Marvel's Daredevil Gets Young Attorneys Right

Being the parent of a small child means I don't have the time or mental bandwidth to binge watch Netflix's new superhero opus Daredevil, so I'm moving through the series much slower than everyone else. Based on the limited amount I’ve seen, I think the series gets a lot of things right about the character - Charlie Cox understands what makes Matt Murdock tick: he’s sweet and charming, but also rough and hardened, not afraid to get bloody while bloodying the bad guys - and I think the tone and tenor of the series is closer to what Fox's Gotham should have been. 

In particular, I think the show nails its representation of young attorneys. Whenever I do watch TV, I find myself turned off by the way lawyers are depicted. I’m admittedly more sensitive about the way society thinks of my profession since earning my J.D. I don’t laugh at lawyer jokes the way I used to and I’ll be the first one yelling #notalllawyers when one of us is accused of wrongdoing. 

But my problem with TV lawyers extends beyond my thin skin. I find those portrayals to be wildly incorrect, bearing little resemblance to what I see in the mirror every day or out in the real world with my colleagues. Lawyers are just people, after all, not robots or monsters. Too often on TV they’re slimy dirtballs or driven idealists. They’re used as the butt of jokes or as obstacles the hero has to overcome. On the rare occasion humanity is allowed to poke through, it’s often to decry the awfulness of the profession or the corruption in the judicial system. What Daredevil gets right is that for many of us, it’s not like that. And while the show is understandably more interested in Matt's nighttime crime-fighting proclivities, we get a glimpse of that reality by way of Murdock’s law partner, Franklin “Foggy” Nelson, who perfectly encapsulates the troubles and travails of being a newly admitted attorney in a big scary world.

Foggy, as depicted by Elden Henson, is silly, bright, capable, nervous, quick to forgive, optimistic about the future while being realistic about the present (they have no clients), adventurous, and willing to do anything for his friends. In episode two, he stays out all night to help a friend deal with a recent trauma (a lot of drinking is involved). In episode three, he wrestles with the moral conundrum of taking a large fee to represent a clearly guilty man and the discomfiting notion that he and Murdock are being set up. In episode four, we learn that he and Matt had interned at a Biglaw firm, but turned down permanent positions so that the two could build something of their own.  

In other words, Foggy is a person, not a plot device, and Henson's performance understands that. In one scene, Foggy openly laments to Matt about their current situation in a conversation so eerily similar to ones I’ve had that I thought for a moment the Daredevil producers had bugged my phone.

Foggy

My mom wanted me to be a butcher, you know that? 

Matt

Oh, not the butcher story. 

Foggy

I said, No, Mom, I want to be a lawyer.  I don't remember what I said next.

Matt

No, you never do.

Foggy

But I'm fairly certain it wasn't about bailing out a piss-drunk electrician who nearly burned his house down.

Matt

Ed's wife left him, Foggy. It was an accident. Admittedly involving cigarettes and gasoline, but still.

Foggy

I could be carving my own corned beef. Making my own pickles, have a little shop of my own.

Matt

You got your own office.

Foggy

We have office space. An actual office would involve plantery and equipment, fax machines or whatever successful people use.

Matt

I don't think they use fax machines anymore.

Foggy

How would I know? Which is endemic to the problem. Matt, what if we're doing this all wrong? What if Landman and Zack [the biglaw firm] was the way to go?

Matt

You hated interning there.

Foggy

I hated being broke.

Matt

You think Landman and Zack would have helped out Ed?

Foggy

No. But they had free bagels every morning. And they had furniture that didn't smell like a pack of cigarettes. And elevators God, I miss the elevators.

Matt

We're doing good here, Foggy.

Foggy

Are we?

While the scene is initially played for comedy, there’s a real existential question at the heart of it: did I make the right choice? It’s a question we all face, not just lawyers, and Henson is able to give us that in his performance without bludgeoning us. I look at Foggy and see myself, and many other talented young attorneys I know. He’s a young, hard-working professional trying to figure out how to earn a living while also doing a little good in the world. That’s not they way most lawyers are depicted on TV, but it’s pretty close to the truth.

Greg Kanaan

The [Legal] Artist, Boston, MA, USA