WHO is your favorite movie lawyer?
ACTORS love playing lawyers. Movies about the law are as essential to Hollywood history as cowboy westerns, action flicks or romantic comedies. From Sophocles to Shakespeare, Dostoyevsky to Dickens, John Grisham to Scott Turow, novelists and film directors have been enamored of the legal system for its plotlines and morality tales.
Why is the law such an attraction for artists? Most practicing attorneys know that the work itself is often tedious and repetitive—more mechanical than original, more emotionally detached than fully human. The vast majority of cases never make it to trial. The combative spirit of the profession is often expressed in angry phone calls and sniping letters. Decorum leaves little chance of addressing grievances that are emotional in nature but get mistranslated into legal complaints. The bloodless captions of plaintiffs v. defendants mask a lot of the hurt that ends up as garbled legalese.
Movies about the law are not tutorials for budding lawyers but cautionary tales for enlightened citizens—an expression of our collective longing for justice and fair treatment. Most people realize that the legal profession looks more exciting, or functions more diabolically, in a movie; but they aren’t looking to pass the bar exam. They just want to be entertained and elevated.
Here is my list of top 10 movie lawyers, in alphabetical order:
Roger Sherman Baldwin (Matthew McConaughey, Amistad, 1997)
Rudy Baylor (Matt Damon, The Rainmaker, 1997)
Atticus Finch (Gregory Peck, To Kill A Mockingbird, 1962)
Frank Galvin (Paul Newman, The Verdict, 1982)
Vincent Gambini (Joe Pesci, My Cousin Vinnie, 1992)
Col. Tad Lawson (Richard Widmark, Judgment at Nuremburg, 1961)
Mitch McDeere (Tom Cruise, The Firm, 1993)
Jan Schlictman (John Travolta, A Civil Action, 1998)
Alejandro “Sandy” Stern (Raul Julia, Presumed Innocent, 1990)
Major J.F. Thomas (Jack Thompson, Breaker Morant, 1980)
Christopher Shenfield, Attorney at Law, Burlingame, California, June 1, 2016
P.S. To watch the cross-examination of Raymond Horgan (Brian Dennehy) by Alejandro “Sandy” Stern (Raul Julia) in Presumed Innocent, click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rva_JBOkpOs