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Franklin & Bash Get the Law (Mostly) Right

June 14, 2011

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

I havenít decided whether or not Iíll 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. Heís 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 judgeís order. It made me very happy that this landed him in jail (briefly) for contempt. Thatís exactly what should happen.

The big plot line showed. . .

More . . .

Writing About Juries? Donít 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 thatís 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 Ė I wonít 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:

More . . .

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 weekís 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. Heís in a coma. So the Vice President and Cabinet met to have him declared incapacitated. Then the Vice President was sworn in as President. Iím thinking, huh? Heís 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:

More . . .

If Youíre Writing About Sunken Treasure Hunting, Youíre 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, doesnít it? But admiralty is more than cruise ship accidents. Thatís 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 ďfinders keepersĒ but itís 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 nightís episode of The Good Wife was called ďWrongful Termination.Ē (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.

Itís still not clear to me what the lawyersí theory of the case was, but the best I can decipher from the arguments is that they were claiming the tort called ďintentional infliction of emotional distress.Ē 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 canít 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. Iím a mediator, and this kind of error hurts my feelings because the writers clearly donít give a hoot about getting mediation right. Mediation is suddenly popular with writers, so why wonít they find out what really happens in a mediation session?

Getting it wrong

Hereís just some of the stuff I keep hearing on TV about mediation thatís glaringly stupid.

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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 didnít 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. Theyíd have to prove actual malice, and thatís really hard to prove.

Then they got an idea. An awful idea. The lawyers got a wonderful awful idea. Theyíd 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 Canít Copyright a Recipe Ė Theyíre Only Partly Right

February 21, 2011

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

Iíve 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 Iíve done it (because I still like the characters and the legal issues) is that I just keep telling myself sheís something new Ė a unique entity in the law.

In my mind, I call her a Conciliator. The weird part is, I think thereís 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. Thereís nothing like this now, and I suspect that this show might spark such an entity into being. Sheís closest to an arbitrator, because arbitrators can investigate to some extent and in a very limited way. So Iím not writing to complain about how they went right off a cliff on the whole mediator concept.

Instead, Iím writing about a recent show involving a barbecue sauce recipe. The conciliator (I absolutely refuse to call her a mediator) made this statement: ďYou canít copyright a recipe.Ē I shook my head, first because if she were a mediator she couldnít give legal advice (okay, Iím going to complain a little), but second because she was wrong.

Itís true that you canít copyright a list of ingredients. But you can absolutely copyright ...more

The ďVĒ Defrocking - Even Priests Get Due Process

February 16, 2011

Tags: writing tips, priests, laicization, defrocking, V

Granted, the science fiction show ďVĒ isnít big on realism, but they committed a giant honking clunker last night when they showed their priest character getting laicized the day after he made a speech against the alien Visitors. The plotline is that Anna, the head of the Visitors, got to the Catholic Church in Rome by offering to let them send missionaries to their ships. The idea of so many new converts was appealing, no doubt. But her deal was that they had to stop priests from speaking out against them. The whole purpose was to stop one activist priest who is onto their lizardly nature and dastardly plans.

So our hero priest refuses to be cowed, makes another speech, and the next day he gets a letter that heís been laicized. The elder priest who hands him the letter demands his collar. Bam! Heís no longer a priest.

Iím sitting there smacking my head. What the heck? As someone who was raised Catholic (lapsed), I know that they have rules and procedures for everything. They move at a glacierís pace on any major decision. Remember all those pedophile priests they couldnít get rid of? Thereís a reason why.

So I looked it up. It took me about 15 minutes on the great wide interwebs to find out how a priest is legally defrocked. The writers could have bothered

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Fairly Legal is Unfairly Inaccurate About Mediators

January 23, 2011

Tags: writing tips, Fairly Legal, mediation, mediators

I try to give all the new legal shows a fair chance. So when I started watching Fairly Legal, the new USA show, I was really hopeful. USA has a great track record of developing shows I enjoy. In fact, I think I watch all of their original shows: Burn Notice (one of the best shows on TV), Psych, In Plain Sight, White Collar, Royal Pains and Covert Affairs are all season passes on my TiVo. So I thought, yay, finally there will be a fun legal show I can watch.

The fact that the show has a mediator as its lead character made me really excited, since Iím a mediator, since I talk about mediation in The Writerís Guide to the Courtroom: Letís Quill All the Lawyers, and since the only other show with mediator characters I can recall is Wedding Crashers. When I teach at writing conferences, I always talk about underutilized characters in the legal system that writers can utilize to get away from the old typecasting. Mediators have great possibilities, so I encourage writers to use them in their stories.

The characterization was pretty good, and thatís what USA is particularly good at. They develop interesting characters with interesting backgrounds and make them funny. Fairly Legal started out so well Ė the mediator was the victim of an armed robbery and she negotiated a resolution that was a win-win for the robber and store owner. Fantastic!

Then it went utterly off the rails. The mediator is a former lawyer who works for her now-deceased fatherís law firm. The wicked stepmother is in charge and clients start abandoning the firm the day of Dadís funeral. The firmís in trouble, and one of the firmís clients is about to walk away from a deal the firm negotiated. Wicked SM wants our mediator to mediate the client back on track. In the meantime, a judge who hates our mediator appoints her to mediate a case he thinks is a waste of time. Okay, so far not so bad.

Here are the top ways this story went into lala land:

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Using the Law to Enhance Your Sci Fi, Fantasy and Romance Story

November 29, 2010

Tags: science fiction, horror, fantasy, writing tips

You have to build a whole new world if youíre writing sci fi, fantasy or horror. That world will necessarily have laws. And youíre the one who decides what those laws are. Thinking about the law and how it applies to your world will open up possibilities, provide inspiration, and make your story more believable.

If you think about it, youíll realize the law touches everything your characters do, especially in sci fi. Their alarm clock went through customs and is regulated. Does your sci fi protag buy an experimental alarm clock that runs on nuclear fusion? Their cereal box has legal requirements about how contents are listed and what claims it can make. Does your horror or fantasy hero change into something non-human after he eats cereal contaminated with a mysterious chemical?

Pharmaceutical companies have to test their drugs extensively before your characters can take them. Companies handling hazardous materials must dispose of them in particular ways. Your characters might lose a friend or relative if someone doesnít follow the law. Or maybe the whole world changes because something deadly was set loose.

Anything that can go wrong for your characters might end up in court, or have already been there. You think the law doesnít affect your sci fi character? Think again. Here are some ways sci fi, fantasy and horror stories are affected by the law.

Civil Rights: --more--

Using the Law to Enhance Your Romance Story

November 20, 2010

Tags: romance, writing tips

Romance writers frequently tell me the law doesnít apply to their stories. Yet the law is everywhere in romance. If you start thinking about the law when you write, it can be used to enhance your story, flesh out your characters, get you unstuck, or even inspire you.

Letís talk about some ways the law might impact your romance novel.

Background/characterization: Your characters come from a background that affects the way they view romantic relationships. If the charactersí parents are divorced, the nature of the divorce could color their view of romance. Was the divorce contested or amicable? Traditional or collaborative? Juno is the first time Iíve ever seen collaborative law used in a story, and it was used correctly. Collaborative law is the hottest trend in family law, so it might apply to your romance story.

Current lifestyle: If your characters are divorced, do they have custody or visitation? Is it still in court? The terms of divorce determine how much money they have to live on, when they have the kids, what property they own. Itís important to think about how the terms of divorce affect your charactersí daily lives. If itís still in court, do they . . . more

10/9/10 Writing and Publishing News

October 9, 2010

Tags: agents, awards, book banning, free speech, libel, plagiarism, print on demand, publishing news, self-publishing, writers, writing tips

Which lawsuits are killing books? Which comic strip was banned for the punchline "Where's Muhammed?" Are picture books going the way of the dinosaur? Is it plagiarism or your perfect mate? These and other writing and publishing headlines are in this week's Write Report.

9/20/10 Writing and Publishing News

September 20, 2010

Tags: age discrimination, agents, Amazon, book marketing, ebooks, embargo, free speech, Google, libraries, plagiarism, publishing news, writers, writing tips, YA writing

How did Google post an embargoed book? Why canít you get library books on the Kindle? Why free speech isnít free when you pull a crazy Koran burning stunt. Plus, the real reasons why you were rejected. And 12 people who are changing publishing. These and other writing and publishing headlines are up at The Write Report.

9/6/10 Writing and Publishing News

September 7, 2010

Tags: advances, campaign finance, confidentiality, contracts, ebooks/digitizing, publicity, publishing news, writers, writing tips

Why is S&S accused of violating campaign finance laws? Which writer's fan got him horrid publicity? Why is the bankruptcy clause in your contract worthless? Is an author-formed collective a good idea? These and other headlines are in this week's Write Report.

8/22/10 Writing And Publishing News

August 22, 2010

Tags: book thieves, confidentiality, contracts, copyright, deceptive practices, ebooks/digitizing, free speech, libel, murder, murder victims, publishers, writers, writing tips

Which vanity publisher is being sued by 16 authors for deceptive practices? Will ignorance of copyright law be a defense? The libel tourism bill becomes a law. Plus, whose secret identity are BBC lawyers trying to hide? And what Macmillan authors need to do when they get that little contract amendment about e-rights in the mail. These and other writing and publishing headlines are in this week's Write Report.

7/20/10 Writing and Publishing News

July 20, 2010

Tags: Amazon, book thieves, book trailers, contracts, copyright, free speech, libel, plagiarism, royalties, self-publishing, work life balance, writers, writing tips

Big busy week for me, even though Iím on vacation. Ha!

My interview on work life balance on Women Lawyers Online is up. You can listen here

I did an article for Women On Writing titled, ďUsing the Law in Your Story: Character, Plot and Professions.Ē You can read it here.

Another article I wrote on using the law in writing is up at Selling Books

Lots of news. Which bookseller is defending a poison pill? Who's suing JK Rowling this week? Who dropped their suit against Scribd? Why did Janet Evanovich leave her publisher? These and other writing and publishing news stories are on this week's Write Report.

6/6/10 Writing and Publishing News

June 6, 2010

Tags: antitrust, book banning, copyright, ebooks/digitizing, iPad, libel, libraries, publishing news, writing tips

This week on Litopiaís podcast The Debriefer, Peter and I talked about the universal e-book format, why it matters that we donít have one yet, and what authors can put in their contracts to make sure their books appear in all the major e-formats. This headline, plus more of the latest writing and publishing news are in this weekís Write Report.

The Write Report has been named an Awesome Blog by Writing World, the very first blog chosen for this honor. Thanks so much. What an incredible honor. Writing-World.com is an awesome website for writers.

Guest Post on So You Killed Off the Parents In Your YA/Middle Grade Book? Címon, You Know You Did It. Eight Ways the Law Affects Teen and Childrenís Stories

May 19, 2010

Tags: children's books, legal writing, middle grade writing, writing tips, YA writing

My guest post this week talks about why you need the law even when writing children's and teen books. Because the parents are so often absent due to death or divorce, your characters deal with custody, inheritance and all types of issues.

If you haven't seen LM Preston's blog, it's worth a visit for YA and sci fi writers. She covers all types of issues on genre writing.

5/18/10 Writing and Publishing News

May 18, 2010

Tags: agency model, agents, Amazon, free speech, libel, writers, writing tips

Which literary agent got busted for stealing from his clients? Which author is dealing directly with Amazon for traditional book publishing? Which book got halted after a libel threat letter went out to everyone connected with it? Is the agency model iPad uses for e-books going to run into antitrust problems in the UK? These and other stories are in this edition of The Write Report.

Who Might Your Murderer Character Want to Kill Off (Besides Lawyers)? Six People Who May Just Need to be Murdered

May 13, 2010

Tags: characters, guest blog, legal writing, murder victims, writers, writing tips

I did a guest blog post today for Angela Cerritoís blog on Who Might Your Murderer Character Want to Kill Off (Besides Lawyers)? Six People Who May Just Need to be Murdered.


If you haven't checked out Angela Cerrito's blog, it's a wonderful place to learn all kinds of things about writing. Her Middle Grade Novel, The End of the Line, is forthcoming from Holiday House. I met her in a writersí workshop, which proves that these workshops are worthwhile!

Lawyers with Alzheimerís, Conflicts of Interest and Ethical Conundrums in The Good Wife

May 6, 2010

Tags: Alzheimer's, competence, confidentiality, conflict of interest, duty of zealous advocacy, former clients, impaired lawyer, legal writing, The Good Wife, writing tips

A recent plotline in The Good Wife bugged me so much that I did some research on the ethical conundrums it raised. When I got no satisfactory answer on my own, I did what every good writer should do Ė I called someone who knew what they were talking about. In this case, I used (or possibly misused) the Florida Barís Ethics Hotline. Most states have something similar, where lawyers can call up and get some advice when ethical issues arise. I confessed right away that I was calling about an ethical issue from a TV show, and was lucky enough to run into a lawyer on the hotline who happens to be a fan of The Good Wife. She knew exactly which two episodes I was talking about.

Confidentiality Within the Lawyerís Firm

In the first episode that was bothering me, our heroine, a newbie lawyer, got drafted to represent a firm partner in a legal matter. In the midst of her representation, it came out that her client had Alzheimerís. She now knows that a hotshot lawyer, a firm partner, is impaired, unable to represent clients competently, at least some of the time. Her supervisor is a different partner. The client/partner tells her that the existence of his disease is confidential, and she canít tell anyone, even her boss. (more…)

Guest post on The Top Five Characters Who Might Be Watching

April 20, 2010

Tags: writing tips, witnesses, observers, characters, manga

Need a character? My guest post on The Aspiring Mangaka & Writers Club blog talks about five legal characters who make great witnesses and observers for any genre.Titled The Top Five Characters Who Might Be Watching, the post is about some people operating in the legal system who move around enough or who have enough information that they might be useful to your stories. If youíre writing a murder mystery, you need witnesses. But many other stories need someone to see something happening to move the plot forward. (more…)

Guest blog this week is on Working Writers Blog

April 19, 2010

Tags: writing tips, legal writing

My guest blog on Working Writers this week is called Donít Make Me Throw Your Book Across the Room: Top Ten Ways You Can Alienate the 1.1 Million Lawyers Who Are Also Readers.

If you haven't checked out the Working Writers website, you (more…)

The Good Wifeís Gaffe on Money Laundering

March 17, 2010

Tags: cash payments, criminal proceeds, money laudering, The Good Wife, writing tips

Anyone who reads this blog knows I enjoy the courtroom drama The Good Wife. I try not to be hypersensitive when they get things wrong because they do so well. But this weekís episode went off the rails a bit. In the story, a known drug dealer being pursued by the FBI for (more…)

What Happened In Vegas Was Opposite Reality

March 6, 2010

Tags: divorce, property division, What Happened in Vegas, writing tips, writing

I watched What Happened in Vegas over the weekend. I figured with the ever-charming leads of Cameron Diaz and Ashton Kutcher, it was hard to go wrong. The story was light and cute Ė perfect for wasting time instead of working on my outline.

However, the basic plot bothered me throughout. The writers had their (more…)

BAILIFFS CAN MAKE GREAT CHARACTERS IN YOUR STORY

March 2, 2010

Tags: bailiffs, blackmailers, heroes, murder victims, witnesses, writing tips

I want to talk about some people operating in the legal system who move around enough or who have enough information that they might be useful to your stories. Iím going to tell you about them every once in a while. My book The Writerís Guide to the Courtroom: Letís Quill (more…)

The Good Wife Does Objections Right, Circumstantial Evidence Wrong

February 6, 2010

Tags: circumstantial evidence, eyewitness testimony, hostile witness, objections, The Good Wife, writing, writing tips

It doesnít take much to give me a thrill when Iím watching a legal drama. Even the tiniest bit of law done right can make me happy. Yes, Iím probably easily amused. But when a screenwriter gets it right, I jump for joy because itís so darned rare.

HOSTILE WITNESSES

When I was watching The Good Wife last week, the lawyer was examining a witness using leading questions. In general, leading questions are ones with yes or no answers. Opposing counsel objected to the leading questions. The lawyer conducting the examination responded that the witness was hostile and he was allowed to lead.

When the judge overruled the objection, I was happy beyond words. That tiny bit of correct procedure added to my viewing pleasure. Hereís what was going on that they got right.
(more…)

White Collar Doesnít Know Squat About Judges

February 1, 2010

Tags: judges, jurisdiction, writing tips

White Collar is an enjoyable show about a con man (Iíd say ex-con man, but heís not really ex) who is conscripted by the FBI to uncover other con men and women. But their last show irked the heck out of me because it was about a judge gone bad.

The problem? (more…)

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