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Why Should Lawyers Care About the 'Serial' Podcast?

By Mark Wilson, Esq. | Last updated on

"Serial" is the hot new podcast that's taking the nation by storm. A spin-off of "This American Life," "Serial" is the story of Adnan Syed, a kid from a Baltimore suburb who was convicted of the murder of his ex-girlfriend in 1999. The show's creator, "TAL" producer Sarah Koenig, was clued into the story by Rabia Chaudry, a lawyer, journalist, and friend of Adnan's family.

The show unfolds in a serial format (hence the name), with a new episode each week focusing on a different aspect of the case. The podcast has already spawned a cottage industry of meta-podcasts and discussion groups. Much of the focus of the story is on the legal system.

Why should lawyers care about this show? (Minor spoilers follow. Just listen to the podcast, already.)

In a recent episode, Koenig seems genuinely shocked when she learns that police aren't necessarily looking for the truth; they're looking to make the best case they can. She also interviews a former juror on the case who says that, yes, the jury definitely took a negative inference from Adnan's failure to testify -- despite explicit jury instructions to the contrary.

While criminal lawyers already know all of this, "Serial" can prompt a discussion about the criminal justice system and the legal system in general. It's a way for your non-lawyer friends to actually be interested in what you do for a change.

2. Learn How Not to Craft a Defense.

Adnan's defense attorney was a local, private criminal defense attorney apparently well-known and well-regarded. But listening to the audio tape of her in the courtroom, pulling the old "Are you lying now??" just makes you want to cringe. The lawyer, Cristina Gutierrez, had a theory of the case that leaned really heavily on discrediting the state's sole eyewitness and not enough on calling into question other parts of the case, like cell phone tower location triangulation (which is a pretty inexact science).

Gutierrez died in 2004 from complications due to multiple sclerosis, but not before she was disbarred in 2001 for failing to keep up with client cases.

3. Sometimes, You'll Just Never Know What Happened. And That's OK.

In "Serial," we're left to theorize what really happened on January 13, 1999. Really, only Adnan (and possibly Jay?) know. Everyone else? We have no idea.

For beginning lawyers, it's a hard metaphysical bridge to cross, but you'll eventually reach the conclusion that you'll never know what happened. You can piece together what you think happened in a given case, even if it's just a run-of-the-mill contract dispute, but really, every story or theory of the case you devise is just an approximation of the truth.

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