27 February 2022

What can we learn from the TV series “How to get away with murder”

The American legal thriller “How to get away with murder” (from now on abbreviated as HTGAWM), premiered in 2014 and finished in 2020 with a total amount of 6 seasons and 90 episodes, a creation of Peter Nowalk for ABC Studios

The series takes place around the Middleton University of law in Philadelphia, starring Viola Davis as Annalise Keating, a high profiled criminal defence attorney and law professor, who incorporates five of her best students to her office. From this point on, the events take place between the lectures and the cases, the private life of the characters and crime scenes and trials of the clients. 

However, what makes this series truly captivating and end hooking up the viewer, is the fact that each chapter narrates the story of a different client supported by a theoretical lecture at the university intentionally related to it. Therefore, each time the viewer gets to discover a new part of the criminal law, with the excitement of the preparation of the trial, the search for evidence and the tangles between the characters. But also, from the very first season, some unfortunate events happen within the Keating office and begin to develop a parallel story of crime and “how to get away with it”, resulting into the conductive thread of the following seasons.

If this brief summary of HTGAWM still doesn’t make you want to watch it, there is more you need to know. The first day of lecture, Annalise Keating enters the room announcing that the course she is about to teach is actually titled “how to get away with murder”, so they are about to learn all the possible advice to successfully defence a murderer… or commit homicide and get away with it. Nevertheless, here comes the main criticism that can be made: until which extent the series overpasses the fiction, and which useful -real life useful- learnings can we get from it?

Analise states from the very beginning that she won’t be teaching how to study law or theorize about it, but instead how to practice it in a courtroom like a real lawyer. Here it is possible to appreciate the first disengagement with real life law professors, who usually teach the subject from a far more theoretical approach and totally forget about a practical application, perhaps because they have never done it. On the other hand, there are several resemblances with real life law school, such as being picked on to speak up in crowded classes when you didn’t even rise your hand, or having to work really hard often losing hours of rest to simultaneously collate cases and study.

“Step 1, Discredit the witness. Step 2, Introduce a new suspect. Step 3, Bury the evidence”, this famous quote by the protagonist, might contain some powerful background synthesis knowledge to carry out a case; it is the guideline that she follows in every chapter and seems to work out pretty well. But setting aside the fictional and romantic format of HTGAWM, without which the show won’t have been entertaining at all, there are still some specific lessons to extract from it: 

First a question of image, Annalise takes her outfits seriously and always looks glamorous; but when the day ends, she takes everything off, even makeup and wig, symbolizing that nothing should bother you for more than 24 hours. When it becomes impossible to address a problem, let it go until the next morning, it is important to take a healthy rest. Also, sometimes a drink at the right time, can help you distress and change perspectives. 

Confidence is key. Annalise always makes an entrance, at the office or the university, demanding attention as soon as she steps in. Plus, it is crucial to work the eye side, at some point you will have to give it and it must be perfect, this way you can make a person feel uncomfortable and feel obliged to reflect on what they did wrong.

At court, listen and pay attention carefully to the other’s side, it is better to know everything about everybody, then you won’t need a long response and just a quick rebate based on their weaknesses, that alone will make your proving point. Know your rights, be clear and to the point, all accessories might be used against you. And finally, do not lie too much, that may help in the courtroom but later affect your personal life by getting out of control.

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