I was in law school during the late '90s. During that same time Ally McBeal was on TV. Do you remember that show? Sure, they were lawyers, but the show had nothing to do with the law. Nothing. Despite this minor detail, I was repeatedly asked this question once someone found out that I was a law student: "Do you watch Ally McBeal?" It drove me nuts! And for the record, the answer was No. In fact, I don't think I have ever watched even one episode of Ally McBeal to tell you the truth. Nothing against the show at all, but to equate Ally McBeal with attorneys and the law was crazy! Not to say I wasn't influenced by TV shows and movies. I was. The shows made everything about a lawyer seem so glamorous, dramatic and wealthy. For me, the 3 most influential law related TV shows were L.A. Law, Matlock (OK, not glamorous or wealthy, but dramatic) and Perry Mason. I watched re-runs of Perry Mason from a young age (one of my mom's all-time faves). My top 3 legal movies are To Kill a Mockingbird (love it, of course, who doesn't?), Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (OK, not a lawyer movie, but a legislative process movie nonetheless and really, really wonderful), and A Few Good Men (can't beat the courtroom scenes). Of course, TV and movies portray all legal issues and trials as on-the-edge-of-your-seat, thrill-a-minute, the-real-murderer-will-confess-by-the-end courtroom drama, drama, drama (sorry for all the dashes; it was essential to get my point across though).
Respecting the Law
While most real legal goings-on are not dramatic and are sometimes downright boring, it's a process that's vital to our country as we know it. The legal system must be respected if it is going to work well. For instance, if the law says not to text while driving; you should not text while driving. If the law says you and/or your child must wear bike helmets while riding a bike; you must do so. If the law says the bags you put yard waste in must be compostable; you should do that. Whether you agree with the law or not, you should abide by it. By doing so, you are being a good model to your children. You are teaching your children to respect the law. If you don't agree with a law there are ways to encourage the process for changing it, but don't model to your children that you are above the law or that the law just doesn't matter.
Think about it in terms of parenting: the laws and the legal enforcers (police officers, judges, etc) are the parents; you are the child. Your "parents" give you a rule of the house; you choose not to follow it; you get in trouble. It's as simple as that. Now I know all of you want your kids to listen to your rules and follow them, right?! It doesn't matter to you whether your child likes the rule. You expect him or her to follow it because you know it will keep your child safe, teach good manners, respect others, etc. This is a good way to explain laws to your child, as well. It's something even a very small child can understand because everyone has rules to follow.
Importance of Laws and Lawyers
Laws protect us from harm; provide for equal treatment of everyone, regardless of differences; ensure that all children receive an education free of charge; require every household to contribute money, by way of taxes, to help fund government programs, such as, highways, museums, parks, etc; put criminals away; hold people accountable for their actions and so on and so on…. Laws are important. And so are lawyers. Not all lawyers make the big bucks. In fact, most don't. Yet lawyers toil many, long hours to make sure they have all the facts, evidence and laws they need to present the best cases for their clients; and judges and law clerks go to great pains to guarantee the law has been interpreted and applied correctly. Lawyers may not have the best reputation, but the lawyers I know are honest, bright, respectable and hard working, and they deserve a pat on the back for their service to the legal profession.
Celebrating the Law
Here is a list of ways you can teach your kids (and yourself) about laws, the legal process, the legislative process and about our government, in general:
- Teach your child about rules and consequences. Explain why you have the rules you do.
- Make it clear to your kids that each citizen has responsibilities to be a contributing member of society
- Educate your kids about their rights and freedoms
- Model for your kids what is meant by equality and justice for all
- Be Respectful of others
- Take your child to visit a courthouse
- Take a tour at your state Capital building
- Sit in on a legislative debate; state or federal
- Visit the U.S. Capital and other national historic sites.
- Explain the system of checks and balances and the 3 branches of government: Executive, Legislative and Judicial
- Take a trip to a History Center or History Museum. Most historical events that have shaped our country were either the result of a law or resulted in a law.
- Attend a local Law Day event
- Watch movies about laws/lawyers/legal processes. There are some great ones. See links to lists below.
This list is by no means exhaustive, but is intended to give you a place to start. The activities listed are a great way to show your kids that you think the law is essential and interesting, but they are also fun, parent/child bonding opportunities too. These are things you and your child can do to celebrate the law whether it's law day or any other day of the year.
Top Law Movies and TV Shows
There are many great law movies and numerous law related TV shows. Most are full of exaggerations, inconsistencies and legal errors, but all of them are full of drama! Here are links for lists of top law movies and TV shows:
Which ones are your favorites? You be the Judge!
Lastly, here is the American Bar Association and Find Law websites. They are both great places to start if you are looking for legal information.
I hope you find these tips useful, yet fun, and can easily be put into practice. These lists of movies and TV shows have reminded me of some good shows that I have not seen in a while and exposed me to a few I don't know. I am going to add them to my Netflix list! Keep these websites handy. They could be useful if you need an attorney (of course, you could just check my Google Adsense ads for that) or other general legal information. On Friday, I will post a bit of Motherly Advice. Over and out…