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For a Decent Summer Legal Show, Check Out Suits

June 26, 2011

Tags: Suits, ethics, sexual harassment

Suits, the new USA summer show about a guy passing himself off as a lawyer, had me worried at the beginning. The very first scene was a real lawyer lying to a client to get a deal closed. That’s a huge, disbarrable no-no. The writers redeemed themselves when the characters discussed how interested the Bar would be in that incident. Two characters threatened each other with mutually assured destruction if one reported the other. I was so happy. Maybe I’m easily amused.

Then they had a sexual harassment case as our hero’s first case, and I cringed. Shows about my area of practice are always the most difficult for me to watch because they get so much wrong. But Suits did a really nice job. Sure, they took some license, but not too much. They got the concept of . . . More

Franklin & Bash Get the Law (Mostly) Right

June 14, 2011

Tags: Franklin & Bash, conflict of interest, contempt, writing tips

I haven’t decided whether or not I’ll be watching Franklin & Bash on a regular basis. I do try to give the latest legal dramas and comedies a chance, and this one is a rare summer legal comedy. It stars Mark-Paul Gosselaar, who I remember fondly from the old Saved By the Bell series. He’s all grown up and playing a lawyer along with Breckin Meyer. They are two outlandish ambulance-chasing lawyers who get convinced by senior partner Malcolm McDowell (one of my favorite actors) to come work for a big fancy law firm.

The first scene showed one of the bad boys of law disobeying a judge’s order. It made me very happy that this landed him in jail (briefly) for contempt. That’s exactly what should happen.

The big plot line showed. . .

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Writing About Juries? Don’t Make These Gaffes

May 24, 2011

Tags: writing tips, The Good Wife, juries

I want to nitpick one of my favorite shows, The Good Wife, again. A couple gaffes with jury scenes really threw me out of the moment recently. It seems that most people who write about juries have never actually seen jury selection or how bailiffs handle juries, because I see lots of stuff that’s flat out wrong when I read or watch jury scenes. Here are two things not to do:

Jury selection: When the lawyers do jury selection, they have the opportunity to ask questions of jurors. Then they get to agree with the juror being seated or challenge the juror. What will (probably – I won’t say never) not happen is that the lawyers object to jurors in front o of the jury pool. This happens after the questions (voir dire) are asked and the jury is sent outside. Prospective jurors are sent to the hallway or a room away from the lawyers and judge.

Then the judge will go through the list, something like this:

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Looks Like We Need Another President: The Event, and What Really Happens When the President is Incapacitated

May 4, 2011

Tags: writing tips, The Event, presidential succession

I was surprised when I watched this week’s episode of The Event and saw them swearing in the Vice President to be President. The plot is that the aliens who have infested the planet poisoned the President, intending to kill him. He’s in a coma. So the Vice President and Cabinet met to have him declared incapacitated. Then the Vice President was sworn in as President. I’m thinking, huh? He’s not actually the President yet. How can they swear him in as President? What gives?

So I looked it up. The writers got it half right. The 25th Amendment of the Constitution says:

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If You’re Writing About Sunken Treasure Hunting, You’re Using Admiralty Law

April 27, 2011

Tags: admiralty, treasure hunting, writing tips

I got really excited about this article because when I teach about using the law in writing I always challenge people to tell me why admiralty law can be pretty exciting. They look at me with blank stares, because it sounds deadly dull, doesn’t it? But admiralty is more than cruise ship accidents. That’s because admiralty law covers anyone who finds or is hunting for sunken treasure.

In the article, a group of treasure hunters called the Black Swan Project found over $500 million in treasure on the ocean floor. Most writers assume that the law is “finders keepers” but it’s way more complicated than that. In this case, Spain made a claim on the treasure because they were the original ship owners. Peru says Spain stole the treasure and they want it. Now a researcher whose research was used to find the ship has made a claim on the loot too. So far, the courts are letting him proceed with his claim.

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The Good Wife, Emotional Distress and Employees

April 6, 2011

Tags: writing tips, The Good Wife, intentional infliction of emotional distress, employment law

Last night’s episode of The Good Wife was called “Wrongful Termination.” (Yes, I'm writing about The Good Wife again. Sorry, but it's a great show). I cringed at the title because Illinois, like every state in the nation but one, is an at-will state, meaning employers can fire or discipline employees for any reason or no reason at all. So my expectations were low.

I got a pleasant surprise.

It’s still not clear to me what the lawyers’ theory of the case was, but the best I can decipher from the arguments is that they were claiming the tort called “intentional infliction of emotional distress.” Illinois, unlike my home state of Florida, does allow this type of case to be brought against employers.

The facts were that

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The Good Wife Doesn't Know Much About Mediation

March 23, 2011

Tags: writing tips, The Good Wife, Fairly Legal, mediation

Why the heck can’t TV shows get mediation right? I mean, if a comedy like The Wedding Crashers can do it, why not courtroom dramas? Fairly Legal has made a mockery of what mediation is about, but I expect USA shows to be silly. Now comes The Good Wife, and I usually expect better from them. I’m a mediator, and this kind of error hurts my feelings because the writers clearly don’t give a hoot about getting mediation right. Mediation is suddenly popular with writers, so why won’t they find out what really happens in a mediation session?

Getting it wrong

Here’s just some of the stuff I keep hearing on TV about mediation that’s glaringly stupid.

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The Suit Against Jimmy Carter: Why Writers And Publishers Should Be Up In Arms

March 5, 2011

Tags: consumer protection, Jimmy Carter, nonfiction

I covered the suit filed against former President Jimmy Carter and Simon & Schuster regarding Carter’s 2006 book Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid a couple weeks ago on The Debriefer. Literary agent Peter Cox and I spoke about the dangers to writers and the publishing industry if the case succeeds. The more I think about this case, the more it bothers me, so it bears more analysis.

The suit is by some readers who claim they bought the book and felt it was full of inaccuracies. They sued for breach of contract, unjust enrichment, negligent misrepresentation , intentional misrepresentation and consumer protection act violations. The argument they make is that the publisher and author advertised the book as nonfiction. They claim they were misled into buying the book based on this false representation.

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The Good Wife, The Right of Publicity, And Why Writers Should Be Scared

February 27, 2011

Tags: writing tips, The Good Wife, publicity rights

A recent episode of The Good Wife, a consistently good legal drama, focused on what I think is one of the most important issues affecting the writing and publishing industry today: the right of publicity. In the show, a character similar to Mark Zuckerberg didn’t like the way he was portrayed in a movie similar to The Social Network. He sued for defamation. Enter our hero law firm.

The lawyers realized pretty quickly that this client was never going to win a defamation case. He was a public figure, like it or not, and therefore the First Amendment squashed the defamation claim pretty cleanly. They’d have to prove actual malice, and that’s really hard to prove.

Then they got an idea. An awful idea. The lawyers got a wonderful awful idea. They’d sue under the right of publicity. How did they do it? And why is the right of publicity such a danger to writers? Let me explain.

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Fairly Legal Says You Can’t Copyright a Recipe – They’re Only Partly Right

February 21, 2011

Tags: Fairly Legal, writing tips, patent, copyright, trade secrets

I’ve found some peace with the show Fairly Legal, about a woman they call a mediator who does nothing that even vaguely resembles mediation. The way I’ve done it (because I still like the characters and the legal issues) is that I just keep telling myself she’s something new – a unique entity in the law.

In my mind, I call her a Conciliator. The weird part is, I think there’s room in the legal system for someone like this. It would be sort of a mediator, sort of an arbitrator, and sort of an investigator. There’s nothing like this now, and I suspect that this show might spark such an entity into being. She’s closest to an arbitrator, because arbitrators can investigate to some extent and in a very limited way. So I’m not writing to complain about how they went right off a cliff on the whole mediator concept.

Instead, I’m writing about a recent show involving a barbecue sauce recipe. The conciliator (I absolutely refuse to call her a mediator) made this statement: “You can’t copyright a recipe.” I shook my head, first because if she were a mediator she couldn’t give legal advice (okay, I’m going to complain a little), but second because she was wrong.

It’s true that you can’t copyright a list of ingredients. But you can absolutely copyright ...more

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