One of LPR’s followers suggested we watch last week’s episode of Rake, a new legal drama on Fox. In last Friday’s episode, “Staple Holes,” the lead character, Keegan Dean, leaves his solo practice to join his best friend’s white shoe law firm. Pacing the sidewalk in front of the new firm’s offices, Keegan rationalizes joining the firm with the help of his long-time assistant, despite anticipating it to be “the worst, most soul-sucking experience of [his] life.”
While Keegan is a somewhat lovable mess of a character, he is a brilliant lawyer who is particularly skilled at the art of cross-examination. On his first day at the firm, Keegan is assigned as fourth chair on the firm’s long-running corporate trial. When the lead counsel (Keegan’s best friend) is hesitant about conducting the cross-examination of a key witness, Keegan is asked to do it the following day. Without any preparation, and after a night of debauchery, Keegan goes on a fishing expedition on cross-examination and ultimately cracks the witness and the case. Returning to the firm with champagne in hand to celebrate his wrapping up the case in such short order, Keegan is greeted with disdain for having wiped out the firm’s financial budget. The managing partner chastises Keegan because the firm was relying on the revenue the case would generate slugging along for the remainder of the year. How realistic is this storyline? Surprisingly accurate.
The episode raises a number of real-life issues that seem better suited for the make-believe world of TV:
- Although it is unbelievable that a senior partner in a white shoe law firm would have performance anxiety about conducting a trial, it happens more than one would expect. Because of the tendency of most high value cases (multi-millions and billions) to resolve outside of court, many high-priced lawyers have rarely seen the inside of a courtroom and many lack extensive courtroom experience.
- That there are four (or more) lawyers appearing in court for the firm’s client is often routine in large cases.
- After the lead attorney asks the judge to reconvene the next day because he is unprepared to cross-examine the witness, the judge questions why four lawyers billing $600/hour aren’t prepared, but then recesses for the day. While judges will often chastise attorneys for not being prepared, usually they force the attorney to go on.
- Truly skilled trial attorneys can successfully try a case with little preparation.
- Law firms are businesses that operate on budgets, and when a case resolves earlier than expected, that’s a bad thing for the firm’s bottom line, and firms try to avoid it. It is in the law firm’s best interest for matters to slog on, as illustrated by the firm’s response to Keegan’s “good news.”
The Rake episode hit on two major issues facing legal consumers. Attorney competence and over billing. With respect to competence, you cannot judge attorneys by their appearance. As illustrated by the show, the well dressed attorney was nowhere near as competent in the courtroom as the disheveled Keegan. Not all lawyers have the same skills or skill levels, regardless of what their website bios say or how they appear.
As for billings (when cases are not on contingency), the simple fact is that law firms make more money the longer client matters remain active. For some lawyers, that inherent conflict of interest compromises their ability to put their client’s best interests first. Legal consumers should understand this temptation and remain engaged in their cases to be in a better position to see the signs.
Sometimes TV shows about lawyers and law firms are a lot of fluff and detached from the real law firm world. This episode of Rake is not.
You’ve got options. The Center for Legal Practice Reform can help you navigate the attorney/client relationship and level the playing field. Call LPR today for a free consultation – (301) 351-7970.