On this incredibly scientific list of lawyer-movie scenes, we have an array of legal issues, but family law is the most common. Divorce is apparently funnier than murder in the movies.
But for those of you keeping score, we’ve got:
- Divorce / Family Law (4)
- Murder (2)
- First Amendment (1)
- Contract Negotiation (1)
- Criminal Law Maybe? (1)
- “Fraud, inciting to riot, and using the word ‘thighs’ in mixed company” (1)
Divorce is tough. People can get very passionate. Thankfully, having Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson as your mediators (do they charge the parties for both mediators? It seems a bit unnecessary) makes the process less stressful. When they are not crashing weddings (and potentially causing some future divorces), they help couples navigate divorce pragmatically.
Putting a positive spin on infidelity and urging the parties to move on with their lives, they do their jobs well.
How often do we see divorce mediators in movies? This might be a first.
Dana Marschz (pronounced even more awkwardly than it reads) is a high school drama teacher who conceives a sequel to Hamlet involving Jesus and a time machine, and Dana wants the high school to perform it. The town tries to censor the play, and that is when our lawyer-hero steps in.
Amy Poehler is your ACLU free speech attorney and she wants to win.
Unfortunately, she only appears briefly in the movie. I am waiting for her spinoff though.
A billionaire, played by Robert Redford, agrees to pay Demi Moore and Woody Harrelson for one night with Moore. Then Harrelson’s lawyer gets involved to make sure the deal is legal. Because whenever you rent out your spouse to a billionaire for a night, you are most concerned with legality.
Oliver Platt, playing Harrelson’s lawyer, is a serious negotiator. We should all be so lucky to have someone like him on our side. He is also concerned about the moral issues involved.
My Cousin Vinny
Once you saw this article title, you knew My Cousin Vinny would be on the list.
We could not have a list of funny lawyer movie scenes without recognizing My Cousin Vinny. Representing two yutes in a murder case in rural Alabama, New York City lawyer Vincent LaGuardia Gambini, played by Joe Pesci, comes to town to save the day. Come to think of it, did he ever get pro hac vice? He probably wasn’t admitted to practice in Alabama and New York.
Sandler plays an attorney-turned-toll-booth-operator (for reasons that aren’t really explained, but just go with it) in a movie filled with an assortment of overt product placements ranging from McDonald’s to Hooters to Barney’s.
Jon Stewart also makes a brief appearance in the movie.
This clip is a teachable moment—it demonstrates the need to vet your character witnesses beforehand. Seriously, I know he’s a tollbooth operator, but he brought along four of his lawyer friends to act as co-counsel and apparently not one of them thought to bring reputable character witnesses; prepare their witnesses; keep the booze away from the alcoholic witness, or clean up the homeless guy. Sandler even has to bribe a witness to get his testimony back on track.
I am pretty sure there is a trial rule that you shouldn’t ask a question you don’t know the answer to, and that’s completely ignored here. Really sloppy stuff.
Divorce lawyer, Jim Carrey, can’t lie because his neglected son made a birthday wish. That makes suborning perjury tough.
Though, even with the shackles of veracity, Carrey makes a last-minute save to his case with a new discovery and a reminder about the difference between void and voidable agreements.
Airplane II: The Sequel
They made a sequel? Yes, and it’s not bad. Same kind of gags as the first one. Sonny Bono is in it. And, bonus, a courtroom scene. If you liked the slapstick style of the original, the sequel is amusing. The guy who speaks “jive” makes a return, and this time he gets subtitles since he doesn’t have Barbara Billingsley to translate for him.
Who or what is on trial is completely irrelevant. Somehow the result of this trial is that Ted Stryker gets committed to a mental institution.
Woody Allen plays his own defense lawyer (generally not a good move, but whatever) after he overthrows the government of a fictitious Latin American country. Upon his return to the United States, he is charged with fraud, inciting to riot, and using the word “thighs” in mixed company.
Allen could do a better job objecting to opposing counsel’s questions, though his cross-examination while being bound and gagged is genius. It should be required viewing for any law school trial skills class. Take notes.
You knew this one would be here too. Reese Witherspoon gets into Harvard Law, taken on as an associate while still a 1L, interviews witnesses, and cross-examines witnesses in a murder trial, getting the killer to confess to the crime. And all you did your 1L year was cry in the stacks while trying to figure out the Erie Doctrine.
This movie is Rocky for law school movies. It makes you think that if you work hard, say your prayers, and eat your vitamins, you can do anything. In the course of a short montage, Elle goes from a 143 LSAT to a 179.
Just compare the Rocky IV training montage with the Legally Blonde LSAT studying montage. Basically a shot-for-shot remake.
Legally Blonde has probably done more to lower prospective law students’ expectations on the difficulties of getting into and succeeding in a top-tier law school than any other film. In fact, I can prove it. Legally Blonde came out in July 2001. In 2000-2001, the LSAT was administered 109,030 times (some people may have taken it multiple times). In 2001-2002, that number jumped 23% to 134,251.
In no other year has there been such a sharp increase in the number of times the LSAT has been taken. Since there is definitely nothing else that could explain this increase, the only logical conclusion goes back to Legally Blonde. If you went to law school any time from 2002-2009 and hate your life now, it is probably because of this movie.
Fun fact: this is not Reese Witherspoon’s only appearance on-screen as a lawyer. In American Psycho, she plays an ACLU lawyer, though that fact is only mentioned in passing.
Another divorce case, who would have guessed? I bet these screenwriters had terrible divorces and ended up thinking “this would be a crazy movie scene.”
Clooney plays Miles, a lawyer for a wealthy client trying to prevent his spouse from getting anything in the divorce. While his case seemed nearly hopeless, he manages to track down a witness critical to his case.
The judge is super-lenient when it comes to the rules of evidence and objections. Miles helps out opposing counsel, reminding him that objecting is futile.
This is also not Clooney’s only appearance on-film as a lawyer. He was also a lawyer in Michael Clayton, The Descendants, and Batman and Robin.
Originally published 2014-12-24. Republished 2017-06-30.