Recently, PJ heard from
a lawyer who was searching for a film to use in training his
interns. Here is the question the lawyer posed:
Films Help Train Lawyers?
I am at a non-profit public interest law firm. Many of our interns
come expecting to do some glamorous work or spend their time
researching really interesting legal points. They view with disdain
having to review boxes of documents. I am looking for a film
to show our interns at the beginning of the summera film
that will emphasize the role of careful fact development in a
case.Your suggestion will be appreciated.
Some of the PJ editors put
on their thinking caps and responded as follows:
My personal favorite is the Costa-Gavras film, "Z".
It shows how careful fact development can lead to the highest
levels of government. [Rob Waring]
I think A Civil Action makes some good use of the importance
of developing facts and the use of documents. [Paul Joseph]
The lawyers question got us to thinking about the question
of whether there were films which could be used to help train
lawyers and whether there are any films which every lawyer should
We invite the readers of PJ to post their own suggestions for
films that lawyers ought to see. Tell us the name of the film
and why it should be "required" viewing for lawyers.
Please post your comments here.
Reader responses for films
that lawyers ought to see:
From: Christine Corcos
<ccorcos at lsu.edu>
On my list of must-see films for lawyers and law students are
thefollowing: Anatomy of a Murder, valuable for the ethical
questions and for the development of the defense. Witness for the Prosecution, a lawyer with what looks like a losing
case manages to come up with a convincing story to sell the jury
(at least that's what he thinks he has done). Inherit the Wind, useful for how an attorney approaches a "no-win"
From: Ioana R. Mondescu: This is a comment on the comment:
"Movies a lawyer should see" and it goes like this:
Devil's Advocate -every lawyer should see this one. This
movie is a vivid depiction of the danger inherent in identifying
yourself with your profession; it makes you think about your
personal life in relation to the ractice of law, a thing that
law school doesn't teach you and law firms never mention. This
film forces you to realize and accept that you can't have brilliance
From: K. Eaton (mahjongg at att.net)
There are a lot of fine suggestions...I would add these for your
consideration: I was shown "Gideon's Trumpet" w/Henry
Fonda in my crim. proc. class. It's got all sides in their, the
client, the judges, and attorneys. The interactions remain timely
and of course, it is about the Gideon Case, from whence all public
interest grew. Most people haven't seen it. Also "Presumed
Innocent" and "The Witness," both w/Harrison Ford,
and any of the John Grisham books on film. "The Client"
with Susan Sarandon's Reggie Love is my personal favorite.These
all bring the audience into the film and leaves them talking,
too.The drawback is here, most people have seen these.There don't
seem to be many with an ethnic star or voice yet, that isn't
about police or investigators. I guess we'll just have to wait
for those, but no doubt, they'll be as well done.
From: william wohl <commandoz at aol.com>
on Picturing Justice
Question: I thought your site would have more on the interaction
between the law (courts & cases) and the media as in news
T.V and print news. Do you have any articles on the above?
Paul Joseph's Response: A complete list of articles can
be found in the archives (see the list on the home page). If
the article you seek is not there----write it. PJ is always looking
for submissions. See the submission guidelines on the home page.
James R. Elkins <jelkinsa at labs.net> Professor of
Law, West Virginia University
Judith Grant (USC) referred me to the new web-site and I'm delighted
to learn of its existence. The site is timely, wonderfully simple
and the graphics a perfect fit to the subject. You'll have done
a good job and I hope to visit often. I am teaching a course
on Lawyers and Film (for the first time) in the Spring semester
and look forward to having the students in the course visit the
site and participate in the on-going discussion your reviews
and commentary (and ours in the course) may generate.
Caroline Van Howe <cvh at synon.com>
Great to see this kind of serious stuff on the web. I also like
the graphics - clear, clean and simple. Maybe, one day, we'll
be able to use those adjectives about Justice Itself! (or Herself).
Christine Corcos <ccorcos at unix1.sncc.lsu.edu>
Very nice site, easy to navigate. I hope to see more essays and
cites to recent publications. This will be a helpful site for
people doing research and trying to get a handle on the exciting
but unwieldy area of law and film.
Le May <Denis.Lemay at bibl.ulaval.ca> University Laval,
Graphical representations of the
law and critical appraisals of same are scarce indeed and that
seems perfectly all right considering the fact that law is primarily
a written medium in our civilization.
This being said, the rest of the world still exists and it is
with no surprise that we often see representations of the law,
justice and the legal world in graphical form (paintings, cartoons,
In the videosphere, the corresponding arts are of course, movies
and television. It is thus entirely fitting and of the utmost
interest to collect many representations of justice in these
Congratulations to these inspired web creators, they're the ones
who prove beyond doubt that on a clear net, you can SEE forever!
John Brigham <brigham at polsci.umass.edu>
I enjoyed Picturing Justice and believe I might spend a good
deal of time with it. I did some research a few years ago on
images of civil liberties because I believe that with many of
our liberties we have a picture in our mind, like the segregated
lunch counter or the burning flag.
Phillips <Anne.Phillips at vuw.ac.nz>
I liked the web site for its witty commentary and critical analysis
of the Hollywood version of the North American legal system.
Despite being a senior member of the Bar in New Zealand I suspended
disbelief and viewed the U.S. particularly as offering a shonky
criminal justice legal system where rules were made to be broken.
Just shows the power of the silver screen and O J Simpson.
John Grisham's novels have spawned a film industry and the comments
of the reviewers on A Time To Kill and The Rainmaker
deserve wider distribution. A Time To Kill contained a
tangled message indeed and used a one-dimensional and stereotypical
lawyer as the defense attorney. The Rainmaker has not
yet been released here probably because The Devil's Advocate
is playing and it is bad business to have too many lawyers as
protagonists in films. Lawyers are unpopular here too.
Richard B. Bernstein <rbernstein at nyls.edu> Professor,
New York Law School and Brooklyn College/CUNY I'm impressed with PICTURING JUSTICE and I will
be sending my students to visit this website.
Deborah B. Luyster <brumback at aol.com>
An outstanding idea and opportunity
for us to share our ideas about justice and to question our assumptions
about the concept of law in society. Thank you.
Abbie Eales <abbie at cats5.demon.co.uk>
I'm an undergraduate student at
the University of Portsmouth in the UK. I was hoping to write
my dissertation on the device of using courtroom dramas as an
examination of prejudice. I was daunted by the lack of research
that had been done into the topic, but now this web page has
given me some fresh ideas.
From: Carlos Aparicio
<caparici at chasque.apc.org> Associate Professor, Universidad
de la República, Montevideo, Uruguay
One of the best pages I saw on law and people. I'm professor
of Law at Montevideo Law School Uruguay, and I cited your page
and opinions to my classes.
From: John Wendt
<jtwendt at stthomas.edu>
This is absolutely amazing!!!! It will be fabulous for the classes
I teach! Thanks!!!
From: John Morgan
Greetings, I was wondering how I could acquire a copy of Khaled
Abou El Fadl's piece on The Siege. I couldn't find it
on the Picturing Justice website anywhere, but it notes he wrote
one in the sidebar to the joint piece on Rules of Engagement.
Thank you, John Morgan
From: tamara (ts3904
I am searching for the article What, if any one thing is a
lawyer. I was hoping you could give me the exact web address
for the article. thank you.
From: Kent Anderson
(AndersonK at law.anu.edu.au) found us through: World of mouth.
Greetings. I am a senior lecturer in law (i.e., associate professor
in American English) at Australian National University. I am
planning to introduce a Law and Cinema component to the faculty;
first, informally and later academically. Earlier I had a lot
of fun teaching a Law and
Society through Popular Media course while I was an associate
professor at Hokkaido University in Japan (see http://www.cmmi.gr.jp/jalo4/pdf/anderson.pdf).
I am writing to try to locate video copies of the old Paper Chase
television series-THE PAPER CHASE (20 Century Fox; television
program, 1978, 1983, 1985). I would greatly appreciate any suggestions
of where I might find copies or even offers to lend old copies
if someone has some. NTSC tapes are fine as most players here
now allow playback on our PAL system. I would also love to see
the new First Monday series, but imagine it will probably make
its way over eventually. Thanks. Best regards. Kent
From: Nina Rosenstand, Professor of Philosophy, San Diego
Mesa College (nrosenst at sdccd.net), found us through: Random
What a delightful website. I have been using films to teach my
college students ethics and other topics in philosophy for many
years, and have included movie summaries in my philosophy textbooks.
In the upcoming 5th edition of my ethics textbook, The Moral
of the Story, I will include a reference to this website
as an example of the didactic value of films in various professional
From: Elisabeth Friedman <elisabeth.friedman at wmich.edu>
Department of Political Science
on John Denvir's article: Ally McBeal
Subject: Ally the dimwit
I agree with your characterization of Ally McBeal as a "relationship"
show and am also distressed that this is the way a woman lawyer
who is finally worthy of her own show is presented. But I found
even more to object to in at least the first episode. Not only
is Ally more concerned with her relationships than her law practice
and cynical about her job, but also she is portrayed as shallow,
silly and easy to take advantage of. Sexual harassment, which
is a workplace-related hazard that many young women face when
moving into spheres of action that have been constructed and
are still largely maintained by men, is introduced almost immediately
in Ally's caseonly to be resolved by a) her departure from
her first job and b) having her clever, cynical, greedy new boss
bring the perpetrator to justicenot Ally. Ally gets into
ridiculous situations in the bathroom of her firm. And of course
(of course!) she wears miniskirt-based suits. Sigh. Another opportunity
From: Michael Asimow, UCLA Law School
<asimow at law.ucla.edu>
In his review of Ally McBeal, John Denvir appropriately
calls attention to the gross sexual stereotyping of the storyline.
Interestingly, however, sexual stereotyping of female lawyers
is far worse in film than on television.
In film, with the single exception of Adam's Rib, female lawyers
are invariably portrayed in a negative light. Some are merely
incompetent (Philadelphia, A Few Good Men). Some can't control
their emotions (In the Name of the Father.) Most have
appalling ethics; who could forget Maggie Ward in Class Action
betraying her client by going over to the other side or Laura
Fischer in The Verdict who functions as a sexual spy.
Many female lawyers have disastrous taste in selecting sexual
partners; Jagged Edge is one of numerous examples of female
lawyers sleeping with their clients. Most have disastrous personal
lives. In short, filmmakers invariably portray female lawyers
in film in a shockingly negative light.
In television, however, the picture is far more balanced. Ally
McBeal is somewhat exceptional, I think. Many (though not
all) of the female lawyers on L. A. Law were admirable
lawyers and human beings. Female lawyers are presented favorably
on The Practice and Law and Order.
What accounts for the differences between female lawyers on film
and TV? One difference, I believe, is that television is character-driven.
People won't tune into a series every week to see repulsive characters;
they need to identify with and like the people they invite into
their living rooms. Film, however, is more plot-driven; viewers
don't mind seeing repulsive people on the screen if they are
part of a good story.
In addition, television has to be acceptable to commercial sponsors.
Sponsors don't like too much stereotyping in entertainment products
with which they're associated; it could trigger protests. My
prediction is that Ally McBeal won't last long, but then
it's often a mistake to overestimate the taste of TV viewers.
From: Jeanne F. Stott
<smclaims at well.com>
on Rob Waring's article: The People vs. Larry Flynt
The First Amendment to Larry Flynt was the cost of doing business.
A Nazi has the right to speak. Why not Larry Flynt? The film
confused Flynt's motive with our right to speak freely. His lawyers
made their best legal arguments. It is to our benefit that he
won the case. He has the right to speak and make a living. Isn't
the question why Hustler sells? (i.e. woman in meat grinder on
cover) Why did Milos Foreman & Oliver Stone portray Larry
Flynt as a hero? Because he paid his lawyers?
Jerry Goldman <j-goldman at nwu.edu> Northwestern University,
Department of Political Science
I found your site engaging and thought-provoking. And I appreciate
the link to The OYEZ Project! Might
be interesting to compare The People v. Larry Flynt with
the actual argument in Hustler v. Falwell. But you have plenty
of good ideas on your own. Count
on me to visit again. I'll be sure to alert my students to your
From: M. Jane Lawhon <MJaneLawhon at compuserve.com>
on Wilda White's article: Imagine ... Justice (A Time to Kill)
Excellent article. I wondered what ever happened to Wilda L.
White. I used to read her incisive commentary when she wrote
for the Miami Herald.
From: David Fielding
<dhfielding at aol.com>
All well said, but not long after I read Ms. White's comments,
I was visited in my daydreams by an apparition who said, "yeah,
but they got what they deserved." As for Ms. White's whereabouts,
I too would like to hear more from her. She's really a straight
From: Shelley Johnson <sjohnson at mfi.com>
on Michael Asimow's article: The Practice
The Practice is one my my favorite shows of all time.
I have been paying attention to the credits on episodes I've
seen, and usually the episodes have been written by the excellent
David E. Kelley. The episode where Ellenor is sued by a hapless
podiatrist for emotional distress when she refuses to go out
with him was riveting.
The man playing the black lawyer (right now I can't think of
his name) is one of the best actors on TV. I've seen him in guest
shots on other shows, and he is always phenomenal. I'm so glad that the show is not being
cancelled. I hear that folks love Ally McBeal,and I find
it incredibly tiresome...
From: John Denvir
<denvirj at usfca.edu>
I wholeheartedly agree with Michael Asimow's suggestion that
The Practice episode on the death penalty deserves an
Emmy. I'd say it was more effective than Dead Man Walking.
While Jimmy was great in that episode, I think his sweet shyness
is starting to get a bit cloying. I would suggest the best character
Flynn Boyle as the sexually predatory acid-tongued prosecutor,
a girl not at all like dear old mom.
Caplow <scaplow at brooklaw.edu>
My biggest dilemma this semester is how to get home from my Monday
night class in time to watch The Practice. Almost every
show raises an ethical issue which is worth chewing over. Although
it is almost impossible to raise such issues without resorting
to excesses in order to enhance the dramatic conflict, the core
issues are always provocative. I
also think Eugene is the most skillful trial attorney ever depicted
on T.V. His cross-exam of an eyewitness in a mugging was masterful
and succinct. His United States of America summations are brilliant,
and all the more so because the viewer is on to his trick. Finally,
while the show was still on Saturdays at 10 PM, when those of
us with no social life were first hooked, Eugene handled the
case of a one-legged mugger who lied on the stand. This episode
was a terrific example of how storytelling can be persuasive.
Since the client told Euegene in mid-trial that his previous
story had been a lie, Eugene had to put on a "narrative"
direct. The defendant told a wonderful story about how people
(the victim) refuse to look at homeless, one-legged beggars so
naturally she wouldn't be able to tell him from his friend, the
other one-legged beggar down the street. Catch it in reruns if
you missed it.
PS I have my 11-year old son tape Ally McBeal. I am a
From: Jo Flack <jflack at labyrinth.net.au>
on Stan Ross' article: Brilliant Lies
The film Brilliant Lies was based on the play of the same
name and is, in fact, very close to the original play being very
"stagey" in its approach and almost word for word the
same as the original. The only additions are the flashbacks which
the audience is left to construct in the stage version. The characterizations,
point of view are mostly accurate reflections of an Australian
understanding of the problem.Your site is very good and as a
teacher of media studies in Victoria, Australia I shall be recommending
it to my students. BTW Brilliant Lies is currently being
studied by final year high school students as a set text in English.
From: Colin Glassey <cglassey at teleologic.com>
on Paul Joseph's article: Ultima Online
I commend Mr. Joseph for his willingness to treat Ultima Online
(UO) seriously. I think UO raises even more interesting
questions than Mr. Joseph mentions. For example: many player
created "guilds" have come into existence. Are these
guilds any less "real" than the "Elks Lodge"
of Albany? Some players have acknowledged
another player as the "Mayor" of one city in the game
(Ponfar the Mayor of Yew). Is he in fact the "Mayor"
of this city? Things exist
in many ways (from administrative boundaries all the way to money
itself) simply because a large group of people agree that they
exist. Is it not possible that elements within this "virtual
reality" could take on a meaning beyond that of the game?
John Perry Barlow argued a year and a half ago that the Internet
was "independent" from current governments. I can see
a time when "citizens" of a virtual world based on
the Internet will hold more allegiance to their virtual world,
than they do to their current "physical" residence.
Will they be right in some meaningful sense?
Theodore Fritz <janfritz at mail.bright.net>
I am an avid UO player, who has been seriously disappointed
with the apparent and complete dishonesty with almost every other
player in the game. I am thrilled that someone else has noticed
this... believe me I wish that there was some way to enforce
better conduct besides just asking people to help "gang"
up on the more infamous of killers. I have had several bad experiences
on UO and am considering canceling my account because
they (unethical players) are getting so far out of hand. So far
I have encountered con men, thieves, liars, and killers. I am
disgusted with the lack of consequence that these actions have...
Ted apprentice miner (GL) from Minoc
Marrs <LEEMARRS at aol.com>
Another older game to check online is Meridian 59, which faced
related violent behavior to UO. The guardians merely removed
rampant killers from playing the game rather than dealing with
their avatars inside game play. The same held for other types
of persistent hassling. The good vigilante groups popped up immediately
at M59, as well as a tendency for male players to choose female
avatars. This came from an observed pattern that females were
less likely to be instantly attacked - conversation was almost
always the initial behavior. This protected "good behavior"
newbies & provided "bad behavior" vets with a disarming
moment to attack them! Don't know M59's current state 'cause
I'm in the Mac universe now & it's PC.
From: Lizette Arana <110214.637 at compuserve.com>
on Rob Waring's article: Amistad
Entertaining, maybe a bit long but the whole concept of picture
justice makes it unique and is not that true of law creeping
inside all of us in one way or another. Then again, one can practically
sue someone for anything even for a cup of coffee that is hotter
than it's supposed to be. txs!
From: Paul Romaine
<romaine at gilderlehrman.com>
Nice site. Rob Waring says that Justice Joseph Story doesn't
include JQA's arguments before the court because "he failed
to submit it." JQA did publish them separately. (Reprinted
in 1968 or 1969 by Arco.)
Howard Jones in his definitive study of the Amistad case
(Oxford, 1989; rev. 1997), writes that Story dismissed JQA's
arguments (as irrelevant, per Jones) and used Baldwin's strictly
legal arguments to arrive at his decision. It's hard to believe
that justices like Taney would [have] accept[ed] Story's decision
if he had used JQA's arguments. Read Jones, who used Story's
From: Lauren Gilbert <gilbert
Just a small comment regarding the discussion of Amistad.
At several points, the commentator refers to the film as having
a "happy ending". It is important to recall that when
the main character returned to his village in Sierra Leone, he
found that it had been destroyed and his family killed in an
internal conflict. I thought Amistad was a great movie
about slavery and about the legal system, but it certainly didn't
have a happy ending.
From: Bill and Joan Coleman
<wpc at wpcmath.com>
We liked the review of Amistad very much, and were impressed
by its thoughtfulness. However, on the main issue, we would like
to respectfully disagree. We
have posted a review on our site
http://www.wpcmath.com/films/amistad/amistad.html that discusses
yours extensively, and would like to hear your comments.
We hope we have made it clear,
both here and in our review, that this is much more of a fan
letter than a flame.