Thursday, September 30, 2010

Lawyers, Guns and Money

Lawyers, Guns and Money: 
The Worlds of David E. Kelley and Legal Dramedies

Alan Shore: Oh god. You are all lawyers.

Lets face it. You cant turn on the TV these days with out hitting a legal or law based show. Everything from The Peoples Court and Judge Judy in reality TV, to the latest incarnation of Law and Order or CSI to the legal dramadies of David E. Kelley (Boston Legal, The Practice, Ally McBeal). These later editions (L&O, CSI, and Kelley's work) account for the bulk of televisions viewing audience and represent 1,000 of hours of air time and hundreds of awards won.

Besides, sooner or later, your characters are going to get into trouble and they are going to need a lawyer.

For my money, the best for a game are the fractured and slightly odd lawyers of the worlds of David E. Kelley. Sure there is a really strong political bent to all his shows and often they get preachy at worse or soapbox(-y, -ness?) at best, but the characters are some of the best in TV. Rarely does a character come around that is as fun as Denny Crane or as polarizing as Ally McBeal. Plus David E. Kelley may be one of the best, if not the best writer for TV in the last 20 years. He began winning Emmys for L.A. Law and basically has been winning them every year since then (1989).

A Kelley legal drama is laced with comedy and interesting characters. In fact the term Dramedy for a drama + comedy was invented to describe his shows. Shows are more character focused than they are plot focused. It isnt a mother is suing the school board, though that may be the hook. There is something about this mother and her case and the people involved; especially, given this, her child. Maybe the child has some sort of really strange disability (like she can't smile) and the mother needs to sue to her child into the private school. Its also about the lawyers in the case. Nearly to a person, Kelleys lawyers are good looking and really rich. Yet they all have problems that money can't fix and often times is more hassle. Ally could never find true love, Denny is still always in trouble (comedy) and cant cure his failing health (drama).

To really capture the feel of these episodes you need to get into the characters and see what makes them tick. For this reason episode written for one group of characters might not work for another group or characters (though Kelley has been accused of stealing plots from some of his previous shows). But there are some basics.

Running a legal drama
How is running a legal dramedy different than running a supernatural show? Well they do have a few things in common. Both shows often feature crime and mystery. There is research to be done (either by occult scholars or paralegals), there is usually a bad guy, evil is often presented in terms of black and white, right and wrong, but the truth is often much more grey.
The typical formula for a legal drama follows: There is a crime, or presumption of a crime, an investigation, arrests can be made or summons be sent, there is a trail (the focal point of the episode), the judgment and then we retire to the balcony for cigars and scotch.
For players used the pace of monster hunting a legal drama may seem a bit slow, even mundane, but the drama works best when the stories are personal. Hunting monsters is fun and usually there is a very simple solution: stake the vamp, kill the monster, vanquish the demon. But what do you do when your foe is human? Or maybe even an innocent human in the wrong place. What if the Cast are now the bad guys and the good guys have the full weight of the law on their side?
Sometimes characters in supernatural shows run afoul of the law; its an occupational hazard The Charmed Ones had run-ins with Homeland Security, Faith killed a man, the Winchester brothers are often seen skating just ahead of the cops. In any case sooner or later the Cast will fight the Law and like the man said I fought the Law and well we will see who wins.

The Law and Crime
You dont need to be an expert on criminal procedure to set up an episode, but it certainly cant hurt to be familiar with such things as legal prudence and habeas corpus.
(A decent site with overviews of what the law does is So to start determine what the crime is. What happened? How does it involve the Cast? What it something they really did, mistaken identity or even a set up. Again, this is like a supernatural drama in which the Director has all the cards and knows everything.

Creating a law firm
One of your first steps is to create a law firm. This can be the firm that is prosecuting the cast or representing them. The rules in the Angel RPG are perfect for this.

Crane, Poole and Schmidt (From Boston Legal)
International Law firm
Primary Office: 500 Boylston Street, Boston, MA
Satellite Offices: New York, NY, Los Angeles CA, Washington, DC, Chicago, IL, London, ENGLAND, Tokyo, JAPAN, Hong Kong, P.R.o CHINA.
Employees: Lawyers (Founding, Managing, Senior and Junior Partners, Of Counsel, Senior and Junior Associates), Paralegals, Legal Assistants, Support staff.

Crane, Poole and Schmidt is an international law firm head quartered in Boston, MA. They specialize in civil litigation, but do some criminal trials as well. They list several Fortune 500 companies as clients as well several large research organizations.

Clout: Criminal (1), Financial (5), Governmental (3), Media* (4), Supernatural (1). Total Cost: 10 points.
Quarters: Huge (4), Worldwide (6), Physical Security (Excellent) (3), Supernatural Security (Believers) (1). Total Cost: 7 points (reduced by seven from Financial and Governmental Clout).
Gear: Computers (Top-notch) (3), Laboratory (basic) (1), Workshop (none) (0), Occult Archives (0), Training (1), Vehicles (Vehicle fleet) (1), Vehicles (Air fleet) (0), Weapons (Basic, what ever Denny has in his office) (1). Total Cost: -2 points (reduced by 9 from Criminal, Financial, and Governmental Clout levels).

*Media is another Clout area that is bought like the others. It relates to firms public image or their ability to manipulate their public image.

A Media Clout roll (Media Clout + Intelligence + Contacts) can get a story suppressed, pull off an impromptu press conference or, in the vernacular, pull a Denny Crane; take an absolutely horrible incident (like shooting a client) and turning it into a situation where the firm, and Denny Crane, come out smelling like roses.

Level 1: Rumored to Exist. You have a website, an ad in the Yellow Pages and you might have been featured in a newspaper article or have a local cable access show. Getting your message to the masses requires a lot of work.
Level 2: Fair Reputation. You have had and expose on the local TV news or newspaper. You are known within your business circles, but not as much outside of it.
Level 3: Major Connections. You have the ear of a few members of the news media or have some good connections with the TV market. Getting your point of view on a story out there is easy, but it would take some work to suppress it outright. These players must have a minimum of Financial Clout 2.
Level 4: Big Player. The group can control many small outlets or has the ear of a few of the larger ones. This is usually through donations of millions, or having a seat on the Board of Directors. These players must have a minimum of Financial Clout 3 and Government Clout 2.
Level 5: The Media. The corporation IS the media. They control what is said, how it is said and even who said it in the first place. This is the level of Fox and NewsCorp. These rare players must have a minimum of Financial Clout 4 and Government Clout 3.

Running a Trial
The trial is the focal point of any legal episode from Perry Mason to Night Court to the latest incarnation of Law and Order. Like the TV shows it best to gloss over the real-world legal proceedings and focus on the drama (there is a reason that Law and Order gets higher ratings than Court TV or even Judge Judy). The Director of course will play the role of opposing council. Maybe even the players can step out of character to play their own legal council. As the Director your job is to keep things moving smoothly enough so a resolution can be reached by the end of the episode (or whenever it is needed). So you are also playing the Judge and jury (and bailiff, court reporter, court clerk and the media)

A trial has the following structure, lets assume it is the cast that are being accused of a crime here.
First a formal charge is brought against the cast in front of a judge, the casts lawyer will enter a plea, usually not guilty, but it can vary from guilty to no-contest, though that makes for a short and unexciting episode. If a not guilty plea is entered then a trial date is set. If it is a violent crime then bail might need to be offered or the cast can be released on their own recognizance. In the real world the trail date can be months from the formal charge hearing, but we can speed things up just like TV.
The date is set and then a jury is chosen (if the cast is being called for jury duty this where they enter the process).
Before the trail both lawyers make their opening statements about the case to the jury. This sets the tone of the trial and allows everyone to know what is going on. During the trail the plaintiff, or in the cases of a criminal trial, the States Attorneys Office, presents their case against the accused (the Cast). They can bring in witnesses or experts to present testimony and bring in evidence. The attorney for the defense (again in this example, the Cast) is allowed to cross-exam these witnesses or experts. The state rests its case and the defense is now allowed to do the same with their witnesses and evidence. Keep in mind that both sets of lawyers are aware of what evidence is going to be presented and what witnesses will be called ahead of time, this is called Discovery and Disclosure. This allows them both to build their cases. After the defense rests their case then both sides make closing statements (great place to earn some dram points!).
The jury then adjourns and makes their decisions. As Director it is best to know the outcome long before hand, but allow the players to help dictate where it might go.

Episode Idea: Jury Duty
The Cast are not the focus of this episode, at least not yet. One of the Cast members gets a summons for Jury Duty and no they cant get out of it. Turns out this is a murder trial and becomes apparent that the defendant is not at all what he appears, in fact the Cast member is convinced he is a demon in disguise. Something will have to be done or a demon (who may or may not have committed the murder) will go free or an innocent human might be going to prison for a crime he could not have committed due to magic.
Yeah, this a blatant Chramed rip-off, but like in that show, it can be used to break up the doom-and-gloom of a seasonal arc.

Now here are some lawyers to keep you all busy.

Alan Shore
Father: What sort of lawyer are you?
Alan: The disturbed, but fun kind.

Character Type: Unscrupulous lawyer with a soft spot for the underdog.
Played by: James Spader (who won three Emmys for this role)
Role: Of Council
Attributes: Str 2, Dex 2, Con 2, Int 5, Per 4, Will 5
Ability Scores: Muscle 10, Combat 8, Brains 16
Life Points: 26
Drama Points: 15
Qualities and Drawbacks: Mental Problems: Covetous (2), Lecherous (2), Cruel (2), Fear of Commitment (2), Love (Tragic wife died young), Resources 6 (Allan makes close to a million a year at CP&S)
Name                Score                Damage         Notes
Dodge                8                                Defense action
Punch                8                5                Bash

Alan Shore is the first lawyer we meet before he works for Crane, Poole and Schmidt. He began as consultant lawyer at Young, Frutt & Berlutti (The Practice), but went to work with Denny Crane. He is Of Concil, which means he is a high ranking attorney, but no prospects for partner. This seems to suit Alans lone-gunman style of practicing law fine.
He has a deep friendship with Denny (their talks on the balcony during the episodes end are a hallmark of the show) and has shown to be very loyal to his friends in general. He is also a fierce advocate for the underdog and the little guy, winning cases that nearly every other lawyer in the firm considers unwinnable.
Of course, as a David E. Kelley character, Alan is replete with a vast amount of neuroses and various sexual paraphilias. Alan has shown he is unable to commit or stay monogamous and his pursuit of is a constant force in his life.
If the cast gets into trouble and the case is very strange (which it is likely to be) then chances are it will be Alan Shore giving the closing arguments in their case.

Denny Crane
Quote: Denny Crane!

Character Type: Unscrupulous lawyer with a soft spot for Denny Crane.
Played by: William Shatner (who also won two well-deserved Emmys for this role!)
Role: Founding Partner
Attributes: Str 2, Dex 2, Con 2, Int 5, Per 2, Will 3
Ability Scores: Muscle 10, Combat 9, Brains 15
Life Points: 26
Drama Points: 15
Qualities and Drawbacks: Mental Problems: Alzheimer's Disease (1), Covetous (2), Lecherous (2), Resources 7 (Denny has millions with homes across the world)
Name                Score                Damage         Notes
Dodge                9                                Defense action
Punch                9                5                Bash

Once upon a time there was a lawyer that was so good and so respected that there mere mention of his name was enough to send opposing council into fear and thinking settlements. That lawyer was Denny Crane.
That was of course, a long time ago. Denny entered into a phase of his life where he was just phoning in his work, which was fine for his firm. His name was on the door and that name brought in millions of dollars of new clients every year. So what did they care if Denny was spending more time chasing women or fishing.
Then Denny decided to go back to work.
It didnt matter to him that he had Alzheimer's Disease (though he says its Mad Cow from all the steaks he has eaten) he was still Denny Crane and he has never been defeated in the courtroom (the current record is over 6,000 wins, 0 losses).
Sure he still shoots people sometimes, and he is constantly getting arrested for picking up prostitutes, but nobody can play the media, a judge or jury quite like Denny Crane.

Shirley Schmidt
Quote: See the name on the door, Crain, Poole, and Schmidt? I'm Schmidt.

Character Type: Older, but still hot and brilliant lawyer.
Played by: Candice Bergen (who didn't win an Emmy for this role, but has plenty of others at home)
Role: Founding Partner
Attributes: Str 1, Dex 2, Con 2, Int 5, Per 5, Will 5
Ability Scores: Muscle 8, Combat 6, Brains 15
Life Points: 26
Drama Points: 15
Name                Score                Damage         Notes
Dodge                6                                Defense action
Punch                6                3                Bash

Denny was the visionary and the rain-maker. Edwin Poole was the hard worker that got everything going. But when comes to the continued success of Crane, Poole and Schimdt, then you have to look to Shirley Schmidt. Shirley is fine litigator, but what she excels at doing is keeping Denny in line. Now she has comeback to the firm she created to do the same thing, keep Denny in line, but know she also has to deal with Alan and both men trying to get her into bed.
Getting fired at CP&S is often referred to as getting "Schmidt-caned".

Paul Lewiston
Quote: [exasperated] Denny, you must stop shooting people.

Character Type: Underappreciated, by the book lawyer.
Played by: Rene Auberjonois
Role: Managing Partner
Attributes: Str 2, Dex 2, Con 2, Int 5, Per 4, Will 6
Ability Scores: Muscle 10, Combat 8, Brains 15
Life Points: 26
Drama Points: 15
Qualities and Drawbacks: Mental Problems: Humorless (1), Dependents (2, Daughter and Granddaughter), Resources 6
Name                Score                Damage         Notes
Dodge                8                                Defense action
Punch                8                5                Bash

Paul runs (ran) the day-to-day operations of CP&S and is the voice of reason in this chaotic firm. He is as close to a founding partner as one can be. Denny once even offered to put his name on the door, but Paul is more interested in taking care of formerly estranged, formerly drug addicted daughter and his granddaughter. Paul is friends with many of the judges encountered in BL including one played by Arimin Sherman (who was Quark on Star Trek Deep Space 9 opposite of Auberjonois Odo).
Paul is now taking time off to help raise his grand-daughter.

Brad Chase
Quote: I was a Marine, I can do this.

Character Type: Assistant District Attorney
Played by: Mark Valley
Role: Formerly a Partner now ADA
Attributes: Str 4, Dex 2, Con 3, Int 4, Per 4, Will 5
Ability Scores: Muscle 14, Combat 15, Brains 15
Life Points:
Drama Points: 15
Name                Score                Damage         Notes
Dodge                15                                Defense action
Punch                15                9                Bash

Brade Chase was a Junior Partner at CP&S till he was promoted to Assistant District Attorney. This will now place him on the other side of the courtroom from the lawyers of Crane, Poole and Schmidt and makes him the perfect choice to bring charges against the Cast members.
Brads former role at CP&S was to keep an eye on Denny. Of course, Denny liked what Brad stood for; he was a Republican and a Marine, but Denny didn't like the idea that Brad was watching him. Plus Alan and Brad clashed on just about every issue you could imagine.
While he could be described as straight arrow and uptight; Brad was a fine lawyer and usually won his cases.


Red Jack said...

A. Much (platonic) love for using the Zevon reference. Not my favorite song, but possibly one of his best lines.

B. I have to say, you're the first person who's ever made playing with a room full of lawyers appealing to me in any way.

Tommy Brownell said...

Oh dear God, Tim...that's awesome.

Timothy S. Brannan said...

Glad you like! Did this one day while taking the train downtown to jury duty.