Lawyers on the Silverscreen

I’m a movie buff. And because I’m a lawyer, I enjoy watching movies that portray lawyers. Here are my favorites:

My Cousin Vinny. This is a classic tale about a lawyer wandering into a case he is ill prepared for due to inexperience. Vincent Gambini had never tried a criminal defense case, but after his cousin was arrested for murder, Vinny “showed up” and provided a defense. Vinny proves that sometimes showing up is the most important thing you can do. It wasn’t pretty, but it was effective because Vinny made an effort to learn what he didn’t know. When Vinny arrived in Alabama, be didn’t know what “a grit” was; but by the time he cross examined Mr. Tipton, Vinny was prepared to ask: “how could it take you five minutes to cook your grits, when it takes the entire grit-eating world twenty minutes?” Vinny’s sheer tenacity, his refusal to quit, ultimately carries the day.

Inherit the Wind. I grew up reading history and biographies of important figures. Clarence Darrow was one of the individuals I read about, so when i discovered this film, it caught my eye. The film is based on the Scopes Monkey Trial, where Darrow went up against William Jennings Bryan. Darrow, known as the Attorney for the Damned, was called to defend a teacher arrested for teaching evolution. The notion of defending someone charged with that “crime” was a vivid illustraton for me that everyone is entitled to a defense. I grew up in church, reading the creation story, but does that give me the right to judge someone who has other ideas? My role as a lawyer is to serve as advocate for my client. It is not my role to judge someone. If I do not agree with, or believe in, a client’s position, then I might not take the case, but once the representation is accepted, my job is to zealously represent my client. That’s what Darrow did in real life, and its what Spencer Tracy did on the silverscreeen. Another illustration from the movie is the level of professionalism lawyers should have for each other. The courtroom argument may be heated, but lawyers should still treat each other with civility outside the courtroom.

In 2008, the American Bar Association ranked the 25 Greatest Legal Movies. To read that article, follow this link:


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