In Too Deep?


b9df7f5b8b1280964519cb1f0cd53f13Thank you, Professor O’Hear and Professor Slavin for inviting me to share my comments with the Marquette University Law School community. 

On my first day of law school, former Marquette Professor Eric Goldman informed our orientation group that, much to his own dismay, the practice of law is nothing like it is portrayed on television.  “What?”  I thought, “You mean cases can’t be tried start to finish in one hour?”  

Although I never truly expected that practicing law would resemble the television shows, I realized that there was value to be gained by watching these shows.  Not only do they offer a bit of light-hearted entertainment, but also an opportunity to test those years of legal education. 

One of the most recent newcomers to legal television is ABC’s new dramedy, “The Deep End.”  In “The Deep End,” five new associates join L.A.’s most prestigious law firm—Sterling, Huddle, Oppenheim, & Craft.  As the show’s title would imply, these associates are immediately thrown into the deep end.   I can appreciate that filming document reviews and the preparation of written discovery would not make for entertaining television.  I also understand that filming legal research in a law library filled with Pacific Reporters is better cinema photography than filming.  Thus, within their first week of practice, the legal neophytes are handling motion hearings, taking depositions, meeting with the firm’s major clients, and of course, groping each other, their support staff, and their clients. 

The groping is to be expected; after all, it is television.  But as we all learned in ethics classes and CLE seminars, the groping should never involve your clients (unless, of course, there was a relationship that preexisted the representation).  Also, no lawyer—whether a first-year attorney or an experienced litigator—should be representing a client in a pro bono case that creates a conflict of interest with the firm’s existing clients.  And if you learn that the opposing counsel (who also happens to be our young attorney’s father) has committed an ethics violation by destroying evidence, be reminded of our duty as attorneys to report such conduct.  As I so often heard in law school, no client or case is worth losing your license.     

 As a reality, firms often throw new lawyers into the deep end.  This “sink-or-swim” approach is a tried and true method of teaching the practice of law.  But it is a practice that should always involve a lifeguard.  My advice to younger attorneys is to seek out those lifeguards when you think you might be in over your head, whether it is a senior attorney at your firm or a trusted mentor.  Of course, the lifeguards still need to watch the pool.

This Post Has 11 Comments

  1. Martin Tanz

    In the 80s, the big legal show was LA Law. In the 90s/00s, it was the Practice/Boston Legal. And for the last 20 years, we have had the Law and Order franchise.

    Compared to these legal dramas, how does The Deep End compare?

  2. Jessica E. Slavin

    Tony, thanks for an interesting first post. I think I am going to steal the “lifeguard” analogy as an addition to my own “sink or swim” advice. And I will try to see The Deep End. I am so terribly out of touch with TV these days that I had never even heard of the show.

  3. Anthony Murdock


    My sense is that two episodes in, the Deep End is off to a slow start. It is still trying to figure out what it is trying to be and what its boundaries will be.

    Boston Legal realized that it was much more of a comedy than a dramedy and had thus, had no problems with the absurd. Consequently, Boston Legal was pretty entertaining and it was easy to get past the unrealistic picture of the practice of law that it portrayed.

    I never got into LA Law so I cannot offer a comparison.

    Professor Slavin, The Deep End might be worth watching once or twice. There is some entertainment value to pointing out the things that never happen during the practice of law.

  4. Martin Tanz


    I suspect that LA Law might be the template for all of these shows. It was certainly the template for The Practice, as the creator of The Practice also wrote for LA Law.

    For those of us who were college students and/or young adults in the late 80s, LA Law was required viewing and the topic of water cooler discussions every Friday morning. The show centered around a boutique firm, Mackenzie Brackman, that specialized in litigation. There was the fatherly senior partner Leland Mackenzie, the annoying managing partner Douglass Brackman, the nebishy Stuart, the main litigator Michael (Harry Hamlin), his love interest ADA Grace Van Owen (Susan Dey from the Partridge family), Michael’s protege Victor (Jimmy Smits), and the smarmy and cynical Arnie (Corbin Bernsen).

    If law school applications went up in the years from 1987 to 1992, I would guess that some of it was due to LA Law, which made the practice of law look like it would be a lot of fun and provide opportunities to meet good looking and interesting people.

  5. Ed Fallone

    David E. Kelley graduated from Boston University School of Law in 1983. I arrived there in 1985. By the time I graduated, he had already abandoned the practice of law and was a lead writer on the television show “L.A. Law.” He was a bit of a legend at B.U., and this was even before he married Michelle Pfeiffer. He later created “The Practice” and “Ally McBeal.”

  6. Michael Madden

    “As a reality, firms often throw new lawyers into the deep end. This ‘sink-or-swim’ approach is a tried and true method of teaching the practice of law. But it is a practice that should always involve a lifeguard.”

    Remember, the client is usually the one who sinks while you learn how to swim. Critical advice given. Find a mentor, trusted advisor, or colleague to help you navigate the waters when first starting out.

    Better to bury your pride than to deal with an inefficiency of counsel claim later.

  7. Gordon Hylton

    L.A. Law was a notch up on the reality meter from the lawyer shows that preceeded it. The lawyer shows of my youth–Perry Mason, the Defenders, the Law and Mr. Jones, The Bold One: the Lawyers, Petrocelli–were of various qualities as television shows, but all involved solo practitioners or small two or three person partnerships. Most of their practices involved defending individuals wrongly accused of crimes or victim of social injustice.

    L.A. Law involved a law firm–albeit a slightly surreal one–where different lawyers performed different functions and the firm was actually concerned about making money.

    My own favorite lawyer TV shows were the much underappreciated “Eisenhower and Lutz,” and “Sparks.”

    Eisenhower & Lutz was a CBS comedy involving an ethically challenged Las Vegas solo practitioner named Bud Lutz, Jr. who was played by a pre-Quantum Leap Scot Backula. (There was no Eisenhower; Lutz simply added his name to the firm in a pathetic attempt to attract clients.) The show ran for 13 episodes in the spring and summer of 1988.

    Sparks was a UPN comedy that ran from 1996 to 1998 and focused on the personal and professional lives of an all-black, family law firm in unfashionable Compton, California. The firm’s patriarch was Alonzo Sparks, played by William Avery who was best known for his previous role as the completely unbelievable lawyer-uncle on the Fresh Prince of Bel Air.

    I think I may have been the only person who ever saw Eisenhower & Lutz and the only white person who watched Sparks, but I stand by my claim that they were a notch above the typical television lawyer fare.

  8. Gordon Hylton

    For the sake of accuracy, I need to offer a slight corrective note to my previous comment.

    Bud Lutz practiced law (in an ethically challenged way) in Palm Springs, California, not Las Vegas. However, he went to law school in America’s Sin City where he studied at the East Las Vegas School of Law and Acupuncture.

  9. Martin Tanz

    Professor Hylton,

    I agree that LA Law has changed the law show from the Perry Mason template, though I wonder if we just traded one set of myths about lawyers for another.

    Was the fictional world of Mackenzie Brackman more realistic than the Perry Mason world? A place where lawyers got a chance to do interesting work (not too much though), meet good looking, quirky, interesting people, have great sex lives, and make truckloads of money?

    And if we are really talking about mythology, which myth was better for the public image of lawyers? A Perry Mason who defended innocent people or the materialistic,quirky, and deeply flawed attorneys (and staff) at Mackenzie Brackman?

  10. Martin Tanz

    Going even deeper into this subject, I just remembered a law comedy dating from 1979 called “The Associates,” starring a very young Martin Short. I found this online and it sounds a bit like the premise of In Too Deep in that it is a comedy about young associates at a larger firm.

    It only ran about half a season, and the only episode I remember ever watching was where one of the associates had to do an appellate oral argument against his law professor who had terrorized him in first year contracts. The actor they got to play the professor was…John Houseman reprising his part from the Paper Chase as professor Kingsfield.

    The denouement of the the episode was that just as the associate was about to get up and make his oral argument, finally standing up his law school nemesis, somebody (maybe a law clerk) announces that the Supreme Court ruled on the case, rendering the case moot.

  11. Gordon Hylton


    I remember “The Associates.” I also remember it as disappointing. I was just two years out of law school when it premiered.

    It is appropriate that John Housman would play the Contracts professor on that show. Both “The Paper Chase” and “The Associates” were based on novels written by John Jay Osborn. Interestingly enough, in spite of the anti-law school animus of both novels, Osborn ended up a law professor.

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