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How Accurate Are Legal Tv Shows
Startup Guides Published:  Jun 2, 2022 9 min read

How accurate are legal TV dramas?

When a TV show has a series of great researchers and writers at the helm, all sorts of convincing scenarios can be created. Good actors can make anything seem real, after all.

From epic courtroom showdowns between steely lawyers to the drama between competing law firms, some of the most entertaining films and TV shows have long provided viewers with a distorted picture of what the legal profession actually looks like.

While these scenes may be thrilling and suspenseful, as well as convincing to most viewers, anybody with an actual law degree or experience working in the field would have had plenty to say about the accuracy and realism of the TV portrayals.

In this day and age, between all the jargon and drama, it can often be difficult for viewers to discern what’s real and what’s played up for the benefit of making titillating TV. In this article, we’ll debunk the common myths surrounding law and startup businesses by analysing scenes from TV shows and comparing them to real life.

Inventing Anna

This American dramatised series is based on the con artist Anna Sorokin who operated under the pseudonym Anna Delvey for many years. The plot of this Netflix series revolves around Anna’s journey from a lowly immigrant in New York to a dazzling and deceptive con artist, who convinces the upper echelons of society that she is, in fact, a German heiress.

With the use of a false identity and a sickly sweet charm, Delvey manages to twist the arm of Alan Reed (loosely based on real-estate lawyer Andrew Lawrence). With his support, she goes on to manipulate financial institutions like the City National Bank and the Fortress Investment Group in America.

Essentially, by getting one person on her side, Anna becomes a more credible businesswoman, and without even having to lift another finger, other investors soon hear about her business ideas and fall at her feet to get involved.

What the show implies: If you have an investor on board, it is easier to get another investor.

This is a fact. Typically it’s easier for investors to buy into a business when another investor has already validated it. With investment comes trust and confidence in your business, and other investors will be able to recognise this and follow suit.

The Dropout

This series revolves around fraudster Elizabeth Holmes whose company, Theranos, came under severe scrutiny after fraud charges were made. The company eventually dissolved in 2018, but the scandal remained relevant thanks to a popular podcast. It’s perhaps no surprise that TV producers capitalised on the story by developing the Hulu original series, which further delves into the controversy.

The series depicts Holmes’ ascension within the industry and her exceptional ability to reel in eager investors through the guise of her company, which gained an immense reputation and somehow managed to secure almost $700 million in investor and venture capitalist funding. Viewers see a lot of savage stand-offs between competing companies and this definitely plays a big part in the overall drama of the series.

In addition, The Dropout delves into the story of Ramesh ‘Sunny’ Balwani, another real-life figure who worked at Theranos, and was later known to have been romantically involved with Holmes. The pair developed a dysfunctional partnership where Balwani took up the role of COO in the company despite having very little experience in biochemistry and no known qualifications in the area of lab testing, though he did aid in the success of the company by investing around $12-14 million.

What the show implies: Companies compete for investing.

This is a fact. Investors provide the means and capital to grow and expand your business and therefore ensure this capital is invested in the correct way. Your investor’s expertise is vital in a market heavily saturated with new and upcoming businesses.

What the show implies #2: People invest without knowledge of the industry/sector.

This is a myth. Though technically they were successful for a while, it became very clear that both Balwani and Holmes were ill-equipped to run and sustain Theranos.

With absolutely no experience in the relevant fields whatsoever, Balwani was regarded as a bit of a wild card by other board members, who were entertained but somewhat disturbed by his attempts to appear more intelligent.

According to real-life testimonies from witnesses, Balwani frequently used technical jargon in order to assimilate with the others on the board. However, through his misuse of wording and constant paranoia (mainly regarding other competitors), it became clear that he really didn’t belong in the company, especially in a COO capacity.

Succession

The comedy-drama series largely centres around the owners of Waystar Royco, the dysfunctionally close-knit Roy family, led by mogul Logan Roy.

Logan Roy inspires fear in everybody from his competitors to his family, who wait in the wings in the hope that they can take the throne when their father announces his imminent retirement. The show really tests the proverb that ‘blood is thicker than water’ as the siblings go head to head in a dog-eat-dog showdown to prove their worth to their embittered old man.

To add further fuel to the fire, as they fight among themselves to take control of the business, they struggle to keep the media conglomerate from being snatched up by forces outside of the family. Season two follows the Roys in their attempt to buy out one of their rivals, PGM, which is owned by the Pierce family. If the Roys can secure an acquisition, it could seriously bolster the reputation of the family.

As a business, Waystar seems to lack the type of credibility needed to catch the attention of investors and therefore is at risk of a hostile takeover. To make matters worse, the Pierce family decide to back down from their deal as a scandal arises involving Waystar exploiting dancers on their cruise ship.

What the show implies: Investors pull out of deals because of poor relationships with entrepreneurs.

This is a fact. It is important to sustain a positive relationship with your investor as not only do they assist with financial needs, but they also support the success and progression of your business. By providing expert mentorship and experience, investors assist in laying the foundations of a flourishing business.

The Social Network

This film goes into the details of Mark Zuckerberg in his early years as a Harvard student. During the course of the movie, we see Zuckerberg working on his new concept which will eventually become the social network we know globally today as Facebook. However, although the tech mogul became one of the youngest billionaires, it is said that Facebook didn’t make any money for almost five years.

The Social Network highlights the struggles of obtaining investment funding. In the film we see Zuckerberg and his team of software developers manage to secure money worth up to $500,000 from an angel investor.

It wasn’t until three years later that they received venture capital funds of as much as $240 million. Moreover, when building Facebook, Zuckerberg only constructed a basic model of his product with the required functionalities, for testing and feedback purposes.

What the show implies: Your business will take off instantly.

This is a myth. In reality, growing your business to the size you want can take months, even years. Even then, there’s no reason to build a global brand. A company that targets a national or even a local audience can be just as successful and rewarding to grow.

What the show implies #2: With a startup under your wing, you will live lavishly.

This is a myth. Fledgling businesses often need to stick to a budget. Eric Ries, who wrote The Lean Startup, extends that philosophy to the production of your product, too.

Rather than introduce a final, fully formed version of your product, Ries advocates for launching with a “Minimum Viable Product” that gives users a taste of what you’re selling but allows you to implement frequent tweaks and adjustments along the way.

Silicon Valley

Silicon Valley made its name as an American comedy series that largely focuses on Richard Hendricks as the main character. He plays the role of the founder of Pied Piper and a programmer at the startup company.

In season two of the HBO series, we see Hendricks and his team seek to get venture capitalist funding during their first-round which involves pitching to various institutions. This is because companies valued at a higher price by venture capitalists have better chances of success in the long term.

Hendricks runs into problems when he is unexpectedly fired from the Board of Directors at the company he founded. Although his chair is therefore left vacant for a while, they bring in a new Pied Piper CEO, who is also a notable figure in the tech industry.

What the show implies: Pushing for low amounts in your funding rounds is a good move.

This is a myth. In reality, that’s not how things work. You wouldn’t see startups angling to get paid less money, and if their valuations drop in later funding rounds, they can still recover.

What the show implies #2: It’s possible to have a startup without a CEO.

This is a myth. Silicon Valley ended season two with the firing of Richard as CEO, leaving his chair empty. But, in reality, a replacement would be ready to take over the moment he stepped down.

Suits

The American drama series Suits is set in the city of New York and is largely based on fictional law firm, Pearson Hardman. Based in the lion’s pit of the legal world, the main characters, dressed flawlessly, spoke in legalese and battled tough cases while juggling their personal drama and entanglements.

The protagonist, Mike Ross, manages to secure a job as an associate working under the suave Harvey Specter, despite not having a law degree or any college qualifications. You may be wondering how Mike Ross managed to sail his way into one of the most esteemed firms in the city: well, he happens to be equipped with an eidetic memory, which essentially means that he can remember anything he sees or reads.

Conveniently, Mike Ross found himself in the right place at the right time. Having made a stellar impression upon Specter by oozing charm and savviness, he was taken in under the acclaimed lawyer’s wing.

Of course, while Louis Litt comedically stole the limelight in many scenes, most viewers will probably remember Suits as Meghan Markle’s last mainstream acting job. Markle played a paralegal, Rachel, at Pearson Hardman and Mike Ross’ love interest.

What the show implies: It’s possible to be hired as a lawyer without a law degree of any kind.

This is, of course, a myth. While the American Dream advocates for all to be able to chase their fantasy careers, it’s a fact that specific vocations like law and medicine demand applicants of a high calibre. Without the necessary qualifications, and quite often reputable work experience at highly-established law firms or courthouses, the odds of a person conning their way onto the law career ladder are practically non-existent.

Also, let’s not forget that Mike Ross is a fictional character who got mega lucky with a photographic memory, which enabled him to snatch his seedy start at Pearson Hardman in the first place. Most people won’t be equipped with such a powerful tool and, even if they were, without the grades to support their applications, would fall short of success.

Dragons’ Den

Dragons’ Den is a hit reality TV series about the entrepreneurs who pitch their business ideas to a panel of venture capitalists also known as dragons. The contestants hope to secure some sort of financial investment. The dragons scrutinise the contestants’ ideas further in order to decide if they would like to invest or withdraw.

Although the show states that the contestants only have a maximum of three minutes to pitch their ideas or products, the contestants are often grilled longer than this if the dragons are interested in the concept. This is because they want to make sure they are making the right investments.

What the show implies: Making a connection is always important.

This is a fact. Much is made on the show of certain Dragons being a ‘good fit’ for a brand; this rings true when meeting angel investors as well. Angels are not only investing in your business but also in you. Strong communication tactics are crucial to keeping the connection strong.

What the show implies #2: Entrepreneurs have just three minutes to pitch a business plan.

This is a myth. In reality, the time the startup entrepreneurs have with angels varies from pitch to pitch, but it’s usually more than a brief encounter. What goes on across our screens is just a fraction of what really happens, and the entrepreneurs have been reported to have been queried for almost two hours.

The Apprentice

The Apprentice is a reality show that focuses on business ventures. A group of business-minded people embark on a 12-week journey of business tasks and challenges and are put against one another for many of these challenges in their bid to win the ultimate investment prize of £250,000 from Alan Sugar.

What the show implies: Real-life business ventures consist of a 12-week long recruitment process where all bar one candidate is fired.

This is a myth. The Apprentice recruitment process may take 12 weeks, but in real life, candidates are usually working in other roles for this period until the final is aired. Whilst real-life recruitment processes differ hugely, it is rarely common for two teams to be put against each other in this way.

how accurate are legal tv shows infographic

Final thoughts

We gathered information on the 12 most common myths about the business practices and laws surrounding startups and the fundraising process. Data was collected through various sources on the internet, looking at scenes or instances where shows or movies discuss the legalities of business, startups and entrepreneurship.

On the whole, having taken a closer look at the common myths surrounding law and business practices in a series of movies and television shows when compared to real-life practices, it is quite clear that not all instances are true.

Due to the dramatisation of many of these shows for entertainment purposes they make the startup and fundraising process look more straightforward than it actually is in real life. Therefore, it is always important to seek out professional advice regarding legal or business matters.

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