Legal Ease: Our Top 10 Hottest Lawyers in Movies—Law Student Edition
10 + Legally Blonde. I love Reese Witherspoon and the movie but I can’t get behind all the pink. The worst I have seen in a real courtroom, aside from all the people who wear their tracksuits to traffic court, was a strange yellow-green tweed skirt suit. Elle, you get an honorable mention because of your killer fashion instinct and know-how that magically solved the case right before it went to the jury. Also let’s be real Ms. Woods, as far as I’m concerned you were just a JD at the end of this movie. Send me your bar results and we will talk.
10 – John Travolta as Jan Schlichtmann in A Civil Action. If you haven’t seen A Civil Action, I really encourage you to put it on your Netflix queue! If anything, check out the opening scene. Travolta breaks down the personal injury practice in the background, while he quietly wheels his injured client into court. What he does next demonstrates that it’s not all about knowing the law or the facts. Sometimes it’s just about the show.
9 – Matthew McConaughey in The Lincoln Lawyer – a movie which demonstrates that ethics are more important to maintain than an actual office. To be clear – I didn’t like this movie. I’m usually not a fan of movies that were adapted from novels I have read, so I went into this one with that mentality. However, I did come away thinking that McConaughey did an incredible job handling the ethical dilemmas any lawyer faces when dealing with a…how should I put this…”questionably innocent” client. As lawyers, we are bound by attorney-client privilege, with good reason (we want our clients to be candid with us), but that privilege is not all encompassing – it is up to the attorney handling the case to determine whether that privilege must be overlooked in the name of crime prevention. We owe a duty of loyalty to our clients, but this duty only can go so far – McConaughey’s character in this film was able to do his duty, while still pursuing justice for his client’s victims.
8 – Paul Newman as Frank Galvin in The Verdict – Paul Newman will make every top 10 list I ever create, even if it is about snack foods. Before you write it off as an ancient movie (it is from 1982, people. It could be worse. I could have thrown Gregory Peck in here, my all time favorite book and almost all time favorite movie) Frank Galvin is a washed up ambulance chaser – the kind of lawyer everyone is terrified of turning into – who gets a chance to resurrect his practice and fight a kind of David vs. Goliath battle against the lawyers representing the defendant, the Roman Catholic hospital (sound familiar?) I do love Paul Newman’s character in this movie because he turns from a slug, into a hero.
7 – Ryan Gosling as Assistant D.A. Will Beachum in Fracture – Fracture is a thriller and is written for that purpose, so it defies logic, but Gosling demonstrates a valuable lesson to all other lawyers – there is always another approach to a case. To be a good lawyer, you have to think about all the issues that could come up, all the causes of action your client might have, all the various statutes of limitations that might be involved. A good lawyer will always have a back-up plan for their case – this is a must, especially if the facts are against your client, or the judge fails to find in your favor on key issues. And let’s face it; Ryan Gosling is eye candy with talent.
6 – My Cousin Vinny – Joe Pesci as Vincent “Vinny” Gamboni. Everyone wants to be him, or to be his cousin. Joe Pesci also teaches us what to do when we encounter a difficult judge. You might not know that judge yet, but you’ll meet him – the one you never can seem to do anything right in front of, the one who always overrules your objections – but the thing they don’t teach you in law school (necessarily) is that no matter what, you smile at that judge just like you would smile at Ruth Bader Ginsburg, you say “thank you your honor” even if that judge just sanctioned you for no reason, and is threatening to hold you in contempt. You can tell Pesci’s patience is tested by the judge in this film, but through it all, he impressively overcomes it to win the case for his client and even the disdainful respect of the judge.
5 – Tom Hanks as Andrew Becket in Philadelphia – What I found totally interesting about this movie, and the lawyers depicted therein, is that even lawyers, those who you would expect to know and follow laws against discrimination, are the same people who are perpetuating that discrimination. A lot of us were not around during the period in history where Americans feared that touching an HIV-positive person would make them susceptible to the infection. It was truly a sad, scary time in our history, and those who had the infection weren’t even sure how they could transmit it. While most would have accepted defeat, Hanks and his co-counsel Denzel Washington weren’t going to go down without a fight. This is a heartwarming story and another demonstration of using ones legal skills to fight for a cause no one else seems interested in fighting for.
4 – Tom Cruise as Lt. Daniel Kaffee – One of Cruise’s best roles. He is a persistent military attorney who is unwilling to allow those above him to railroad “the truth.” My grandfather once said, “Tenacity is a noble attribute.” Lt. Daniel Kaffee is as tenacious as they come. He is also included on this list because I’m not sure how many people are aware of just how much JAG officers do, for the country as well as individual members of the military. They wear multiple hats in their roles as Judge Advocate Generals, and the job is not easy.
3 – Tom Cruise as Mitch McDeere in The Firm – this is only on the list because of the scenes leading up to Cruise’s taking of the bar exam. I love when all the “old guys” keep walking into his office to remind him that every attorney from the firm has passed the bar on the first try. This is not far from reality. Failing the bar after you have already locked in your big law job is the most uncomfortable position to probably be in…Leah remembers when she worked in big law, and attended the swearing-in ceremony. Those who didn’t pass the bar gloomily watched from the floor above, knowing that the next few months were crucial to their continued employment at this firm. Most big law firms will give their associates one more shot, while they are on paid leave, to pass the bar. After that? Well, we don’t talk about that.
2 – Matthew McConaughey (AND Sandra Bullock) in A Time to Kill – probably one of the more uncomfortable movies on this list, but compelling performances by all cast members. We know from the start that McConaughey’s client, Samuel L. Jackson, murdered his daughter’s rapists in cold blood. Pretty much every potential jury member knows this too. The film shows what happens when an attorney is up against what is far from a “fair” trial – he faces Klan intimidation, courtroom bias, and a client who has already admitted his guilt. Bullock shares the spotlight here for her portrayal of a young female attorney who is fighting for respect in a world that wasn’t necessarily comfortable with letting women sit at the table. (I know the feeling having experienced this first hand.) Bullock also shows how important it is to follow all leads in a case, because you never know what might turn up even when pursuing something that doesn’t sound all that promising. Together with McConaughey’s moving closing argument, these two take the #2 spot on this list.
1 – Spencer Tracy in Inherit the Wind – Two minutes and thirty-five seconds is all you need to understand why Spencer Tracy has to take #1 on this list. Many of the attorneys on this list have great courtroom delivery, but this scene from Inherit the Wind shows the kind of style any Moot Court competitor would dream of. What we often forget is that appearing in court is not supposed to be a rigid, formulaic experience. A good attorney always has a conversation with the judge and/or jury. We are trained to break down complex issues and make them appear to be easily resolvable, no matter what, in favor of our client. In two minutes and thirty-five seconds, Tracy shows us how effective oral advocacy can be, especially when a picture can be painted about the potentially devastating results that a disfavorable verdict would have.
Professor Shari Karney, Esq. has been a prominent force in the world of legal education and California Bar Review for the past 30 years. Whether you’re just starting law school, about to take the bar, or an out-of-state attorney taking the California Bar Exam, BarWinners California Bar Review is here to help. She is the Owner and Creator of BarWinners and the author of The Approach Book, “Bar Bible”. She writes a weekly column-blog Legal Ease with Leah M. Kaufman, Esq., the Founder at LMK Strategy & Research. Visit BarWinners at barwinners.com. Visit the Barwinners page on Facebook, and the BarWinners page on Google+ or email Shari via firstname.lastname@example.org.