Sherlock and legal detectives

When I was a kid, I ate up mysteries. I collected code and cipher books, had an Apple Jacks decoder, read every Sherlock Holmes story I could find and played both Clue and Master Detective Clue (I was always Professor Plum). As a child, it was exciting to solve the whodunit, to role play mysteries with friends and to live vicariously through the great detectives. Other fictional role models included The Three Investigators (the stories had the coolest titles — “The Mystery of the Screaming Clock”) and, I’m a little embarrassed to say, The Bobbsey Twins.

As my friends know, I’m a science-fiction fanatic. With “Star Trek” off the television airwaves, I’ve had to find enjoyment elsewhere. I’ve come to know and love the British series Doctor Who and recently discovered that one of the writers of Doctor Who also created a modern spin on Sherlock Holmes for the BBC.

I’m a little late to the game — I started last week with season two (it airs Sunday nights on PBS’ Masterpiece Mystery!). I watched the first episode of the season and highly recommend it. (Nerdy sci-fi note: the actor who plays Sherlock in the BBC production is also cast in the next “Star Trek” movie. Reports are that he will play Kirk’s (original timeline) nemesis, Khan Noonien Singh).

It got me thinking about the how our profession is like a mystery story. For personal injury lawyers, many cases are about unfolding mysteries. Sure, there are some garden variety automobile accidents, but almost every case brings something interesting to the table. I’ve found defendants through Facebook, surveyed hours of MTV video footage to identify the events surrounding a crowd crush incident and pored through tens of thousands of pages of documents to identify corporate wrongdoing. Particularly in the beginning, when that new phone call comes in and the facts need to be pieced together to determine if something actionable happened. It’s a thrill.

The thing about mysteries is that they are not usually as sexy in real life. Rarely solved through Holmesian deduction, they require methodical plodding and fact-checking. One of the smartest and most effective lawyers I know was an investigative journalism major — his depositions are a wonder to behold. The key in this line of work is to keep pushing, to keep asking questions and to accumulate as much data as possible. That’s how crimes get solved.

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