Five Ways Real-Life Law Differs from TV and Movies
November 14, 2019 | By: Drew Sinclair
TV and movies have taught us a lot about the law. We’ve learned that you can’t handle the truth, everyone is out of order, two ‘yutes are a couple of good Italian-American boys from New York, and that the cardinal rule of perm maintenance is not to get your hair wet for 24 hours.
But they’ve misled us on some details. Here are five of them…
5 – Judges don’t have gavels
Judges control the courtroom with their gravitas, not miniaturized construction tools. Courtrooms are quiet, orderly, and organized places. Yelling and banging hammers is not required to be heard; nor do lawyers need to ever shout “Objection!” – typically, lawyers do little more than silently stand to signal that they intend to object and that the questioning should pause.
Yelling out in a courtroom while someone else is talking is just as rude as it would be anywhere else in society.
4 – Nothing is ever “struck from the record”
There is a record. It’s a verbatim transcript of everything said. It’s always running. Nothing is ever struck. Nor are parts of it usually read back during the hearing. A complete record is needed in case the decision is appealed.
3 – Lawyers don’t walk around the courtroom
When a lawyer speaks in court, they do so while standing behind their table, or at a nearby podium. They do not walk up to the witness box while questioning. They do not strut in front of the jury panel when giving their opening and closing address. And they do not ever approach the judge’s bench.
2 – There are no surprise witnesses
There is no trial by ambush. Everyone knows in advance which witnesses are going to be called and what documents are going to be produced. Evidence does get discovered at the last minute, but it doesn’t mean a surprise attack. It means giving notice to the opposing lawyer, and if necessary, pausing the trial for hours (or even days) for the lawyer to process and prepare for this new evidence.
1 – There is no arguing
A lot of courtroom scenes play out as a three-way conversation between two lawyers and the judge. Rapid-fire volleys exchanged back-and-forth until the judge bangs his gavel. But this kind of arguing is not found in a courtroom. Instead, everyone gets a turn to speak, and everyone, absent a few exceptions, waits their turn until they begin speaking. The party that wants something explains why they want it. When they are finished, the other party explains why they oppose it. Then, the first party is given a chance to respond, but only to new issues just raised by the other party. Finally, the judge makes a ruling.
This probably all sounds rather boring. To the outsider, it usually is. A courtroom is a place where experience, civility, and preparation rule. The drama comes from the facts of your case, not the theatrics of the players.