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Good Law: 5 Lessons You Can Learn from “The Good Wife” about Legal Ethics

Can a legal TV series teach you anything about ethics in big law? Is it possible for a drama show to raise ethical issues that give lawyers something to think about?

If we are talking about CBS’ hit show “The Good Wife,” then the answer is yes.

The Good Wife” follows the story of Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies), a
Boston person injury attorney who re-enters the workforce after over ten years as a stay-at-home mom. Following her husband sex and political corruption scandal that lands him in jail, Alicia tries to look for comfort in her kids and work.

Looking back at Alicia’s evolution through the show, there are some things lawyers can learn about legal ethics.

  1. Sometimes It’s OK to Bend Your Morality

For seven years, one of the most important themes in the TV drama was Alicia having to bend her morality to defend criminals. In the episode named very suggestively “Unorthodox,” Alicia pairs up with a solo lawyer to defend a couple. As the trial unfolds, Alicia and her investigator find out that the lawyer never passed the bar exam and can’t practice law.

According to the IRPC 5.5 (Illinois Rule of Professional Conduct), lawyers are prohibited from working with or helping non-lawyers in their practice. Alicia has the moral responsibility to inform that client about the unauthorized practice of law. Instead, she chooses to advise the non-lawyer to come clean in after the jury rules their decision.

Was it worth it to ignore legal ethics and jeopardize your careers just for the sake of winning a case? That’s to be discussed in the comments below.

  1. How to Handle Partners with Mental Illnesses

In the episode called “Threesome,” in which Alicia had to represent one of the partners of the law firm she was working for, the TV show brought into question a very sensitive topic. As the investigation unfolds, Alicia finds out that the partner is suffering from dementia.

The episode centers around a car accident that the partner may have caused. Following the Client with Diminished Capacity rule, Alicia tells the partner that he should not be driving anymore. Alicia also has the moral duty to inform the other partners about the partner’s diminished capacity.

  1. Conflicts of Personal Interest

There are many moments in the TV show where Alicia is representing one of the partners or colleagues of the firm she is working for. In fact, she is not the only one doing that. Both William Gardner and Diane Lockhart take turns in representing various partners in various cases.

The IRPC 1.7 prohibits legal representations if it leads to a conflict of interest. The same rule also constrains lawyers from representing a client if it leads to a personal interest. Alicia representing her partner it certainly is a case of conflict of personal interest. However, she chooses to bend the rule and do what she believes is best for both her and the client.

  1. Settlement Negotiations Are Not Always Made by the Client

According to the IRPC 1.2 and 1.4, the decisions about legal settlements, representation, and so on should always be made by the client. More than that, the rule demands lawyers to keep their clients informed about the status of their cases. However, there are many instances in the show where lawyers negotiate with each other without consulting the client.

In the “Boom”, for instance, the lawyers negotiate with each other by writing different offers down on a notepad and displaying them as the client testifies. They stop when they are both satisfied with the number.

  1. Not All Judges Maintain Their Dignity

In the episode “What When Wrong,” that follows Alicia’s attempt to have a guilty verdict recalled, her investigator find out that one of the jurors blogged about the case while in the jury. More than that, he became friends with the judge on social media, who accepted the request during the trial.

It may look like a simple error, but it’s inappropriate behavior that can have severe consequences during the trial. The rules of social media for lawyers, jurors, and judges are pretty straightforward and are just a matter of common sense.

There are many other situations from “The Good Wife” that raise interesting questions about legal ethics. If you haven’t watched the show already, you should do it. You might learn a thing or two about ethics and the big law.

Law Allowing Miscarriage As Disability Being Challenged

Many people feel as if there are too many things in society that are considered a disability. Everyone is born with some disability, meaning we all have things that limit the things that we can and cannot do.

Being contested in Canada is the new inclusion of women going through the loss of having a miscarriage being able to claim disability. After all, there are normally no long-term physical effects of losing a baby. Proponents both for and against it are making their case for the eligibility of it in the workplace.

A miscarriage is a very emotionally draining experience. No matter if a woman is pregnant for a day or months, once she finds that she is carrying a baby, not only do her hormones and body chemistry change, her mentality does as well.

To a woman, the moment she conceives, her brain is filled with the potential of what is to come. She usually will begin to plan for the future and rearrange her life to make way for the new little life growing inside.

There are many instances when a miscarriage requires no medical attention at all. Spontaneous miscarriages result in as many as 10 percent of all pregnancies, without a woman even being aware. Even when a surgical procedure is required, a woman can usually return to normal activities within 72 hours.

According to slip and fall lawyers Philadelphia, that is what makes calling a marriage a disability so controversial. Who is to say how disabling it is for the individual or how long they need to recover from it? The truth is that it is different for every woman and in every circumstance.

The Ontario Human Rights Tribunal has deemed miscarriage as a disability in the Winnie Mou cases. In 2013, Mou suffered a series of unfortunate events that led to her subsequent miscarriage.

Due to time off, she was let go from her position at MHPM Project Leaders because of her poor performance review. When fired, she consulted a lawyer to file suit against the company insisting that she had been wrongfully terminated.

The judge in the case deemed that the miscarriage she suffered was not a temporary or transient thing, but an event that was ongoing and causing her a great amount of sustained stress and grief. It was those mental disabilities that were interfering with her ability to perform her job. The emotional distress of the miscarriage was something that she was mentally not equipped to handle.

Although just one case, it has called into question the effects and long term nature of a miscarriage. The ruling opens the gate for many women in the workplace, who have suffered through a miscarriage, to make a disability claim.

Her lawyer insists that the ruling is nothing out of the ordinary. There are already statues in place that allow women accommodations for “pregnancy-related conditions”. That, however, becomes a gray area when the woman is no longer pregnant. If miscarriage is entered into the mix, what is to stop other pregnancy-related conditions such as abortion and stillbirths to be included as a disability in the work environment?

In 2012, a landmark study by the American Psychological Association found that women who suffer through a miscarriage can experience feelings of trauma and loss for years after the event. Commonly misunderstood, even after having a healthy baby, the feelings of loss are often not overridden.

That led to miscarriage being labelled as a traumatic event in the life of a woman and subject to long term need for mental health. In essence, that makes it no different than any other mental condition that requires medical care and disrupts the ability of a person to perform to their maximum capacity.

With a push for equity in the workplace, many feel that labelling a miscarriage as a disability, could set women back and make them appear to be inferior or unable to handle the stress of daily life. Others, who have experienced a miscarriage, understand that it is something that can affect you in profound and lasting ways. It, likewise, begs the question whether a man who is expecting a child and has the same loss and can also claim the same disabling condition.

Not a permanent ruling or systematic change in the definition of disability across the board, likely, it will be challenged many times in years to come. There is no doubt that medically a miscarriage is a substantial event in the life of a woman; there is a question as to how substantial it is, and if you include it as a disability. It remains to be seen whether it will be a ruling that will have broad scale change to the definition of disability for women.

Cohabitation And Marijuana Legal, What’s Next In Australia’s Law Books?

If you feel like the whole world is going liberal, and as if anything goes these days, you are not alone. America is not the only country with a politician touting the praises of socialist ideology. In a long chain of liberal laxing of rules, Australia is said to be headed toward the legalization of same-sex marriage. The Turnbull government’s latest promise is to legalize same-sex marriage by altering the Marriage Act, which is the current law of the land. Using the ruling of the United States as an exemplar of how things should be more inclusionary, Turnbull believes that reform should follow along with the other Christian democracies around the globe.

Because the way that we see human rights is changing, the way that we deal with legal rights naturally has to follow suit. The problem is that it has seemed to be a sliding slope. Each new “freedom” that is added to our list has potential for disastrous consequences and it isn’t just about changing the law, it is likely going to be about changing society. Once you make something legal, it is seen in a different light. There is a Seattle criminal defence attorney who would suggest that law shapes society, not the reverse. If you allow same-sex marriage, does it put another notch in traditional marriage? An already dying institution, it may be watering down the commitment that a person makes when they say “I do.”

There are not many who see that two people sharing a life together, often including children, should be afforded the same financial rights and obligations to each other. Does that mean, however, that you have to redefine what marriage is? Or, is it more reasonable to alter the financial rules and definitions of same-sex couples? The tide seems to be that the world is beginning to open up the definition of marriage. What the result will be, will be seen in time, good or bad.

Same-sex marriage is not the only change taking place in Australia. Mirroring the overhaul that we see in our social structures in America, they also have legalized marijuana for medical use across the nation. Making amendments to the Narcotic Drugs Act of 1967, marijuana is not only now legal to engage in for medicinal purposes; it will be legal to grow.

Under the new changes, a national permit and licensing plan will be created to supply the use of medical cannabis to patients who have chronic pain conditions. As the last opposition group folds, it was passed earlier this month. In favor of the legalization was the Health Minister Susan Ley who told parliament that, with the benefits associated with the administration of marijuana, it is only humane to dispense it to those who need it.

Next on the docket? Cohabitation Laws?

Cohabitation rules in Australia have been challenged not because they hold anyone back from living together, but they do limit the obligations that two people have to each other. Due to changing moral limitations of living together outside of marriage, or same-sex cohabitation, laws have been targeted to make it more equitable for people to share not only the same space but life, even if they have not exchanged vows. The problem that it poses not just in Australia, but around the globe, is that if there is no benefit to taking your vows, what is the incentive to do so?

Many feel that there is a breakdown of the family unit as it is and allowing rights to those who have not made a union, may only further exasperate the way that people make commitments formally to one another. Cohabitation is an informal “marriage” or commitment between two people. The laws, however, are having a hard time defining what type of legal obligation goes along with a verbal contract of deciding to move in together.

Things get really sticky when there are children involved. Then when two people decide they no longer want to be together, there are other lives that are affected, and how the law should treat those circumstances is very fuzzy. Seeing cohabitation as nothing more than a “trial marriage,” there aren’t many definitions of responsibility for those who split. Australia is making an abundance of changes all at once; the fallout is likely to be vast and encompassing. Sweeping around the globe, soon enough we will all see the consequences of rapid societal changes.

Could Googling Certain Searches Be Illegal?

Have you ever had the occasion where you google something while looking over your shoulder? Google has become that uncle who you can ask anything of without fear of judgment. Just because it is legal to research anything on the internet, that does not mean that criminal activity is legal. There are certain words that, when used, can set triggers off to search engines such as Google, which can lead to you being followed more closely and being put on risk lists.

According to Los Angeles Injury Lawyers, it is not a crime when you input specific words such as murder, but it does send up a white flag across the internet. There have been cases where internet users have inputted certain words and phrases to find the police at their front door.

In 2013, a woman who was doing an internet search for specific issues related to the terror attack at the Boston Marathon, opened her door to find the authorities questioning her activities. After the Boston marathon a sequence of searches such as “pressure cooker”, “backpack” and “homemade bombs” landed her in hot water due to the connection they made.

When it was all sorted out, it was found that it wasn’t the searches made on the family computer, but at her husband’s work, that had been the problem. When his employers had seen what he was researching, they sought the help of authorities.

Everyone is on edge when it comes to the activities of the internet. With ISIS using it as their primary means of recruitment, it is no wonder that everyone is ready to pull the trigger when they see that certain things are being researched.

The truth is that if you put all the pieces of the puzzle together, and they fit, you are compelled to do something about it. Many people came forward after the recent shootings in San Bernardino to say that they thought something was going on, but they didn’t want to appear prejudiced, so they never took the step to notify the proper people.

Most people feel as if their hands are tied. A touchy subject, if you say something, then you run the risk of being a racist. If, however, you keep your mouth quiet, then you run the risk that something like San Bernardino may result. The same is true of the internet. How many times has something malicious happened and when investigated, the very perpetrators stated very clearly the intentions of what they were going to do? Most confessed, not just with friends and family, but posted it to their social media page.

The problem is that there is a cost to so much monitoring. A huge debate rages not just among public opinion, but throughout the halls of our government agencies. Some candidates believe that staying safe should be done at all costs damaging our civil liberties and privacy, while others believe that the type of surveillance currently done is an overextension of the authority given to our officials. That is why there are those who think that Edward Snowden is a traitor and others believe him to be a patriot. It all depends on what side of the issue you are on.

There is no doubt that those who seek to do harm are going to use the internet to better their success at criminal activity, but on the other side of the coin, not everyone who is researching something means to do harm. Some people are just generally interested in what is first and foremost in the news, which are those things revolving around the key phrases that are likely to get you flagged.

Bloggers are not exempt. People who continually spout anti-government rhetoric are certainly on someone’s list. Being angry, inquisitive, or argumentative, can land you in trouble these days. Like the average person, the best thing you can do to avoid the trouble is to be smart about what you are inputting into your browser. The biggest mistake people make, is to think that what you are typing into your computer is seen by only your eyes. When you go to an internet search engine, what you type becomes their property. Like the novel 1985, big brother is constantly watching.

The likelihood that the authorities are going to come to arrest you because you looked up pressure cooker recipes is not likely, but if you are ever suspected of anything, just remember that what you are doing on the internet could become the biggest prosecutor’s witness.

Be Accountable: How to Tell Your Client You Messed Up

It happens to the best of us. No matter how good you are doing or how much you charge, you will mess up at one point or another.

But, don’t worry. Not every mistake will cost your career, and most of them are easy to address and fix. However, you need a lot of courage to watch your client in the face and admit that you’ve made a mistake.

Here are a few tips that will teach you how to break the bad news to the client while still looking professional.

  1. Confirm the Mistake Before Calling Your Client

You may feel tempted to take drastic measures when you assume that you’ve made a mistake, especially if you are a new divorce lawyer in Dallas. But, don’t push the panic button yet. Don’t delete emails or hide information that incriminates you. Analyze, investigate and confirm that you’ve actually messed up before giving your client a heart attack. Calling your clients to let them know you’ve made a mistake only to call them again to tell them you were wrong will make you look unprofessional, to say the least.

If you discover that you’ve screwed up, then it’s time to move onto the next step and figure how bad you screwed up.

  1. How Bad Is It?

Although you’ve given your very best, you discover that you’ve made a mistake. It might be something serious, such as failing to show up for a hearing in court, or something small like forgetting to forward an important email. Feel free to scream, curse, or punch something. It’s an awful feeling, but it happens.

Now that you’ve alleviated some of that pressure building up inside you, it’s time to analyze the situation and figure out how bad your mistake is. Depending on the gravity of the mistake, you need to consider whether it’s necessary to protect yourself from a malpractice lawsuit. Notify your malpractice carrier and ask them for help on how to address the problem and communicate with the client.

Regardless of how big or small the mistake is, you need to be careful and think about how it can impact your career and the client’s case.

  1. Give the Bad News to the Client

The last thing you would want to do when you made a mistake is to write your client an email to deliver the bad news. You cannot explain a situation in a message the same way you can do it in person or over the phone. An email could be very impersonal, and it could damage your relationship with the client permanently.

Let’s be honest: it’s much easier and convenient for you to deliver a bad news via email. You certainly don’t want to look a person in the eyes as you tell them their case might be destroyed because you made an error. But, the client may appreciate your honesty and courage to meet them in person to deliver the bad news.

  1. Admit Your Mistake and Present the Options

Give it to them straight. Start the conversation by letting them know why they are there: you’ve made a mistake, you are sorry, you want to fix it. Don’t try to shift the blame to someone else or to find petty excuses, like how busy you’ve been or how your personal life is a mess. They don’t care about any of that.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with explaining yourself, but only after you’ve owned up to the mistake. Don’t make up false or insincere apologies. Be honest and let them know what went wrong. It might not make a difference for you, but most clients appreciate sincerity.

After you’ve presented your honest apology, you need to let your client know how your mistake will affect their case. Explain to them how you plan to fix the error and let them know you are ready to support the consequences.

  1. Get Over It

You will make other mistakes in your career. It will be bad. But you will have to move on, learn from your errors, and improve yourself.

Everyone makes mistakes. Your job is extremely difficult and requires superhuman skills to get results for your clients. But, you are human and prone to error.

In the grand scheme of things, one mistake won’t sink you. Good lawyers own up to their mistakes, learn from them, and then get right back on the track. If you can’t get over you screw ups, you will never grow. Think about it this way: the best thing about messing up is that you will never make the same mistake again.