You might not like it, but I just have to say it: My advice with legal thrillers is “just say no.”
Legal thrillers can be completely amazing, but this genre is pretty well tapped out. We’ve now birthed three solid generations of “Law and Order” and franchise viewers, as well as two strong generations of “CSI” and franchise fanatics. I watch these shows pretty regularly and know a lot about the Hollywood rules for legal and criminal investigative storytelling. There is very little within that world that can surprise me at this point. Whereas we watch those procedural TV shows because we like the structure of them, movies have to pony up more, they take a lot longer to get made, and that doesn’t bode well for the basic legal thriller.
If you proceed with this genre, your take on the material should be unique, fresh, and definitely bring something new to the table. I feel we’ve passed the day where one can write just a very solid legal drama/thriller and actually take up any space with that story. It will feel old, tired, and my strong feeling will probably be, “Why?” Why did the writer spend so much time on this? Why does this story feel so 1999?
A way to approach the legal thriller moving forward might be to look at combining elements and genres to bring that type of storytelling to another level. For example, placing a legal thriller in the future would be new territory because then we could look at some relevant social commentary on where our country is headed and the legal implications of that. Or combining some horror elements into a legal world could be very interesting.
Especially with the legal thriller, make sure you’re bringing something fresh, current and relevant to the storytelling – really think carefully about how to get a fresh take on that material – otherwise it might not be a rewarding investment of your time.