A few weeks have now passed since the end of the first season of the BBC television show The Split. Whilst clearly a great success for the channel, the series sparked a strong reaction amongst family lawyers. Having now had a chance to reflect fully on the series, and how it portrays the profession, my feelings are still mixed.
Clearly the dramatisation of one’s profession is not something new to other (and arguably more exciting!) professions – I for one have devoured every single episode of Grey’s Anatomy. The law has also not been entirely without its televisual portrayals in the past. I am embarrassed to confess (in part because it demonstrates my age) that the 1980s TV series LA Law was my initial inspiration for pursuing a career in the law. Having joined the profession however, it soon became clear that the court room antics which formed the subject of most US legal dramas bear no relation to the job I do on a day to day basis.
The Split however was a much grittier and, in some ways, closer to life reflection of the issues solicitors working in my field deal with. The portrayal of the emotional impact of separation on the parties concerned, and on their children, accurately reflected what I see many clients experiencing.
In terms of how family lawyers are portrayed by The Split, it wasn’t all bad. If there is one thing that I took from The Split which was accurate, it is the depth of concern and compassion that we feel for many of our clients. Of course we always want to give the best legal advice, but it may surprise the cynics to hear that most of the family lawyers I know care genuinely about the impact that advice has on the lives of our clients and their family.
However, that positive message aside, there were some aspects of The Split which were just simply incorrect, and I worry about the potential impact that could have on clients facing separation and divorce. Of course, it could be argued that everyone knows The Split is just a bit of television, but I am concerned that there could be a wider impact on the perception of what family lawyers do.
With that in mind, I have compiled my ‘never have I ever’ list. So here goes…never have I ever…
- Had a child who was the subject of a contact dispute in the office whilst contact was being negotiated.
- Given advice to a client to adopt an approach because of the fees which would be generated – the client’s best interests always comes first.
- Referred to one parent’s time with their child as “access”. In Scotland and England alike, each parent shares parental responsibility for any child, and a child will usually live with one parent and have contact with the other – no parent “accesses” their child. Whilst those behind The Split have apparently hinted that the language was used so that it would be more readily understandable, it seems regrettable that an opportunity was missed to try and steer how we talk about a parent’s time with their child towards more positive and less inflammatory language.
- Used a parent’s contact with their child as a bargaining chip on a non-child related matter in a case.
- Without the permission, and outwith the presence, of the other solicitor spoken directly to the client on the other side.
- Allowed colleagues to mill around a client who is well known in reception (I have not had many, but there have been a few!).
- Advised a client to lie.
- Said the words “It’s your funeral”. Another lawyer did however once tell me in a letter that there wasn’t a “snowball’s chance in hell” so I suppose everyone has their own style…
I cannot say that that list is entirely comprehensive, but certainly those were some of the points which stood out to me in watching the series. As I understand it, The Split will return for a second season. Having found myself quite captivated as the weeks went on, that is news that I was pleased to hear. A few examples aside, I was pleased to see that as the series went on there were less “gaffes” in terms of the lawyers doing things that most family lawyers never would in “real life”. Perhaps this was because the focus moved more onto the personal relationships, or perhaps simply because the show is interesting enough without stretching the truth to that degree. Certainly from my perspective I hope that a second series brings with it just as much dramatic interest, with a little bit less dramatic license.
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