It’s Time to Talk About Arnie . . .

  •   |   Meghan Freed

Steve Bochco died last month at age 74. It was big news. Bochco developed and produced some of the most influential TV shows of the last forty years — shows that set the stage for the golden age of TV we’re in the middle of right now.

He produced dozens of shows but almost every article and obituary focused on one, the game changer, the show everyone talked about every Friday morning from September 1986 through May 1994: L.A. Law.

It’s hard — with on-demand television and Netflix binging — to conjure up L.A. Law’s impact in the primitive days of cable television.

I graduated from high school in L.A. Law’s first year and even I can barely recall what it was like to have to be in front of a television to catch the latest episode when it was “on.” L.A. Law was “appointment viewing” back when your only shot at seeing a favorite show was the night it aired – or to wait nine months for the “repeat.”

L.A. Law was hugely influential.  It changed people’s perception of lawyers and law firms, for good and bad (never indifferent), forever.

How influential was it?

Law school applications shot through the roof during and immediately after L.A. Law’s eight season run, a phenomenon much commented upon at the time.  Trial attorneys routinely asked potential jurors if they watched the show.  Law journals ran long, academic articles on everything from its fictional cases to the professional ethics of its characters.  Legal trade publications recapped episodes as if following a Supreme Court argument.  Attorneys dressed differently and changed the way they conducted courtroom examinations.  Some lawyers even requested recesses for real court cases that resembled fictional cases pending on the show.

As a top New York litigator and law journal editor told the New York Times in 1988, “Any lawyer who doesn’t watch L.A. Law the night before he’s going on trial is a fool.”

There were a lot of great characters on L.A. Law but none bigger than the divorce attorney Arnie Becker — played so well by Corbin Bernsen that the actor was never really able to move beyond the character.   He was arrogant, self-serving, womanizing, litigious, and nastily smart.  I remember my mom at the time comparing a local divorce attorney known as “The Shark” to him.

Arnie was never a “family” law attorney.  He had no interest in family law or, indeed, families.  He wanted only to litigate and win every case regardless of underlying circumstances. Depositions and settlement conferences were blood sport for Arnie and he played them that way.  All-out, no compromise, scorched-earth, win at all costs.

From 1986 through 1994 Arnie Becker was the most famous lawyer in the United States, the face of divorce law was as he practiced it. He put an indelible — if highly inaccurate — stamp on the public’s perception of divorce.

Post L.A. Law, Arnie’s legacy was perpetuated by the Ally McBeals and Boston Legals until it reached its peak with the unctuous lawyers in HBO’s Divorce.

Even if folks considering divorce now do not remember Arnie and L.A. Law, their views of family law litigation were formed by him and fed by his long line of TV successors. That view is as simple as it is consistent: court is a knock-down fight with a winner and loser and it’s best not to be the loser.

Somewhere, someplace, over the last twenty-four years, it’s a sure bet that a law review article labeled this the “Becker Effect.”

At Freed Marcroft, we practice all three methods of divorce – mediation, collaborative, and litigation –  so we can develop the best approach for our client’s goals.  Sometimes, thanks to old Arnie, when we mention “litigation” to a client they recoil at the thought of the ugliness to follow.

The truth about litigation in family law is really very simple and much – much – less intimidating than Arnie would ever have admitted: litigation is one of many tools in our toolbox.

That’s it.

We use it when it’s best for our client.  When we do, it’s not about winning or losing or being proven right or anything else that motivated Arnie and his clients; it’s about achieving a fair result in line with our client’s goals.


Freed Marcroft guides select clients through the legal aspects of divorce and family law matters while remaining mindful of their overall wellness. 

To discuss our helping with your situation, contact us today here.

Freed Marcroft LLC

Freed Marcroft LLC