With the premier last week of “Fairly Legal” on USA Network (Thursday nights at 10/9 Central http://www.usanetwork.com/series/fairlylegal/), mediators are now in the legal drama spotlight! Who knew mediation was cool enough for its own weekly TV show?
While the show certainly dramatizes what mediators do – like Kate Reed (the lead character) stepping in between the gun toting robber and bat wielding store clerk during a hold-up – there are many things “Fairly Legal” depicted that are on point: Kate’s desire to help people; the wide range of disputes that mediators can help resolve; and the fact that getting people to work together is almost always more effective than litigation.
I must take issue, however, with the way the show portrayed the judge’s attitude towards mediation. With obvious venom, he tells the parties to a lawsuit that, “Kate Reed is not a lawyer. She is a mediator.” Of course, her running into court late and throwing her jacket aside as she approaches the bench doesn’t help her cause. The judge - through his tone, saying Kate quit the profession and has nothing but “disdain for the law,” sending what he clearly deems as a less deserving claim to mediation, and limiting her time to resolve the matter - gives the impression that mediation is something below the legal system. In my experience, judges like mediators, are supportive of the ADR process, and encourage litigants to take advantage of the skills mediators bring to the table to help them get their cases resolved (and thus off the court’s docket). I guess exchanges like this help create the “drama” that keeps viewers’ attention.
I am glad the USA Network is showing “Fairly Legal,” and I hope the show is successful. Any publicity that mediation can get is a good thing. The more people see that there are alternatives to the lengthy, expensive and acrimonious litigation process; the more likely they are to ask questions and seek alternatives for resolving their disputes. Educating people to their options, even through a dramatic representation, is never a bad thing.