABA does not allow a full-time law student to work more than 20 hours a week while classes are in session. Although this show is dramatized, and you most likely won’t be learning about how to get away with murder in your Crim Law class (and don’t ask, your professor will probably be more or less annoyed) the drama does paint a generalized view of law school and the legal world. (Note: generalized, don’t expect your law school experience to be like this). The classroom dynamics like cold calls and class discussions are spot on. Also, many law professors actually work or are still in practice. This means they can teach you valuable information about the “real” legal world and what it is like to be a lawyer. This is VERY valuable for a young law student, so get to know your professors! While you may not get an internship right off the bat with them, if they know you as a student and person, you will be the first person they think of if their firm (or a friend’s!) has an opening.

Be Careful What You Think You Know

I have said this once and I will say it again, your law school expectations (based on tv or otherwise) are probably different than the reality that law school actually is. Everyone knows that law school is hard. However, when people enter law school (myself included), they do not know how law school will be difficult and what law school will be like. It’s great to watch shows and movies that focus around law school or the law in order to get a taste of what it is like. However, make sure you keep your expectations in check and do proper research on your own as to the reality of law school. You can definitely learn valuable lessons from How to Get Away With Murder and Legally Blonde, and these are amazing for inspiration and aspirations. Remember to work hard and believe in yourself, but, ultimately, enjoy your law school experience (because you only get this once!)


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About Shirlene Brown

Shirlene Armstrong is a first-generation student in her last year at Wayne State University Law School in Detroit, Michigan. At Wayne, Shirlene has been involved with numerous organizations and clubs, including mock trial, LexisNexis, the Women's Law Caucus, and the Journal of Law and Society. Shirlene enjoys mentoring others and sharing what she has learned on her legal journey and continues to work hard in accomplishing her dreams.

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