April 10, 2011

Reflections on Fairly Legal

By Art Hinshaw

After much fanfare in the mediation community when it premiered, including plenty on this blog, there’s been little mention of it.  I caught up with more Fairly Legal episodes over the weekend and realized why.  Mediation provides a nice setting for the show, but there little mediation going on.  Like many other tv shows it manufactures false drama and too much of it.  In the season finale Kate Reed, the show’s protagonist has her typical day, which plays out like this:

  • She tells her ex-husband (maybe they’re just separated) that she’s pregnant (he’s the dad) after she takes a pregnancy test.  Oh, he receives a big award (he’s an Assistant DA), but she walks into the ceremony when he’s all but finished with his acceptance speech,
  • She is ordered to mediate a parking dispute b/w 2 brothers who yell at each other all the time, and if she doesn’t get it settled, a judge who is her nemesis, will toss her in jail for contempt – the case gets settled after lots of arguing (whew!),
  • The State Department gives her name to the Croatian consulate, which asks her to mediate a grandparent abduction of her grandchild from a soon to be adoptive dad – the case gets settled (whes!) after she pulls a fire alarm at the consulate to keep the adoptive dad from creating a scene.  No irony there.  She receives a fine for the false alarm.  Btw - there’s lots of arguing,
  •  She is fired from her law firm by her trophy wife step-mother (dad died just before the premier),  who is the firm’s managing partner and another nemesis, due to insubordination among other things,
  • She tells her ex-husband that she is not pregnant after all, just as he was going to say that they should stay married (get re-married?), and he leaves her because she doesn’t have enough time for him but has enough time to mediate all the dumb cases (my nice paraphrase) that come her way.  It’s unclear whether she heard something from her doctor’s office about the pregnancy, which is forshadowed at the beginning of the episode

If she doesn’t have high blood pressure already, I see a heart attack in her future.  Note to the writers – focus the show on one mediated dispute and stick to it.  It’s a tried and true formula. 

There’s an old joke that the public didn’t understand what mediation is because there are no tv shows called “The Mediator.”  As we retire this joke, I present the new updated version. . . . .  Too bad there are no mediation shows on tv. . . .  Just flew in from Vegas, boy are my arms tired.  Ba-dum-bump-chee.  I’ll be here all week, and don’t forget to tip your server.

As someone who watches enough bad tv already – Teen Mom, NCIS, Bones, I Used to Be Fat, This Week with Christine Amanpour – I feel no need to add another weak show to my plate.  There are no redeeming qualities other than continuously stating that litigation is more expensive than working it out.  One other good aspect is being able to see attractive actors on my tv set, which is different from most tv shows (not!).  All-in-all, it’s too bad because a mediation show could be good.  Also on the good side is that there’s no real harm in the show – unless you consider mediator settlement proposals or making parties sit in a room alone for hours or a lost hour to be harmful. 

But now I want to know if she really is pregnant or not.  I can’t be hooked, can I?

PS – There was a mediation during an episode of Teen Mom.  Guess what, they didn’t show it and the parties barely talked about it after it happened.  Their focus was the resulting custory agreement.  Good for them.

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Comments

  • Kristen Blankley says:

    I’ve watched this show from the beginning, and I will probably buy it on DVD so that I can show very small snippets of it in Mediation class (usually to show what *not* to do).

    What I found sad about this final episode (particularly how you described it) was that this episode had more mediation in it than most of the other ones. Most of the season could be described as “Kate Reed, Private Investigator.”

  • Paul Kirgis says:

    The show could be valuable as a classroom aid to demonstrate the different types of unethical conduct a “mediator” might engage in. But seriously . . .

    I do think the show strikes a chord for many people. A couple of weeks ago I conducted a dog-and-pony show as part of an orientation for admitted students to St. John’s. Mine was one of several concurrent panels, and its purpose was to talk about ADR opportunities at St. John’s. I had a good crowd, and when I asked if there were any Kate Reed fans in the audience, almost half the hands went up.

    There is an underlying message to the show, which is that people are usually better off finding a solution that serves both their interests than subjecting themselves to a decision by a third-party. That’s a good message for law students to hear. It also seems to be a message that many of them want to hear. So on the whole, I think the show probably does more good than harm.

  • Art Hinshaw says:

    Paul, it looks like we agree on the one good aspect of the show. I don’t think the show is necessarily harmful, although it may set up some wrong expectations of what mediators do. Then again, isn’t that what the whole facilitative / evaluative, or to use the new language – illictive / directive, debate was about?

  • Kristen Blankley says:

    Art ~ It is funny that you mention the facilitative/evaluative and illicitive/directive idea. In my class, I described Kate Reed as a good example of a directive/broad mediator on the traditional Riskin grid!

  • John Lande says:

    My reaction is somewhat similar to Paul’s. Most TV shows are pretty formulaic and fantastic, presumably responding to the desires of large portions of the viewing audience. So I had no illusion that this show would be anything like reality, just as the cop and lawyer shows routinely distort reality. It does invite people to look for common ground at times, which may be as much as we can expect (even though the portrayals make us wince).

    I told Len Riskin not to include his “New Old” labels, but did he listen? No. He included the directive and elicitive labels only to reject them in favor of mediator-influenced and party-influenced. Does anyone use the latter? I have never seen it. Instead, they focus on the ones he proposed, only to reject. And then, Art mangles it to refer to an “illicitive” approach. Even Kate Reed doesn’t use lewd techniques in her mediations.

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