Picturing Justice, the On-Line Journal of Law and Popular Culture

A Roundtable on Minority Lawyers


As more and more minority and ethnic lawyers enter the mix, we are seeing more and more images of such lawyers in popular culture. Movies and television have for the most part failed to identify such lawyers (with the notable exception of woman laywers) as marginalized, or apart from the American mainstream. The notion that lawyers might carry remnants of their ethnic or minority past with them was alien, just as the notion that white male Anglo-American lawyers were considered the norm was never articulated. As minorities in general became more visible in popular culture so too did minority professionals: physicians, nurses, teachers, dentists, politicians---and lawyers.

Thus began the examination of the minority or ethnic lawyer as both a product of her culture and a product of the law school and legal system. What did and what do ethnic and minority lawyers bring to the practice and interpretation of law? How are they perceived by the mainstream popular culture? Do the traditional views of the legal system (the law as game, for example) hold true in popular culture representations of the minority and ethnic attorney? Has she been co-opted, is she a mole within the legal system, working for justice, or is she completely ineffectual?

In any case, in popular culture's estimation is the lawyer herself ever truly an integrated member of society, or are lawyers part of an "alien nation"? Do legal language, legal training and legal ways of thinking inevitably separate the lawyer from the lawyered? Are African American lawyers alienated both by racial identify and by cultural norms from the accepted "lawyerly mainstream"? Can Native American lawyers ever reconcile white man's law practice with the independent legal system of the reservation? Are non-Anglo-American, non-white lawyers at a disadvantage when trying to reconcile Western and non-Western notions of justice? Current television shows that examine at least some of these issues with regard to the non-white and/or non-male U.S. lawyer include Girlfriends, Any Day Now, Soul Food, and the upcoming Queens Supreme (slated for a PJ roundtable) and A.U.S.A.

This roundtable suggests that more serious study is needed regarding some of the individual and group representations of ethnic and minority lawyers. Counter-intuitively, in pop culture they are legion and include Native American lawyers, Hindu lawyers, African-American male and female lawyers, non-white judges, and the truly alien lawyer, the attorney in science fiction.

Christine Corcos

Posted January, 2003

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