TV Series for Lawyers

What’s Not Bull About Bull – Episode Five “Just Tell The Truth”

31 October 2016

By Katherine James


This week’s episode of Bull involves another criminal case – with Dr. Bull and his crack trial consulting team working on the side of the defense once more. This week I was really struck by the fact that we as television viewers are just not used to “the good guys” working on the side of criminal defendants. Dick Wolf and his myriad of Law And Order franchises really have been centered on prosecutors and police officers and detectives as the good guys and the “accused” as the bad guys. As is almost every show that involves the law since Perry Mason. In this episode, Dr. Bull starts out working for the prosecution and then ends up working for the defense (yes, conflict of interest is one of the many OompaLoompas* in this fantastical episode). It allows us to see the M&M* that trial consultants are used in criminal cases by both the prosecution and the defense in real life.

There were two nuggets of truth that I found in this week’s episode that I often work with while helping to prepare witnesses. First, early in the episode, Dr. Bull (the as ever delightful Michael Weatherly asks the unjustly accused defendant (the character of Richard played by guest star Zach Appelman “Do you feel guilty about something?” This particular case deals with a coerced confession. Something that happens often in real life but not so often on Law And Order. However, I find this feeling of doing something wrong when there was no wrong-doing on the part of the witness happens all the time. When working through a story, there is often what I call a “V-8” moment for a witness. I call it this in honor of the television commercial from my childhood where there is some poor deluded person drinking a plain old glass of tomato juice who suddenly hits himself or herself in the head and says to the camera, “ARGH! I could have had a V-8!” I usually uncover it by saying, “I know what you are thinking right now. You are thinking…’if only’….” And sure as whatever day of the week you are reading this has a “y” in it the person will fill that blank in with something he or she thinks that they themselves did wrong. I’ve heard everything from, “If only I had picked him up out of that emergency room and run him to another hospital” (Medical Malpractice) to “If only I hadn’t made a deal with that guy” (Contract Dispute Case) to “If only I hadn’t gotten out of bed that morning” (many, many, many cases). Dr. Bull points out although Richard thinks he should have made a “different choice” (in this case, having a fight with his fiancé who ends up as the murder victim)– making choices doesn’t mean Richard committed the murder.Of course, since he is Dr. Bull and this is television and not real life, he convinces him in a moment. In real life, it takes A LOT to convince a person that his or her own behavior couldn’t have magically prevented the event that led to the lawsuit or the crime. Sometimes no matter how hard the lawyer I am working with and I try, I just can’t convince the person that they have no responsibility for the horrible thing that happened. I think the saddest time for me is even after our side wins, that a witness will sigh and say in the midst of the victory, “If only I hadn’t….”

The other thing that Dr. Bull said in this episode to Richard was, “That’s the Richard we need to see in court – confident – the real you.” I have said often that we have many different personalities and that in witness preparation I am looking for the person within the small repertory company that is inside the witness who is going to be the best witness. Richard in this episode looks a heck of a lot like a guilty, sad, overwhelmed person most of the time. Even though he didn’t kill his girlfriend. When he displays his confident side (while making a gourmet meal in a meeting room in jail while showing off his culinary skills as a young up and coming chef – how can you not love OompaLoompas?) he truly looks like a completely different person. Instead of building “the confident Richard” persona through lots of role playing practice (that is what we really spend several hours doing when making M&M’s) in a subsequent scene Dr. Bull points out to Richard that he’ll never make it as a witness and shouldn’t testify. When I’ve been brought in it is because this witness is going to have to take the stand. And it takes a lot of hard work instead of bullying (forgive the pun) and taking over to get witnesses ready. But…that certainly wouldn’t be interesting television. I get it.

Now…for the Hollywood Insider tip. I was thinking this week about how much of this show is shot on sets that have been specifically designed and built for the show versus standard sets that have been “rented” for the show. When you look at any hour long show, you can see that very little of it is shot on location – and most of the location shots seem to me to be outdoors. The set for Dr. Bull’s fantastical headquarters was clearly built just for this show and is on a sound stage in a studio somewhere.

I don’t know if the shot this week of the dumpster and alley where the crime scene takes place is a real live location (think Law and Order and how many of the streets of New York we know because of that show) or maybe just a spot in the studio where the sound stage with that fantastical Dr. Bull’s Headquarters set lives. Sometimes I can tell what lot on which one of these scenes is shot. For example, when a scene is shot on one of the “streets” of the lot of what was once MGM Studios and is now Sony Studios in Culver City (where we live) sometimes I see a dead giveaway – like the steps where Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn first met when they were contract players at MGM. Of course, that always makes me scream with delight no matter what the show is and whether or not I am on an airplane at the moment (much to the consternation of my fellow passengers).

There are a whole series of courtroom sets out here near Valencia, California – so I don’t know if they built their own courtroom set for Bull or if they just rent one of those. My sister, Caroline James is a television producer. I had a blast once visiting her on the set when she was producing Raising The Bar. She rented those studios out in Valencia. More courtrooms than many courthouses I’ve visited. Or maybe that’s just how I remember that very special day.

Now, for this week’s mystery set for me – the elevator. There is a scene that involves an elevator (and extreme jury tampering by Dr. Bull for those who prefer reality to fantasy) and I can’t tell if it was just built for this episode or if it is a rental. You see,you can’t have a real elevator – where would you put the cameras? You need to be able to configure it so that you can shoot from above (looking down at the heads of all the people – a common elevator shot), from the back of the elevator (looking at the buttons or what it looks like when the elevator doors open) and, of course, from the front (elevator doors closing AND what goes on inside the elevator, which is where the action centers in this episode). There are such sets with set pieces in various sound stages around our neck of the woods. I remember Alan coming home once from a shoot and he was on an airplane in that particular show. There is a cutaway airplane that serves that purpose for many shows and is available for rental right now – unless someone else is using it today, of course.

Next week is Episode 6 – it will be interesting to see yet again “What’s Not Bull About Bull”. This week had a lot of fantasy for those who like a distinct lack of realism in their television viewing – but as always, those nuggets of truth come shining through.

*Remember – an “OompaLoompa” has been defined by me as a fantastical way to get the thin candy coating on a round milk chocolate candy versus the factual way they are made by the Hershey folks at the M&M’s factory. Now, you know I would really much rather see the upcoming musical on Broadway of WILLIE WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY than visit the M&M’s factory. But I deal in making real live “M&M’s”, as do my fellow trial consultants at The American Society of Trial Consultants.



What’s Not Bull About Bull – Episode Three “Unambiguous”

17 October 2016

By Katherine James


Once again Bull showed us that Good Television and real life are not the same thing. BUT once again, there were many fantastic nuggets of truth in this week’s highly entertaining episode. I am not going to give you all of them – but I am going to talk about the ones that I work with in my very real life as a trial consultant. Again, I will leave other trial consultants to talk about their areas of specialization as they relate to this episode. I’m also going to include a little Hollywood tidbit at the end … in case you are interested at all in “how it works” in the land of glitz and glitter.

I will, as I did last blog, distinguish fact from fantasy in what I discuss in this way. I shall label facts “FACTS” and fantasies “OOMPA LOOMPAS” because I got so much positive feedback to that comparison in my previous blog. Basically, I am alluding to the difference between how M&M’s are made (a factual process that may actually be able to be observed) and how the little chocolate candies were made in WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY. I will say again that I would much rather watch Gene Wilder right now than anyone in the Hershey’s Factory.

Dr. Bull was just the most brilliant of witness preparers again this week. As I said last time, these are the parts of each of the episodes to which I relate the most closely since that’s what I spend so much of my time doing. This week’s client/witness (OOMPA LOOMPA warning – a member of his team is an attorney and tried the case. Against his former girlfriend. Sexy sparks flew. Good Television!) was subject to panic attacks. I loved that he had her count out of order because “the mind doesn’t allow you to count out loud out of order and have a panic attack.” FACT: In real life I run into panicky witnesses all the time. I generally have them breathe slowly and deeply. I then work on getting them to put their faith and trust in their lawyers. I find a lot of people are just completely terrified and think they are alone. They are never alone. They always have their lawyer either guarding them against the enemy or right by their sides. Sometimes it just takes a little loving glue to make a bridge between that most important of relationships – lawyer and client. OOMPA LOOMPA: Of course, Dr. Bull never seems to work with an attorney in the room. I always do. I guess attorney client privilege is not Good Television. And during the trial when she started having a panic attack during cross she looked right at Dr. Bull who nodded at her, and they both had tears in their eyes? Bad courtroom practice in reality, but gosh that was Good Television.

This week’s case involves a criminal Pro Bono case. FACT: trial consultants, like attorneys, do Pro Bono cases. The American Society Of Trial Consultants has a Pro Bono Committee dedicated to this effort. I myself have at least one big Pro Bono client that I am working with at any given time (right now I am working with Public Counsel here in Los Angeles). I also work on cases when asked. My rule? If the attorney is doing the case Pro Bono then I’ll help when appropriate. OOMPA LOOMPA: no trial consultant I know goes and visits someone who is incarcerated and tells them that they can turn their case and life around single handedly. But it sure was fun to watch that adorable Michael Weatherly (Dr. Bull) do just that. So personable. Good Television!

Now, there is another aspect to the series that I understand because of my background. The “How A Show Is Put Together In Hollywood” aspect. So…Dr. Bull is The Star and is going to wear pretty much all of the hats and be the protagonist who wins the day. His crack team is going to carry bits and pieces, but he is where the money is being invested in this show and he is expected to carry it. Did you notice that when at the victory party it was announced that the real killer was the coach of the college team that the murder victim played on? How it was just brushed off? Okay. So. The kid who was on the stand playing the best friend of the murder victim was an actor who was hired for one day – appropriately enough he is known as “A Day Player”. The coach and the rest of the team, who were in the courtroom scene when he testified – oooo, you don’t remember them? That’s because they were all extras. They didn’t talk. They would never talk. They are just extras. They fill out the atmosphere of the scene. They are, in fact called “The Atmosphere.” FACT: You can’t have a big dramatic scene where the real culprit is arrested and confesses if that culprit is played by an extra because unless they do it with no words…he can’t talk. Actually, if he had been put in cuffs and walked out he’d get a bump in salary because that would be called “A FEATURED BIT”. But it was better for the show for it just to be a throw away line in the party. Spoken, of course by Dr. Bull.

Get how it works? Did you follow the money? You bet Steven Spielberg – one of this show’s executive producers – does.

I know I will keep watching. And reporting about the FACTS and OOMPA LOOMPAS as I see them in this highly entertaining look at the world of Trial Consulting in this blog. With a bit of Hollywood info thrown in for good measure. Happy viewing!


What’s Not Bull About Bull

4 October 2016

Episode One “The Necklace” and Episode Two “The Woman In 8D”

By Katherine James


By now you either have or have not watched the “trial consulting” show about that won the television ratings game as “most watched new show on television” when it premiered: Bull

I surely watched the premiere episode: “The Necklace”. Twice.

And I watched this past week’s, “The Woman In 8D”.

And I am going to watch the coming weeks for as long as it lasts.

And I am going to comment on it from time to time.

In all candor, I was going to comment the very first week, but I was so taken by my colleague Tara Trask’s post on her blog that I reposted it to ours (please check it out if you haven’t yet – it appears directly beneath this one).

For those of you not in the know,
Bull is a brand new television show whose central character is a trial consultant. It was created by Dr. Phil and his son Jay, who both have continuing producing responsibilities on the show. Again, to be perfectly honest with you, I started out absolutely terrified of what this show could do for our reputation (that is, trial consultants in general). The name alone totally freaked me out – I assumed that “Bull” meant “Bullshit”. Please note this response of mine – I am going to refer to it again when I talk about “The Woman In 8D”.

I was also scared that whatever this fiction was that was being sold by CBS and that I was seeing in the trailers for the show was completely false. Unreal. With no basis in reality.

Finally, I was scared that everyone would think that I did what this Bull character did. Which from what I could tell from the trailers was total B.S.

And you know what?

After watching the first two episodes and looking forward to a third I am here to tell you that there is a heck of a lot of truth at the base of what goes on in the show. Now, I’m not saying that the trial consulting part actually works the way that Dr.Bull and his team do it. Not at all. But as I said to Tara over the phone, somewhere in Hershey, Pennsylvania M&M’s have been known to get a thin candy shell over a milk chocolate base. I’m sure it is a very real process. But I really like the way the Oompa Loompas do it in Willie Wonka And The Chocolate Factory. I know that isn’t really how it happens…but wow, I could watch that movie again right now. I was also dreading having conversations with people who now were magically going to want to become trial consultants based on seeing Bull Then I regained a bit of sanity when I realized that no one ever told me that he or she wanted to go to medical school because they wanted to have a lot of sex on the job like the doctors on Grey’s Anatomy. Nor has anyone said that they want to become a police officer and have their entire family become police officers and D.A.’s so that they can constantly be involved in conflicts of interest and drink heavily around the dining room table every Sunday like that nice Reagan family on Blue Bloods.

Oh, that’s right.


That thing my husband Alan Blumenfeld is on all the time (who turned to me after the first episode by the way and said, “I like it. Good Television.”)

It’s not REAL.

So why does this show have so many trial consultants up in arms?


And when we do, WE DON’T DO IT LIKE THAT.

Let’s first look at “we don’t do all that stuff”. I am so steeped in trial consulting from my point of view as a trial consultant that I couldn’t see past that to the television-savvy part of my brain. Dr. Bull and his staff manage to do the two basic parts of any criminal television procedural show: they do what the lawyers do, and they do what the police and investigators do. They also do a third part that up until this show has never been fictionalized before: they do what trial consultants do.

Why on earth would the lead in a television show do everything, be the catalyst for all the action, and even solve the crime? Because that’s what central characters on television shows do. Think “Columbo”. Think “Macgyver”. I ask you to think like this because this show is very “old fashioned” in this way. Haven’t you noticed that all the Law and Order shows, as unrealistic as they are, have the police and investigators doing their part and the lawyers doing theirs? Not here. Dr. Bull, assisted by his team, does it all.

Let’s look at the “we don’t do it like that” part. There are so many nuggets of truth in the show that I couldn’t possibly list everything that happened in the first two episodes that is either rooted in the truth or has a glimmer of truth in it. Again, think about the fact of M&M’s being made versus them being made fantastically by Oompa Loompas. I will leave the things that others do to compare and contrast…but let me talk about some things that I do that I’ve seen happen on Bull. I do participate in helping prepare witnesses. I wish I could just magically save them with a simple sentence “Just talk to them like they are fans who buy your records!”…but then, making M&M’s takes so much actual work when you are not an Oompa Loompa. I’ve helped witnesses with clothing, hair and makeup choices. I wish I had a perfectly dressed gay ex-football star to help me out…but…oh, well. Such is real life. I related the most to Dr. Bull personally when he was trying to figure out what made the witness in front of him act that way. I do that every day of the week with a “y” in it. Dr. Bull at this point in every show sounds the most like Dr. Phil from The Dr. Phil Show. Now I don’t know if he really talked to witnesses that way or not…but I must tell you that I, for one, have been with people who became better witnesses because I, frankly, cared about them as people.

Remember when I said that I would tell you about my assumption that “Bull” could only mean “Bullshit”? I have come to see that it also means “Bull’s Eye”. That it also means someone who will stubbornly go against all odds to make sure that justice is served. Not a horrible image at all. But what I felt immediately about the show was bias. Yep, that thing that lawyers and trial consultants are constantly looking for when looking for fair and impartial jurors. “Juror Bias” was a big part of the episode “The Woman In 8D”. How about that? I must say if the people who saw that show – many of whom could be called for jury duty – got even got an inkling about what juror bias might mean in a case then the whole episode was worthwhile.

Now I am left to ponder…are the members of The Innocence Project freaked out that the new show coming up called Conviction promises to do their work of overturning wrongful convictions in just five days? And the question I know are all the women who actually do that extraordinary, low-paid public service work wondering why on earth the leading lady seems to be wearing Christian Louboutin Heels when they themselves can barely afford to shop at Payless? Or have they, like me, figured out…IT’S ONLY TELEVISION. LIGHTEN UP AND ENJOY THE RIDE.


It’s Not All Bull

26 September 2016

Posted by Tara Trask on September 24, 2016

Reposted by Katherine James on September 26, 2016


The legal community is abuzz about the new CBS drama “Bull”. Played by Michael Weatherly of NCIS fame, Dr. Jason Bull is a “brilliant, brash and charming” trial consultant said to be loosely based on Dr. Phil’s early career as a trial consultant. I worked for Phil McGraw’s consulting firm back in the 90’s, and I can confirm many similarities between the whip-smart, funny Dr. Bull and my mentor.

Of course there are differences, and the show itself is a somewhat fantastical and entertaining story of one highly fictionalized man. I don’t know of any trial consultants that share Dr. Bull’s feline intuition or his tenuous relationship with honesty and the law.

The American Society of Trial Consultants, (for which I served as President 2011-2012) is rightly concerned about the public’s perception of our field. Dr. Bull steals lead trial counsel’s watch, bugs it, hacks into phone records, and solves the crime by identifying the true culprit once his client is exonerated. And who wouldn’t love to have all the high-tech gadgetry on display in this show? But like the glossy CSI franchise, much of it is science fiction. This is, after all, a primetime Hollywood drama, so it’s not surprising that it takes liberties with reality in exchange for a glossy and glamorous narrative tied up neatly in 43 minutes.

But does “Bull” get anything right? The general public, and quite a few lawyers for that matter, tend to think of us only as “jury pickers” who “read people”. But Dr. Bull, like most of the successful trial consultants I know, is deeply involved in the entire strategy of the case.

At the beginning of the show, we see his team testing case themes and arguments through mock simulations to mock jurors. My state of the art mobile courtroom isn’t as fancy as Dr. Bull’s, (I don’t see any reason to charge my clients for the costs of shipping wood paneling), but it’s not a huge departure from it either.

Dr. Bull’s wall of monitors depicting everything there is to know about each of the prospective jurors is slick television at its best. In a lengthy, or high profile case we might obtain a fraction of the same information Bull displays on the flashy monitors, (if the judge allowed a supplemental juror questionnaire or extended attorney voir dire), but it’s normally kept in old-fashioned, but user friendly, ordinary binders.

He also conducts extensive witness preparation with the young, frightened client. Importantly, his preparation of the witness goes far beyond “charm school”, or commenting on attire, (although that certainly is part of what we do.) Like many of us, Dr. Bull spends hours with the witness, not just talking at him or giving him do’s and don’ts, but actually listening to him—allowing Bull to get to the bottom of what makes his client tick. Once he has that understanding, he is able to help the client peel back the layers of fear getting in the way of his ability to testify not only truthfully, but authentically. Trial consultants do that kind of work daily.

Dr. Bull isn’t trying to stack the jury in his client’s favor or “rig” the system. Rather, he’s trying to ensure that anyone who can’t be fair to his client never makes it to the jury box. Every trial consultant worth their salt is trying to do the same thing.

Most importantly, Dr. Bull is not cynical. At one point, Dr. Bull’s client, a young man charged with murder exclaims; “they won’t believe me!”, when faced with the daunting challenge of telling the truth, but revealing something intensely personal about himself. Dr. Bull looks at him and says: “Don’t give up on people. They’re all we’ve got.” That sounds like faith in the jury to me.

Far from being sardonic puppeteers out to game the system, every trial consultant I know shares an abiding love for the jury system and those who take time from their lives to serve, a zealous belief that most juries get it right most of the time, and a nearly religious respect for the laws of this country.

With sixteen million viewers in its first week and the number one timeslot on network television, I hope that Dr. Bull lives up to the field he purports to portray. Even if he doesn’t, the show still looks like it will provide an enjoyable escape from my everyday reality.

Check out the interview I gave Ross Todd at, here about my time working with Dr. Phil.


Murder In The First – The Act Of Communication Point Of View

23 June 2014


Television shows that involve courtrooms have intrigued me long before I became interested in applying theater to the law. I vividly remember The Defenders and Perry Mason from my childhood. When I grew up and acted on the small screen I appeared in L.A. Law – a popular show back in the day. The tight writing was by none other than Steven Bochco, well-known and respected television writer and producer. Some of his shows have been wildly popular, others not so much, but I have consistently enjoyed whatever has intrigued him, especially when it comes to the courtroom.

His latest offering, Murder In The First, had me at “hello”. Brilliant casting, tight writing, interesting premise – follow one murder case from beginning to end in a handful of episodes. This isn’t the first time that Mr. Bochco has tried this concept – one case in a season. He also did it with Murder One. But that was a whole season per murder – twenty-two episodes to tell one story. And that didn’t go nearly as well as Murder In The First is going. How can that be?

Here’s where lawyers need to pay attention. Just as the landscape of television has changed – fewer episodes, many channels – so has the practice of trying a case. Today, you are expected to try a case in a shorter period of time. You no longer have the luxury of weeks and even months. “Try it in three days!” the judge barks. There seem to be a lot more “channels” competing for the attention of the whole system – and which one are you going to get on? Is being on the “cable channel” of courtrooms in your jurisdiction really worse that being on “network channel”? Doesn’t it really depend on the judge? And the audience has changed for you, just as it has for Mr. Bochco. How do you find a show and follow it for six weeks when you don’t even know where it is? How do you grab a group of jurors and get them focused on your case when the world is bombarding them with so many messages?

Just as Steven Bochco is discovering, telling a story in fewer rather than more episodes can be better. Putting on a case in less rather than more time can be better. Why? You are forced to hone in on the essence of the story that you need to tell. The result of honing in on the essential story means that your jurors can find you. They tune into you in the courtroom rather than spacing out into the myriad of other messages floating through their brains.

And for the Alan Blumenfeld fans – you can see him play a judge in episode four. Although it plays on Monday nights, the beauty of cable vs. network is you have several opportunities to catch the episodes during the week. Some day I may find a correlation between television and trying a case for multiple showings and On Demand. Stay tuned.

TIP: How much time do you really need to tell the story?


Slings and Arrows – TV Series for Lawyers – The Act of Communication Point of View

11 May 2011


Several years ago a group of brilliant Canadian actors and writers created a series called SLINGS AND ARROWS. This is a love sonnet, a valentine to the theater, to Shakespeare and to the creative spirit. I recommend you immediately find it on Netflix or wherever you can and spend several hours watching….and laughing and crying and enjoying.

Loosely modeled after the Stratford, Ontario Festival, this is a chronicle of a theater company. We follow actors and directors and the exploits of the managing director learning to accommodate and satisfy a changing market to attract and entertain audiences.

As actors, every aspect of these productions is both illuminating and inspiring. As attorneys, I recommend you focus on what it means to be and to have a leader.

There is a delicate balance when leading a team between control/giving direction and allowing/encouraging each person to contribute and perform at their optimum level. When leading a trial team, I’m sure you’ve found yourself frustrated, encouraged, made glad and made mad by the abilities and challenges of your team. However, it is essential to provide leadership.

TIP: Provide a clear vision and plan for your trial team. Then allow each team member full ownership of the plan to contribute at their maximum capability.

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