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L.A. Law Character ‘Arnie Becker’ Faces the Music

November 6, 1988

CHICAGO (AP) _ ″L.A. Law″ character Arnie Becker might consider himself above joining any club that would have him as a member, but real-life counterparts of the television divorce lawyer decided Saturday they weren’t ready to ask him anyway.

Against an ever-shifting legal and social backdrop, the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers scheduled a four-day meeting to discuss such weighty matters as custody and surrogacy and the economic hardships of no-fault divorce for some women.

But tucked between the serious seminars, the academy found time for a panel discussion entitled - ″Arnie Becker - How Real is He?″

The elite group also mulled over whether he would make a good member.

″I’m not comfortable thinking about Arnie or any other character strictly as a role model, because dramatically, that’s too limiting a standard to hold him to,″ said Bill Finkelstein, an ″L.A. Law″ story editor and producer who writes Arnie Becker’s character, portrayed by actor Corbin Bernsen, for the popular television show.

Finkelstein, a lawyer who has put aside his practice while working on ″L.A. Law,″ sat in on Saturday’s panel.

″Like everybody else, Arnie has different sides, some heroic and some anything but heroic. ... Arnie has done things that if someone I knew in real life had, I’d say, ‘What a jerk 3/8’

″By the same token,″ Finkelstein continued, ″he’s done some things I greatly admire. And in this company, in dress, behavior and other measures, I’d say he’s basically middle of the pack. There are a fair share of matrimonial lawyers more flamboyant than Arnie.″

Leonard Loeb, president of the academy, credits Arnie Becker’s character with raising public awareness of the legal specialty, but says it’s impossible to know whether the character has actually influenced members of the profession.

″The character is bigger than life, but not unreal,″ said Loeb.

″And we’re up closer than most people. We see the warts and freckles, we understand many of the things he goes through. I suppose the jury is still out, to what extent the portrayal has helped.″

The jury returned Saturday, however, with a verdict against Arnie Becker. By a vote of 50-14, academy members said he should not be considered at this time, said Loeb.

The vote, fortunately, was nothing more than a honorarium and probably won’t affect Becker’s television following. Besides, fictional characters cannot join the elite academy, which is made up of about 1,000 of the nation’s 40,000 divorce lawyers. The American Bar Association’s Family Law Section, by contrast, has about 16,000 members.

One thing Arnie Becker has going for him is the perception that ″L.A. Law″ has not only glamorized the business, it has encouraged more young people to enroll in law school.

″Enrollment is definitely up,″ said Finkelstein, ″but I don’t know whether that means I get the credit or the blame.″

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