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There’s nothing like a legal thriller to get the heart palpitating-especially when it stars Rob Lowe. The new series, The Lyon’s Den, which premiered Sunday night on NBC, starts off with the mysterious death of a managing partner at a great stone-faced firm called Lyon, LaCrosse & Levine. This show is here to stay. Lowe is the slightly self-righteous but likable hero, Jack Turner-son of a powerful politician-who works at Lyon’s pro bono clinic in blissful ignorance of the doings of the firm’s main office. But not for long. As the police cars swarm to the death scene, slick senior partner Terrence Christianson (James Pickens Jr.) calls upon Jack to become the firm’s new managing partner. Jack initially rejects the offer as “bizarre.” By the end of the show he reluctantly agrees to take on the job, so oddly forfeited by the wily Christianson-whom the widow rebuffs at the funeral. Yes, there are dark secrets in this firm. Another ambitious partner cooks up a scheme in which he directs an associate named Ariel (a blonde femme fatale with whom he is sleeping)-to spy on Jack Turner, so as to improve the partner’s chances for advancement in the firm. She has a past with Jack, but she also has a past with hard liquor, and takes on the assignment, too afraid to say no. Meanwhile, Jack has just taken on an asylum case from Nigeria, which swiftly takes ambitious plot turns. To save his female client (accused of adultery and sentenced to stoning) from returning to Nigeria, Jack grudgingly goes to his father, Senator Turner (guest star John Rubenstein), who has a taste for power and Glenfiddich, for help. Lickety-split, Dad secures Jack an executive order from the White House granting asylum. Alas, the Nigerian-miraculously speaking perfect English-tells Jack she is going to return to Nigeria to be killed after all, leaving her baby behind, because it is her “destiny” to try and help others. This ham-handed story line is the obvious vehicle for Jack’s acceptance of the managing partner mantle-it’s his “destiny.” Lawyers with a dark side Television shows about lawyers abound, but as many of us know from personal experience, the reality can be very different. The Lyon’s Den, though, is a pleasant surprise. Allowing for small artistic licenses such as murder, conspiracy and cover-ups-with mayhem no doubt to follow-the show does a surprisingly good job of portraying a realistic, if deadly, law firm. At Lyon LaCrosse, paralegals, redaction tape and brief-writing at 3 a.m. seem par for the course, as does a pervasive awareness of law firm hierarchy. Jack is right to think it bizarre that a pro bono partner would be elected managing partner. When Jack goes to see Christianson after his mentor’s death, he can’t remember which floor Christianson’s office is on-a common occurrence in America’s large, warrenlike law firms. Similarly, a paralegal is lured to the dark side by a scheming partner and his assistant, with promises of help with his musical career. Real paralegals are often aspiring artists. Some television law firm themes are notable here for their (welcome) absence. Women do not wear miniskirts, associates do not regularly contravene the orders of their superiors and first-years do not run multimillion-dollar cases. For those immersed in law firm life, these are the types of grating factors that can make or break a TV law firm’s believability. Murder might happen at a law firm, but miniskirts? The characters the actors portray are also more realistic and complex than in the past, revealing how America’s attitudes toward lawyers may be changing. On this show, lawyers are allowed to be both good and bad, rather than the caricatures of Ally McBeal (narcissists), The Practice (sharks) or even Law and Order (hardhearted prosecutors). Yet the villains in this show have the capacity to be much, much worse than even the down-and-dirty folks on The Practice ever were. These villains are all about power-lots of it. And while the extent of their corruption is not yet evident, one murder has already taken place and there are hints of “improprieties” in one of Lyon LaCrosse’s largest cases-and these lawyers are playing in the big leagues (evoking shades of Enron). Jack’s character could become one of the more complex fictional lawyers we have seen in a long time. He fears becoming corrupt, and his self-righteousness is not so absolute as, say, Bobby’s in The Practice or Sam Waterston’s in Law and Order; he is aware of his own fallibility. Sounds like real lawyering to me. Abigail Roberts, who earned her J.D. at Georgetown, is a writer in New York.

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