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Lawyers in the Movies

Every so often during an otherwise serious legal discussion, someone will say, "I'm teaching a course on women and the law, and I'd like to include a video component. Can you name some movies that feature women lawyers?" And, after muttering, "Nice work if you can get it," we all scramble to think of that movie, y'know, where Cher played a public defender in Washington, D.C. (Suspect, an excellent film with Dennis Quaid as a juror who violates an ethics rule every minute). And what was the name of that movie, where Gene Hackman faced his daughter in court, loosely based on the Pinto case? (Class Action.) And then we always come up with Adam's Rib and let's never forget, Legally Blonde.

Well, it's time to stop re-inventing the wheel and compile a useful list of lawyers and the legal process in the movies. My model for this list is the wonderful "Librarians in the Movies" Web site, maintained by Martin Raish, at: http://emp.byui.edu/raishm/films/introduction.html. I've always said that without librarians, not only would I never have finished law school, but I would be lying face down in a gutter somewhere. So, thank you, librarians, for your guidance in organization, alphabetization, scholarship and attribution! Any errors or omissions in this list are entirely their fault, of course.

There are many other online lists of lawyers in the movies, most of them presumably better than this one. Check out:

Martin Raish divides his librarian films into three categories. Since I'm not a librarian, nor do I play one in the movies, I'm going to settle for just two.

Category A movies are those where a lawyer or a legal proceeding is central to the plot.

Category B movies are those where a lawyer or a legal process is incidental to the plot, but illustrative of an interesting point. For example, in Enchanted April, the beautiful 1992 film based on a novel by Elizabeth von Arnim, the husband of one of the protagonists is identified as a solicitor. He is presented as a business-obsessed man who makes his wife write down every expense, including pennies donated to a beggar wounded in the first World War, in a notebook. But, as wonderfully portrayed by Alfred Molina, the lawyer blossoms on vacation in Italy. In one scene, he suggests an equitable arrangement for the houseguests to share expenses. The film ends up showing that lawyers can be useful and even likeable, so long as the sun is shining. To paraphrase one reviewer: "This film proves there are no bad people, only people in need of better weather."

The Webmaster of this site, Barbara Leff, is encouraging me to include TV shows, and I might focus on particular episodes at a later date. But television generally takes far greater liberties with image, procedure and plausibility than most movies do, so for the time being this site will confine itself to film. Even Barb says she remembers her law school evidence professor, on the very first day of class, informing students that there was no such objection as "incompetent, irrelevant, and immaterial." "These are three separate and distinct objections!" he emphasized. Thank you for confusing an entire generation of aspiring trial lawyers, Perry Mason.

While we're thanking people, I'd like to thank Martin Samson of New York's Phillips Nizer, who sends out Internet-related case summaries --- with a movie quiz at the bottom. Gradually, I started breezing through the case write-ups to get to the quiz, which sparked my interest in films.

Finally, where are these law schools where courses consist of watching movies? Can the bar exam include a video quiz, instead of, say, that pesky logic section? Just wondering.

If you have any additions or comments, please e-mail me at wendytech@gmail.com.


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