Roger (to Kate, separately): I'm giving this case you to because I know you will want to crush her.
Jill: Because you understand the rule breakers.
Roger: Because you believe in the rule of law.
Jill: Do your best.
Set in the Southern District of New York (SDNY) Federal Court, known as "The Mother Court," the series follows lawyers just beginning their careers as either Assistant United States Attorneys or Public Defenders. They handle the most high-profile and high-stakes cases in the country as their personal lives intersect and the deep-seated rivalries between the two sides of the court flare up. The prosecution, headed by Roger Gunn (Ben Shenkman), includes Leonard Knox (Regé-Jean Page), the ambitious son of a US Senator; Kate Littlejohn (Susannah Flood), an analytical but seemingly emotionless perfectionist; and Seth Oliver (Ben Rappaport), an awkward lawyer who used to work for a private firm before joining the mother court at the same time as his girlfriend Allison. The defence, headed by Jill Carlan (Hope Davis), includes Sandra Bell (Britt Robertson), a driven crusader for truth and justice who hates to lose; Allison Adams (Jasmin Savoy Brown), Sandra's best friend who joined the court at the same time as boyfriend Seth; and Jay Simmons (Wesam Keesh), a laid back and awkward young man supported by his family. Rounding out the cast are Chief Judge Nicholas Byrne (Vondie Curtis-Hall) and the no-nonsense court clerk Tina Krissman (Anna Deavere Smith).
The series lasted two ten-episode seasons before being cancelled.
Tropes found in For the People are:
- The Ace: Kate is this for the prosecution, Alison for the defense. Both of them are undefeated at the end of the first season (though in "Flippity-Flop" Kate's animal trafficking case is settled offscreen).
- Absurd Phobia: Jay claims to have a legitimate fear of fluorescent colors because of Kate's propensity for neon tabs on her paperwork.Jay: Do you realize I have an actual fear of fluorescent colors because of her? Because of the tabs! A clinically verifiable phobia. I have been treated for this. Unsuccessfully!
- Afraid of Doctors: Sandra, though she's more afraid of hospitals in general. Her mom died when she was younger, but she was too scared to go into her room to say goodbye and thus never got the chance.
- Amoral Attorney: Both sides see the other as this. The defense is stereotyped as ignoring the importance of the law to do whatever they want and protecting dangerous criminals. The prosecution is stereotyped as government suck-ups who use the letter of the law to punish innocent civilians who were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
- Black Sheep: Allison is the only lawyer in a family of scientists and mathematicians.
- Bland-Name Product: A social media site "Yowler" is implied to be one for Tumblr.
- Book Ends: Two in the first season.
- The pilot has Judge Byrne give a speech to the new lawyers that some of them are not worthy, and ends with Allison and Sandra convincing themselves that they are. The last shot of the season has Sandra going to the appeal case (for the client she defended in the pilot), and as she boards the elevator with Judge Byrne he turns to her and declares "you are worthy."
- It also has Jay and Kate going up against each other for the first time since the pilot. Jay lost the first time, but in the finale he gets the case dropped and an inditement drawn up by Kate against the real perpetrator. More importantly, Kate reaffirms that Jay really is a good lawyer.
- Both Sides Have a Point: Happens with a lot of cases. In general, the series makes clear the importance of due process and how important it is to have the prosecution and the defense both trying their hardest for their clients, because if they make exceptions for one client they can make exceptions for any of them. Jay's father reassures him that he's doing the right thing after his victory in defending an accused murderer who's a Neo-Nazi sits poorly on his conscience. He tells him that in Syria, where they came from, his aunt was framed for a crime and tortured by police into a confession, showing just how much the rule of law is needed.
- Brandishment Bluff: As Jill and Sandra are on their way to make a deal with Roger and Leonard, she hands Sandra a stack of papers. What's on them isn't important, they're just a prop so that the opposing counsel thinks they have something heavy against them.
- Common Nonsense Jury: A few verdicts are clearly driven by prejudice. There was also the time Allison aimed for jury nullification in order to protect her client.
- Companion Cube: Tina and the judge-selection wheel. She and her family ended up using it for their smaller decisions, and she used it up until the day her husband passed away. When it breaks she goes out of her way to get it repaired by the original creator instead of throwing it away and using a digital system.
- Cruel Twist Ending:
- "The Vast, Immovable Object": The evidence to prove that the client didn't strangle the girl, that he was coerced into confessing and that the victim had a stalker who fit the physical build of the killer while the client didn't is perfectly able to display his innocence. The jury convicts anyway.
- "Moral Suasion": After how much trouble Allison has had throughout the episode getting her client bail, through the means of everyone in the client's life having no faith in him, Allison's own rich parents refusing to help her and the client being beaten while in prison, Allison is finally able to convince the client's grandmother to give him another chance and provide the bond. Allison then finds out the client decided to hang himself and it's ultimately too late.
- Crusading Lawyer: Both sides often see themselves as fighting for justice, though Sandra takes the cake as she gets very emotionally invested in defending the downtrodden.
- Curse Cut Short: While Jay and Kate are teamed up to meet with a school principal about their case.Jay: Do I look like a prosecutor? Y'know, tightly wound, judgmental, huge stick up my—*sees the principal*—Principal Hatcher!
- Deadpan Snarker: Kate Littlejohn. No pan is deader.
- Death Glare: Tina Krissman has an epic one for any attorneys who cross her.
- Defrosting Ice Queen: Kate starts the series very closed off, but starts to at the very least tolerate those around her as time goes on.
- Don't Explain the Joke: Seth brings up when Sandra jumps through hoops to justify that her client pointing a gun at a picture of the President on social media is still satire.
- Downer Beginning: The first episode sees Sandra lose her case defending a young man accused of terrorism (in a situation which is clearly entrapment) and Seth and Allison breaking up over their case.
- Downer Ending: "World's Greatest Judge". Despite trying everything he can do to protect a man being sent to prison for ten years for drug possession (a mere 57 grams), by the end Judge Byrne has no choice but to enforce the mandatory minimum. He makes no attempt to hide his contempt at the law and how little it actually solves.
- Establishing Character Moment: The opening scene of the series where six of the main cast arrive at the Mother Court.
- Sandra is there over an hour early, stating that she woke up at 4:30 to get ready.
- Kate arrives shortly after, tries the door despite Sandra telling her it's still locked, then enforces the rules whether they benefit her (telling Jay to stop eating) or not (telling Sandra she can go in first because she got there first).
- Jay arrives an hour early, but thinks he's late, and is eating a breakfast taco despite the sign saying there's no food allowed.
- Allison and Seth arrive one after the other, each stating that they're not boyfriend and girlfriend that day because they want to stay professional.
- Leonard arrives just before the day begins and walks right into the court despite Kate telling him that Sandra was first.
- "Eureka!" Moment: Happens plenty of times—one stray comment from one person helps another make a break in their case.
- The Friend Nobody Likes: Seth is the least popular lawyer on the prosecutor's side because he lost his first case thanks to it being against his girlfriend Allison.
- Gender-Equal Ensemble: Out of the main characters there are five men and five women, though there are more women on the defense side of the cast, and more men on the prosecution.
- Gilligan Cut:
- When Sandra is assigned to defend a comedian who posted pictures of herself threatening the President, she states that it was obviously a joke. Jill retorts that the US Attorney's Office isn't known for its sense of humor. Cut to Roger Gunn laughing his head off in Seth's face.
- By the ninth episode of season one, Sandra claims she can't see the floor of her office. Just as Allison claims she's exaggerating, Jill comes in and declares she can't see the floor of Sandra's office.
- "This is one of those mornings where I wonder what it’s like across the street. Grim and quiet, plotting death and destruction all day." Queue Roger walking into the office incredibly chipper.
- Good Versus Good: Another way to see several cases, since often both the prosecution and defense believe they're doing what's right.
- Gory Discretion Shot: To show how a head injury from cheerleading can cause a client's undiagnosable mental disorder, Jill shows a video of the client from high school. We see her go up, and as she comes down we cut to the rest of the team, visibly shaken.
- Hollywood Law:
- The attorneys that had just started working at the US Attorney's Office and Public Defender's Office would not be sent to deal with big cases on their own straight off. Instead, they would then work under supervision of a more experienced attorney, as simply one part of a team. Of course, this would not be so dramatic. They would also not be starting with cases that go to the mattresses for trial, but rather taking lots of minor cases that usually will end in guilty pleas to lesser sentences (and again, not as dramatic).
- A lot of the questions witnesses get asked are things which they couldn't know, and would thus be objected to. Inappropriate arguments are allowed in closing too. Cases also take far more time until they get to trial.
- Only $9,000 of fraud from insider trading in the pilot is also not something a US Attorney would bring to trial. Lampshaded by Chief Judge Nicholas Byrne, who takes off his glasses and asks, "This is what Roger Gunn is prioritizing in the US Attorney's office nowadays?" The insider trading case actually gets a lot of the other matters of law correct, such as having the lawyers argue from behind counsel table instead of pacing inside of the well (the area between counsel tables and the judge's bench), and the arguments for why exactly the defendant is being prosecuted are also sound (some people need to be reminded that there are consequences to breaking the law).
- The question about whether any crime that was committed in Yellowstone National Park could be tried has been raised. It isn't, however, because of the small area which is in Idaho lacks a local population. Rather, it's because it falls in three states, so which Federal District Court should have jurisdiction is a problem then under the Vicinage Clause of the Sixth Amendment. The part in Idaho actually falls in the Wyoming District Court's jurisdiction, rather than Idaho's as well.
- As pointed out in this video by Legal Eagle, the pilot episode, which is portrayed as a case of entrapment and general miscarriage of justice, was anything but, as the defendant in question had already made the decision to attempt to destroy the Statue of Liberty, and taken the predicate acts to do so. Undercover FBI agents helped him after he decided, though since they didn't trick, persuade or coerce him into doing so it's not entrapment.
- Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: Each episode bar the Pilot is named after a quote from the episode.
- Ironic Echo: In "Flippity-Flop", concerning a man who was locked in solitary and then forgotten about for four days. "What the DEA did to Torres? Stupid, awful, tragic even. Not criminal." Said by Roger to Jill when she demands he press charges, then Jill to Hope when she has to defend the DEA agent responsible.
- It's All About Me: A comedian Sandra has to defend claims she posted a picture of herself threatening the President to spread the message about gun control. When the deal she gets works out to essentially be a restraining order from the President, she seems more pleased with the publicity she'll get from it.
- Missing Mom: Sandra's mom is dead. Her dying in a hospital is what gave Sandra her fear of hospitals.
- Monumental Damage: Sandra's client Muhammad in the pilot is accused of trying to blow up the Statue of Liberty.
- My Greatest Failure: Sandra sees her loss in the pilot this way, as she failed to protect a young man from being found guilty of terrorism even though he was clearly a victim of entrapment.
- Neat Freak: Kate keeps her office in impeccable order and hates when people intrude.
- Obfuscating Stupidity: Jay's client in the pilot claims to believe his cover story about being part of a shadowy government agency. Jay, ever the idealist, buys it until Kate shows him footage of the man bragging about putting one over on him.
- Opposites Attract:
- Kate and Anya. They're almost complete opposites in both their looks and personality. Kate is a very uptight attorney who always dresses in business attire but also has short hair. Anya's a more loose ATF agent who is usually in casual wear and has long hair.
- It ends up happening for Roger and Jill despite their opposite political views (not to mention being on opposite sides of the prosecutor/defender divide).
- Politically Incorrect Villain: In "Rahowa", Jay is forced to defend a white supremacist accused of shooting a politician. His closing argument, though expressing that there is plenty of reasonable doubt that said neo-Nazi was actually responsible, doesn't mince words about him still being a terrible person.
- Pyrrhic Victory: Comes with the territory, since there are plenty of times where the prosecution successfully punishes someone who's morally innocent, or the defense successfully defends a bad person who's only technically innocent.
- Leonard clearly feels guilty about winning his first case, since Sandra was on the moral high ground—her client was clearly being entrapped by the FBI.
- Jill feels terrible about having to defend a DEA Agent who locked up an innocent man and forgot about him for four days and winning, especially since she's the one who insisted Roger charge him in the first place.
- Real After All: Roger tells Seth he's going to be handling a major mob trial. Seth interrupts with "I've had this dream before," (which he has) and "you're going to suddenly start singing the theme from The Godfather" and proceeds to do so himself. His singing trails off as Roger stares at him and it sinks in to Seth he's not dreaming.
- Ripped from the Headlines: Sandra's case from "Have You Met Leonard Knox?" involves a comedian posting an image of herself threatening the President with a gun. It's clearly a reference to Kathy Griffin doing something similar.
- Rogue Juror: When Judge Byrne is called for jury duty and gets selected (the defense lawyer didn't even pay attention to his responses) he's delighted at the idea of seeing the criminal justice system by another angle. He soon becomes the lone holdout when the rest of the jury votes "guilty" though. After his attempting to explain why the prosecution didn't prove the accused guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, he gets them to understand even so. They come around to his view and acquit. Unlike in most examples, he admits that most likely the defendant is guilty, but since the prosecution failed to make their case, he should go free.
- Running Gag: A few.
Allison: Why aren't you in your office?
- People barging into Kate's office for advice despite her not wanting anyone in her office, not wanting to give advice, and not caring what they have to say.
- Sandra's always leaving her documents all over the place.
Sandra: There's stuff in it.
- Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right!: Happens quite often on the defense side, but especially in "Everybody's a Superhero", where Allison tries to convince the jury to disregard the law for the sake of her client who stole supplies from a relief ship. Judge Byrne tries this in "World's Greatest Judge" when he tries everything he can to stop a man from being sentenced to the mandatory minimum of ten years for drug possession, but it doesn't work out.
- Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: Quite often, but Sandra and Kate in "18 Miles Outside of Roanoke" especially embody it. Idealist Sandra is certain that her client was right for leaking government documents that showed them doing shady actions to target undocumented immigrants, whereas Kate believes that any errors with the government should be addressed by trained and elected professionals rather than civilians taking the law into their own hands.
- Stealth Hi/Bye: Kate pulls this on Roger in "Have You Met Leonard Knox?". By the way he reacts, it's not the first time.
- This Is Reality: Jill points out that despite having the moral high ground, this isn't a TV show and Sandra's not going to win a case for an American Muslim accused of terrorism in her first case.
- Traveling at the Speed of Plot: Bordering on Offscreen Teleportation. In "Extraordinary Circumstances" (Ep 1x09), the prosecutors trio is trying to build a case against the NY Governor. They have a very strict deadline to do so. They proceed to interrogate four senior gubernatorial aides, which probably work in Albany, three hours away from NYC with good traffic. All four aides just happen to pop into the US Attorney's South Manhattan offices in time to let them build their case.
- "Well Done, Son" Guy: Leonard, though it's towards his mom rather than his father.
- Working the Same Case: The main lawyers on either side often end up going against each other, but the fact that Allison and Seth were assigned the same case in the pilot is the only time it's treated as a reveal.
- Xanatos Speed Chess: The way some lawyers plan out their cases. If one side tries to throw out the case, the other side trumps up the charges. If you're building an entrapment case, make the other side think it's attempted terror. If your opponent likes to fight, make them fight the wrong battles.