Lawyers and paralegals featured in movies

Posted by on September 20, 2012

Last month, Brian Craig looked at paralegals who became
successful fiction writers and paralegals featured in fiction.  Continuing with the series, we will look at legal professionals in the movies.  More than just entertainment, these legal thrillers give paralegal students a glimpse behind the scenes into law offices and courtrooms that most people do not see.

The Legaco Express for Paralegals, the exclusive newsletter for the Paralegal Community, published recently the Best Movies for Paralegals and the Lessons They Teach and allowed us to post it.  Enjoy!

Best Movies for Paralegals and the Lessons They Teach

Movies provide a unique focus and perspective on what it means to work with lawyers. Movies can help broaden and deepen reflections on the array of skills and the kind of sensibilities that professionals need to master in the realm of the paralegal profession.

We have chosen the movies listed below for their interesting  courtroom scenes, portrayal of lawyers, themes of justice or liberty, or  discussion of substantive legal issues. Observe and enjoy!

—— Erin Brockovich by Steven Soderbergh (2000) ——

There are lot of movies about lawyers and lot of courtroom drama. Erin Brockovich is almost the only one about the paralegal profession!

The film is a dramatization of the true story of Erin Brockovich, a legal assistant who almost single-handedly brings down a California power company accused of polluting a city’s water supply.

The great thing about this uplifting film is that it shows the importance of a client-centered approach to law practice. It also makes clear the importance of empathy in relationships with clients. The high powered attorneys who joined the case couldn’t communicate with ordinary people. But Erin Brockovich could; the clients liked and trusted her and she kept the group together until the final triumph!
—— My Cousin Vinny by Jonathan Lynn (1992) ——

It is about a defense lawyer, Vinny, who only recently managed to pass the bar exam on his sixth try. Vinny represents his cousin and a friend arrested for capital murder after a short stop at a convenience store in rural Alabama.

The movie packs in cinema’s briefest opening argument (“Everything that guy just said is bullshit.”) but also stress the solemnity of the law and the difficult balance to be found between the rule of law and the search of the truth.

It is also one of the best introductions to the rules of criminal procedure.
—— A Few Good Men by Rob Reiner (1992) ——

The film is about a recent Harvard Law grad Lt. Daniel Kaffee (Tom Cruise) who works as a military defense counsel. Kaffee has been assigned the case of two Marines accused of killing one of their fellow soldiers.

It is a movie about the difficult relationship between legality and fairness and the conflict between the ethos of the Marines as a body and the right of individuals to stand up to this kind of communitarian spirit.

The role of the lawyer and how distinctively each of them approaches the law is also an important theme of this movie with, on the one hand, a lazy self- centered young lawyer, Tom Cruise, serving out his time in the military avoiding conflict, and on the other hand a keen, but inexperienced, Demi Moore who is desperate to get to the truth.

—— The Verdict by Sidney Lumet (1982) ——

The legal case at issue here revolves around medical negligence, with the actions of a doctor allegedly leading to the plaintiff being transformed into a persistent vegetative state.

The case proceeds very much as one of David and Goliath, the hospital employs a team of lawyers and experts, while Galvin largely operates on his own, with only limited help. It is a powerful story of the underdog’s struggle for truth in the judicial system.

It is also very interesting in regard to the relationship between law and justice , and the delivery of justice at the expense of formal legal rules.

—— The Paper Chase by James Bridges (1973) ——

For the ones interested in going to law school, this movie is about Hart, a first year law student, desperately trying to impress his sternest professor.

Hart is overwhelmed with the pressure, the work, and his fear of failure. The Paper Chase covers a lot of law school motifs — the Socratic method, study groups, pressure, drop outs, outlines, friendships, exams — as well as the professor-student relationship issue.

It shows the stress of law school on students but also  what a transformative personal journey it can be.

—— To Kill a Mockingbird by Robert Mulligan (1962) ——

Based on Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize winning book of 1961, this movie is a courtroom drama that addresses the social dilemmas of the end of the 50s. Atticus Finch is a lawyer in a racially divided Alabama town in the 1930s. He agrees to defend a young black man who is accused of raping a white woman. Many of the townspeople try to get Atticus to pull out of the trial, but he decides to go ahead.

What really matters here is the serious moral questions  raised by this trial. The ideal of justice is shown as subverted by  individuals and communal dishonesty with the role and functioning of  the criminal justice system being part of the critique.

—— Anatomy of a Murder by Otto Preminger (1959) ——

Despite the archaic nature of the trial in this movie – no discovery period, no briefs, jury selection that merely asks whether anyone has any pending business with the attorneys, this movie is a realistic study of an Army lieutenant accused of murdering a bartender who allegedly raped his coquettish wife.

This movie address the ethical issues involved in criminal defense, there are no heroes here, no noble defenders, no pristine heroines, no completely innocent bystanders…both sides take their turns pointing fingers, each claiming that the other only got what they deserved…

—— 12 Angry Men by Sidney Lumet (1957) ——

Based on a play, all of the action of this movie takes place  on the stage of a jury room.

In this movie, a dissenting juror in a murder trial slowly  manages to convince the others that the case is not as obviously clear as it  seemed in court. It assembles a range of different social types and abstracts  them from their normal daily activities. They are allowed to expose their own values and methods of deciding matters. The jurors comprise a cross-section  of attitudes rather than ethnic or class backgrounds. The discussion which  they are involved in provides the sole action in the film.

What we have is a mixture of rational evaluation of evidence
and prejudice. Jurors change  their minds both as a reaction to the evidence and as a reaction to their  fellow jurors. A unique and unforgettable movie.

Please send us your own recommendations for titles to add to this list!

Originallypublished by The Legaco Express for Paralegals ( Reproduced with

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