What Court's Really Like

As a court reporter, I’ve had firsthand experience of what goes on in courtrooms, and the lawyers and judges associated with it. Many people who are involved in legal matters or experiencing court for the first time may find themselves shocked by how different it is than what they had imagined. For most people, the majority of the information they have about court and cases are what they see on TV. In reality, there is a huge divide between what is portrayed through the dramas on TV and the real-life situation. Here are 3 things TV got wrong about court.

1. Time and pacing
Court is not fast. Lawyers have to make their case and this is done by asking a lot of questions and building their case piece by piece. Most of the time, the details are far from interesting.
Even getting to the courtroom in the first place takes time. A show like Law & Order leaves you with the impression that a case can go from crime scene to verdict in just a few days. That never happens in real life. For instance, civil cases are often extremely slow and regularly take 2+ years to resolve. A medical malpractice case, can easily take four to six years.

2. Shouting
In reality, there are no Jack Nicholson’s shouting, “You can’t handle the truth!” Most courtrooms are orderly and fairly subdued. Lawyers are quite humble with the judge, and the judge usually steps in if a lawyer shouts at the witness. The courtroom is very professional, and there is much less of the shouting or quippy remarks that you may see on TV.

3. Monotonous
Ultimately, the real world is a lot less interesting than the magical land where movies and TV shows exist. There are few actual trials, and most court hearings are administrative: motion calls and arguments, case management calls, etc.

As for the last-minute evidence or witness that seals the case, that doesn’t really exist in real life. Most evidence is well documented ahead of time. There doesn’t tend to be gotcha moments. Lawyers generally know what the witnesses will say before they say it. People don't tend to confess on the stand or make huge mistakes. There can be drama, but not most of the time.

Feeling disillusioned? The reality of the courtroom is much different than the way it’s portrayed on TV. Still, that won’t stop me from curling up on the couch and marathoning shows like Law and Order.