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If you are a law fanatic or just have any general interest in law, you have definitely watched the hit American legal television show Suits starring Gabriel Macht, Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, and Patrick J. Adams. Furthermore, anyone who has watched the show would definitely recommend it. This results in multiple “this is what I want to do in the future” statements from moments that “sparked an interest in a career in law which is unsurprising, seeing as the series follows the lives of top-paid lawyers with luxurious lifestyles”, according to The Lawyer Portal. But how accurate of a representation is the show? Are there actual lawyers like Harvey Specter? And do all lawyers get a fancy floor to ceiling glass offices towering over New York?
For individuals who have not watched the show, Suits surrounds a character named Mike Ross who uses his impressive memory skills to scam his way into a top corporate law firm in New York without attending law school. He works under Harvey Specter, “the best closer in new york” who helps Mike illegally practice law while keeping his secret from everyone in the firm. The show quickly gained a lot of recognition and made it all the way to 9 seasons until the last episode aired in late September of last year. The show was also considered as one of the breakthrough acting jobs for Megan, Duchess of Sussex.
As for the accuracy of the show, many professionals in the field have much to say as to how accurately Suits represents a real corporate legal work environment. According to The Lawyer Portal, one of the small technical differences between real-world lawyers and lawyers in Suits is that in the series, the characters work as both Litigators and Transactional Lawyers which is very unlikely in a top law firm. Additionally, picking again at small details, many different aspects are added in to make the show more visually appealing and interesting to keep the audience engagement, as it is first and foremost a TV show. An example of this is how the different associates and paralegals do research and prep for cases. In the show, both Mike Ross (a first-year associate) and Rachel Zane (a paralegal), work together to research in the firm’s fancy legal library using physical legal textbooks. In a more modern legal setting, technological solutions are more likely to be used. However, since putting the two characters in the library with books makes better TV than them just sitting in their offices staring at a screen, that is what the show depicts instead.
One of the main praises of the show is its implementation of female empowerment and diverse representation. Jessica Pearson, an African American managing partner, played by Gina Torres, has the most power in the firm and is one of the most powerful attorneys in New york. Unfortunately, this is not similar to the real-world lawyer scene as it is very uncommon to see a female managing partner, let alone at one of the top law firms in the country since “if it were to be realistic, the managing partner would probably be male, white and elderly.” None the less, Suits does an amazing job of including many powerful female characters who continue to demonstrate female empowerment, and hope to convince more women to go into the legal field.
Another factor that is not as represented in corporate law that might be shocking to many is the number of times that Harvey Specter and the other lawyers in the firm go to court. In real large corporate law cases, it is very unlikely to ever bring your case to an actual courtroom in front of a judge and argue your case. This is because a lot of corporate cases are often solved by settlements, therefore, making it not necessary to go to court.
On the other hand, there are many factors in the show that is similar to real corporate lawyers' lives. One example is the luxury lives that some of the senior partners in the show live. Many of the top corporate lawyers in top law firms can afford to rent luxurious apartments, have the fastest cars, and be very well-paid to say the least. According to Reuters, At Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz what is considered to be the highest-ranked law firm in New York, the top partners profited a whopping total of $5.8 million each in the past year compared to the average top 100 law firms making $1.66 million per year.
Another example is the swift pace and high-stress environment of the firm itself. Associates in the show (excluding mike ross) are shown to be “ground down and given grunt work assignments” as this is very similar to “the reality of an associate's day - doing legwork and drudgework for their partners.” This nevertheless, is the beginning of the long road to being a partner, which ends up being the main goal of every associate in the firm; also well depicted in the show. Additionally, the very infamous Harvey Specter, who is a staple in the show and a person that everyone would love to have in their law firm. “Specter is another good example of a typical lawyer, he is arrogant and risky with a charming personality, whilst also being a brilliant lawyer. The series does explore all the characteristics of lawyers that may be found in top firms.”
Although Suits may not the most accurate portrayal of a corporate law firm, many parts remain true. At the end of the day, the show is made not to be a direct documentary of a corporate lawyers day to day life, but rather made to have dramatic flair and be entertaining for the audience. If they were to be honest about the actual life of a corporate lawyer, there would be hours upon hours of case research, negotiations, and settlements. This would then exclude the dramatic court trials, under the table deals, and all the shady business Harvey specter pulls with Mike that elevates the show to another level.
Associate: In the US an associate is the entry-level job at a law firm right after you graduate from Law School. Associates normally do grunt work for partners and are in charge of research and prepping cases as they rarely go into court.
Litigators: Lawyers and Attorneys that take legal action against people and organizations and stick with a case from start to finish which “includes investigation, discovery, pleadings, pre-trial work, settlement, trial representation, and, if necessary, appeal.”
Managing Partner: A managing partner is the highest position in a law firm, managing partners are in charge of keeping everything in the firm in check and are in charge of all the lawyers in the firm as well as assigning cases to associates and partners.
Paralegal: A paralegal is an individual who does much legal research and legal work but is not a qualified lawyer (meaning they do not have a degree in law). Many students become a paralegal before they retake the LSATs and study to be a qualified lawyer. Paralegals work in law firms and alongside both associates and partners who are responsible for all of their work.
Partners: A partner in a law firm is a very high ranked position; there are junior partners and senior partners. As a partner, you become co-owner of the firm and become an ‘equity partner’ making them entitled to a share of the profits. This results in the senior partners being very highly paid and able to live the luxurious life of the characters in the show.
Settlements: Settlements normally occur when both parties of the case decided not to go to court and instead solve the case with a ‘payout’ or in most times a large sum of cash. This allows the parties to save more time as they do not have to go argue in court as they have both agreed to the specified amount that solves the dispute.
Transactional Lawyers: Transactional law is very similar to litigation however, “Transactional lawyers counsel individuals and organizations on the legal issues generated by their business dealings. Many transactional attorneys are drawn to this type of work because it is generally less adversarial than litigation.”