As an author, you may be wary about including a lawyer in your crime fiction, because you don’t want to be tripped up by thorny legal points. However, in your current mystery, you need a lawyer to make a few appearances to get the heroine’s best friend out of jail. You hope this relatively minor role won’t expose you to any tricky legal issues.
You create Meredith Kwite, a defense attorney who specializes in criminal law. How do you make her seem like a real lawyer?
Follow these simple rules:
1. Have Meredith argue about everything. Everything. “Contrariwise,” as Tweedledee said, is Meredith’s motto.
Example: The Prosecutor has just told Meredith (represents the alleged criminal) that her client should plead guilty because he made a full confession to Detective Bligh. Meredith gets a death grip on her phone and snaps back: That statement will be thrown out by the judge. Haven’t you read the latest Ninth Circuit case tossing a confession, practically on all fours with my client’s situation? And, we’re suing the police department for violating his civil rights. And, I demand full disclosure of all the complaints made about Detective Bligh’s unscrupulous interviewing techniques.
Yes, Meredith’s contrariness makes her annoying.
2. Never let Meredith admit fault. Ever. Accepting responsibility, while good for the soul, does not win cases or help to trample the opposition.
Example: Judge Rider has just denied Meredith’s motion to suppress her client’s statement to the cop. Over lunch, as she stabs an inoffensive lettuce leaf with her fork, she explains to her colleagues: Rider ruled against me because he is afraid of the prosecutor, he wants to be re-elected, and he is, above all, an idiot. My argument was too complex and controversial for that cretin to understand. Please note, it is a win-win for lawyers if they can avoid responsibility and blame someone else.
Ouch, this appears to be another annoying trait.
3. Meredith always wins. She has a mind boggling ability to turn defeat into victory.
Example: Judge Rider has just sentenced Meredith’s client to a substantial prison term. After a giant chug of Devil’s Ale, Meredith announces to her friends: Yeah, my client got fifty years for murder and armed robbery, but the prosecutor wanted him to plead to a minimum of fifty-five. And I beat the shoplift charge! I’m glad that idiot judge denied my motion to suppress, because now I can win at the Court of Appeals, and they’ll slam him.
Yes, Meredith is annoying and abrasive, but these qualities will convince most readers she is a real lawyer. You’ve created an advocate. Lawyers are not in the business of helping the other side. Here’s an image to keep in your head: a hawk soars down to snatch up a field mouse. Not pretty, but if you’re charged with first degree murder, you want a “go for the kill” type, not the creature who scurries away. If the person who gets you out jail is an obnoxious twit, you won’t care.
Should you tone down Meredith’s negative qualities? Make her a lovable curmudgeon? Interesting point, the problem of unlikable characters, the subject of another blog.