November 30, 2022
Law movies

Law movies are great. I can assure you. Or do I have to convince you beyond reasonable doubt? Let’s consider the facts. The suspense of each episode leaves you on the edge of your seat, the plot twists has you suppressing a full bladder and the iconic lawyers make you haggle the price of suits every other day. Your favorite character in the movie is the lawyer who makes witnesses cry on the stand while admitting to perjury. Where the witness doesn’t cry or cower, this favorite character of yours argues with the witness during cross examination while the Judge bangs his gavel. That hot exchange wins the case most times as the jury immediately sees the point of the lawyer’s heated exchange.

Did I add that the court cases get concluded in a single episode? After all, the courts always sit, there are no letters of adjournments, no cause lists or learned Silks (and Senior Lawyers) who will get to call cases out of turn while your favorite character waits for his wig to get sufficiently old for the privilege. Besides an entire episode is not dedicated to replicate the last day you spent lengthy hours trying to file a time sensitive process at the registry at TBS.

Back at the office, this fav Lawyer of yours ogles his fellow employees and throws sexual banter freely in fact. Surprisingly, the judicial hammer in Ejike Maduka v Microsoft hasn’t found him out yet.

Your favorite lawyer in the movie series could be Alan Shore or Denny Crane in Boston Legal, Harvey Specter or Louis Litt in Suits, Rumpole in the series of the same name or the QCs in Anatomy of a Scandal. And did I just forget Annalise Keating in How to get away with murder? That oversight should be a capital offence in itself.

I duff my hat to you – one law movie series lover to another.

Certainly, I must not kill the thrills that any law enthusiast or student would get from seeing his best law movies. These movies do actually help in some ways after all. First, they show us that the effective Lawyer would have to be a confident person. He would have to possess great or substantial oral and written persuasive skills. His negotiating skill must be top notch. He cannot avoid being a rainmaker.  And maybe lastly, he should have some poise, a great sense of fashion and some well-polished shoes as well. Did I miss out anything? I hope not.

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But let’s hurry to the gist of this scribble. The gist is – the movies don’t give you the entire preview of law practice especially litigation practice in Nigeria. They do not contain some ticks and antics that are peculiar to litigation practice in our clime. I agree I repeated that point. But hope you get what am I saying.

Let me now attempt to convince you into agreeing with my point. I admit what I will say here may not entirely cover the field of discuss. Yet I will give it an honest attempt.

Movie poster of How to get away with Murder

So here we go, my expose on what law movies don’t teach intending attorneys or law students –

Drafting skills – Preparing pleadings, final addresses or briefs

The Law movies don’t test or refine your legal drafting skills. Many times, in these movies, the pleadings are flawless – so we get to the meat of controversy in the episode. Trial begins without any fuss and we see the lawyers flex the legal muscles that the script writers have assigned to them.

In real life and in our clime, many cases can be and are won or lost because of the poor drafting of the originating processes or the pleadings. Section 98 of the Sherriff and Civil Processes Act and the Supreme Court decisions in Izeze v INEC and Ors (2018) LPELR 44284 SC and PDP V INEC (2018) LPELR 44373(SC) pages 15 – 18, might be your cue here. Also, this brings to mind a defamation matter where we represented the Defendant and due to the various weaknesses in the pleadings and evidence of the Claimant, we could put forth an arguably formidable case for our client. Why was this so? No evidence of a third party was called and the defamatory publication was not reproduced verbatim in the pleadings. Your cases in point would be – OMALE v. FEDERAL POLYTECHNIC KADUNA & ANOR (2015) LPELR-25933(CA), Sun Publishing Ltd v Dumba (2019) LPELR 46935 (CA), Okafor v Ikeanyi (1979) LPELR 2418 (SC) and Guardian Newspapers Ltd v Ajeh (2011) LPELR 1343 (SC). I do suggest you look them up.

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Apart from the pleadings, final addresses are usually not filed in the movies. I mean adopting final addresses with little to no adumbration like we oft do in our clime would take all the fun out of the movies. Wont it? In addition, the arguments are usually aimed at persuading a jury and so the issue of citing authorities and relying on stare decisis rarely shows up. And these are core issues any litigation lawyer would have to deal with.

Am I saying law movies are useless on this score? No, far from it. Rather, the final summations in these movies show that many times – even with the same set of facts, it is possible to argue for either party. Shocking? Maybe that should be. The Law may not weigh in favorably for one of the party’s case – but things can and sometimes do change at trial. Many times, this change (at trial) centers on what a party does eventually prove. If he can prove nothing – the law might just be able to something similar – grant him nothing, no matter how favorable the facts may have seemed to be at the beginning.

A scene from Anatomy of a Scandal

Thinking on your feet

The movies do show why every lawyer must learn to think on his feet. But they don’t teach you the actual thinking. Or do they? Throughout trial, the Lawyer would have to make some professional judgments and call some shots based on what he honestly believes to be in the utmost interest of his client’s case. These professional judgments could range from determining whether to object to a document, ask a certain line of questions, rest the Defendant’s case on the Claimant’s or whether to even cross examine at all.

Sometimes these shots have to be called under very short notice and immense pressure. And the decision has to be in the best interest of the client but within the boundaries of the law. Most times, it’s a tough call – like being between the devil and a hard place. But if I could borrow a few words from Iain Morley on this they would be this – “judgement is what you are paid for…it is your greatest necessity as a lawyer. Whether you have it or not is usually a question of talent, feel, common sense, understanding of the law, experience and occasionally cunning”

Judge Clark Brown from Boston Legal

Dealing with Judges

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A core part of litigation work involves dealing with Judges. They are the impartial triers of fact. But they are human as well. So, they have their mannerisms, ticks and biases. Yes, I typed that – biases. Above these three things (i.e. mannerisms, ticks and biases) sits the law, and we expect judges to pay allegiance to it while dispensing justice. So, dealing Judges is crucial part of what the litigation lawyer does. It will also affect how effective he is perceived to be at what he does.  

Shouting at the Judex or antagonizing the bench may not get the job done. This is my personal opinion and I could change it by dusk tomorrow. But from what I have seen so far, I honestly hold the view. Do I think we should not be firm when the need arises or when occasion demands? Certainly not. Each response should depend on the Judge involved – that is why the advice – know your judge is eternally important. Do the movies show that? Sometimes I think they honestly do – at least Boston legal did; with Judge Hooper and Judge Clark Brown. But I don’t think adopting the strategy employed in the movies would help your client or his case.

In sum know the Judge and know how to deal or better still relate with him. And certainly, I mean knowing and relating with the Judge within the boundaries of the law.

My gist is already getting quite long but four last points are yet relevant. I’d just list them and try overcoming the temptation to talk a lot further. So here we go; Law movies won’t teach the following as well;

  1. What a judgment really is like
  2. What the business of law actually means
  3. Cross Examination in the real world
  4. The importance of continued Self and professional Development

Permit me to rather adjourn further discuss on the subject to a later and better blog post.

Written by Frederick Nkobowo LLB

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