You know how people in certain professions can’t stand watching certain shows, because the details are all wrong? I go through this all the time with legal fiction on TV shows.
But you know what really gets me? When authors write about legal details in fiction and get them all wrong. That’s why I really admire authors who sweat the legal details even in scenarios that are fictional. For instance, Michael Connelly is one such author. Sure, the courtroom scenes may have a few exaggerations, but for the most part they come across believably. And Connelly has the most amazing way of writing about the law that not only builds suspense but sucks the reader right into the story.
Making your lawyer a sleuth, rather than focusing on the courtroom scenes, presents its own set of challenges. When I write a Sam McRae mystery, I’m keenly aware of the ethical restrictions on what she can do. Nonetheless, I have Sam bend the rules or at least skate very close to the edge, in part to up the ante and in part to allow her to get anything done. Because—let’s face it—Sam’s supposed to be a hard-boiled character and sometimes her ethical choices can clash with those imposed by the status quo. Besides, if I limited myself to writing about things lawyers actually do, it would make for some kind of boring book. That isn’t to say that there aren’t great stories to be told about real things that happen to lawyers. It’s just that they’re not structured in the same way as hardboiled mystery novels.
Making your lawyer a sleuth, rather than focusing on the courtroom scenes, presents its own set of challenges.
Finally, one of the things authors ought to know before they venture into writing about the law is that much of it changes from state to state—sometimes from county to county. So, if you’re going to write about Maryland law, please do a little research. Or pick up the phone and call any lawyer in the state. Those of you who know me have my email or you can private message me on Facebook. Or you can DM me on Twitter. Keep in mind that the short answer may be, “It depends.” In any case, you can avoid one author’s wholly incorrect decision to describe Maryland as a community property state.
I’m not mentioning any names—if nothing else, lawyers are discreet.