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Lawyers and the legal system on TV: the British experience

Robson, Peter (2007) Lawyers and the legal system on TV: the British experience. International Journal of Law in Context, 2 (4). pp. 333-362. ISSN 1744-5523

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Abstract

This essay seeks to shed some light on the portrayal of law and lawyers on television. Whilst it focuses principally on the British experience, it is written in the wake of American television's extensive output and comments on these products. It indicates where the impetus for this work has come from and examines the changes in the portrayal of small screen lawyers. It notes the scholarship carried out in the United States and seeks to build on this pioneering work. It assesses the schemes used by the analysts of American TV law and notes their limited applicability to the British context. It constructs a typology of TV law programmes based on the development of distinctive styles of programming. This typology covers legal procedurals, legal dramas, legal comedies and legal reality shows. It notes the potential for analysis of the development of TV law programmes to shed light on areas such as the globalisation of culture and debates on legal education as well as on the nature and image of the legal profession and its socio-political function. It suggests that this process of mapping out the domain of small screen legal justice requires to be supplemented by detailed readings of the wealth of material which is revealed in the overview of the British experience and complemented by studies in other jurisdictions. It concludes that there seems to be a paradox at the heart of lawyer programmes. The dominant ethos of the vast majority of the material has been essentially reflective rather than refractive. The protagonists have been anti-establishment whilst the underlying trope has been the attainment of justice through the vehicle of the heroic lawyer.