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At water coolers everywhere this fall, young attorneys will undoubtedly be talking about the latest in reality TV — reportedly titled “The Partner” and hatched by the network responsible for viewing frolics such as “My Big Fat Obnoxious Fianc�” and “Joe Millionaire.” According to Craigslist.org, a Web site devoted to offbeat employment opportunities, this is the high concept: Charismatic young lawyers compete in mock trials/courtroom showdowns on prime-time TV. The last lawyer standing wins a lucrative job at a law firm. To qualify, you must have passed the bar exam. … You also must not have a full-time job at a law firm yet. Please, no phone calls! Accordingly, young New York lawyers were directed to appear in person at The Flat, a Lower East Side lounge, on a recent Sunday afternoon. There, they met a local casting director for the show, which the Fox Television network is developing in conjunction with Rocket Science Laboratories, a Los Angeles production company. Tyler Ramsey, the Hollywood-based supervising casting director for Rocket Science, was less specific about the ultimate professional payoff proffered by Craigslist.com. But Ramsey, 30, was no less enthusiastic than the 100-plus young attorneys he said showed up at The Flat, or the “thousands” he predicted would vie for roles on the show between now and August, when he said auditions close in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and other cities. “It’s going to be more of a career boost,” Ramsey said in a telephone interview. “Better for the winner than anything they’ll be looking at just out of college, regardless of how well they did in school! “It’s a secret,” he added. “Stay tuned! Trust me, it’s a very big incentive.” Secret, too, are the name and precise format of Ramsey’s series, which Fox and Rocket Science officially bill by the working title “The Legal Show.” But according to a recent issue of Variety, Fox has “given an 8-10 episode production commitment to the tentatively titled ‘The Partner.’” Variety said “The Partner” would model itself after NBC’s hit reality series “The Apprentice,” in which the winner wound up with a position in the Donald Trump organization at a hefty salary. The Fox-Rocket series will divide contestants into two teams — “one made up of Ivy League grads, the other consisting of [lawyers] who attended less prestigious schools,” Variety said. The producers are in talks with “several well-known lawyers about coming on board to serve in the Trump-like role as judge,” Variety continued, and talks are also under way with “several law firms about serving as the sponsoring firm for the show. Lawyers from the chosen firm will act as advisers to the two teams.” Litigators surveyed by the Law Journal were divided on the wisdom of trusting one’s career options to producers of an oeuvre that includes “The Swan,” in which self-identified homely women are transformed through plastic surgery into grinning cover girls, and “The Simple Life,” in which ditzy hotel heiress and Internet porn star Paris Hilton goes roughing it in small town U.S.A. Of the new Fox-Rocket series, Joseph Tacopina, 37, a Manhattan solo criminal defense attorney, said, “The whole thing seems to me to be larded with problematic issues.” Employing a bit of Mafia patois, he also suggested, “No matter how gifted you are with oral abilities and instincts, you still have to get a solid 25 [trials] under your belt before you’re a ‘made’ lawyer.” Robert Knightly, a senior criminal defense staff attorney with the Legal Aid Society of Queens, agreed. “The purpose of moot court in law school is for young lawyers to learn by making mistakes,” he said. “That’s how you get experience.” “The Partner,” Knightly predicted, will “make clowns and buffoons out of these young lawyers for the TV audience.” Christian D. Carbone, a litigation partner at the New York office of Loeb & Loeb, was more open to Ramsey’s declaration that his series would be a “learning process” for American TV viewers. “Look, I went to law school watching the O.J. [Simpson] trial,” said Carbone, 33. “Now, that was reality programming. I don’t know what this new show could do for anybody’s [law firm] prospects, but if people are interested in hanging out their own shingle — why not?” Bronx criminal defense lawyer Murray Richman was likewise receptive. “Look at it this way, it’s an opportunity to be seen,” he said. “It’s a fast track to getting your name out there and building your reputation, which everybody says is what it’s all about.” But arguing before Fox cameras in a mock courtroom, however beneficial it may be in the cause of self-promotion, is unlikely to demonstrate a litigator’s truest value, said Douglas H. Wigdor, one of three former associates at the New York office of Morgan, Lewis & Bockius who formed Thompson, Wigdor & Gilly last year. “Most litigation isn’t done in the courtroom, it’s done on paper,” said Wigdor, 35. “At the end of the day, my firm and most firms are looking for someone with a full set of abilities — not just somebody who looks good on television and can say a couple of compelling things. “I don’t think this show is interested in good lawyers, I think they’re interested in making people watch television. So you’re going to see a lot of good-looking men and good-looking women,” he added. “They may be lawyers, but they’re aspiring actors. … Any lawyer who leaves himself vulnerable to making a mistake in front of a national television audience — well, that could be the death knell for his career.” A recruiting partner who asked not to be identified said that while his own large Manhattan firm would not be interested in hiring a young lawyer on the basis of his or her TV performance ability, “Maybe some flashy white-collar firm someplace would be interested in the star appeal. Or maybe Gerry Spence or somebody like that would go after them.” Tacopina, a trial attorney in the spirit of Wyoming’s Spence, is no stranger to television. He appears frequently as a legal commentator on news shows and is said by writers for the CBS drama “The Guardian” to be the model for the wily Clay Simms. Nonetheless, Tacopina has reservations about the medium. “I’m a big believer in exposure, as long as you’re a competent lawyer,” he said. “But some of these shows sort of degrade the practice. They make it look like a joke. They say it’s going to be real? That means, what — real people with real serious cases? … It’s logically and ethically impossible.” Ramsey said of such concerns, “There’ll be a middle ground, and there’s no shortage of technical advisers,” meaning attorneys to counsel the producers at Rocket Science, as well as the show’s creator, Mike Darnell, a Fox Broadcasting Co. executive vice president who also was the brains behind “Alien Autopsy: Fact or Fiction?” Still, Tacopina predicts “they’re going to need a squadron of grievance attorneys to handle all the claims.” There could be something to that. A previous Fox-Rocket production, the salacious “Temptation Island,” resulted in the matter of Ytossie Patterson and Taheed Watson v. Rocket Science before Los Angeles County Superior Court. After being booted off the show when it was discovered that Ytossie Patterson and Taheed Watson had a child together, contrary to contestant rules, the couple filed suit in 2001, claiming “malice, oppression and fraud” due to the producers’ conduct in firing them. At the time, Rocket Science attorneys said they would seek dismissal of the suit. Charles Steenveld, Rocket house counsel, did not return phone calls to explain the outcome. There is also the matter of Texas attorney Rob Campos, a one-time bachelor contestant on NBC’s “For Love or Money” who garnered undesired exposure. A Web site devoted to outing celebrity criminal records, TheSmokingGun.com, revealed through military documents that he had been discharged from a U.S. Navy Judge Advocate General’s training program after a drunken episode in which he groped the breasts of a female colleague. As a result, the Mathur Law Offices of Dallas, which had used Campos’ services as an independent contractor, dismissed him. Campos could not be located for comment. Richman sees a philosophical lesson in Campos’ experience with reality, television-style. “What’s reality? Truth?” he asked. Paraphrasing the moral of “A Crown of Feathers,” a short-story by Isaac Bashevis Singer, he added, “There’s no truth in anything anymore; there’s only what appears to be true.”

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