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Leonardo Angiulo: How Hollywood Misses the Mark with its Portrayal of Lawyers in the Movies

Monday, July 30, 2012

 

Over the past decade or so there have been some good movies about lawyers in courtrooms. Lots of times the movies will highlight some truths about the practice of law and lifestyle of lawyers in general. Sometimes, though, screenwriters put things in movies about lawyers that are so far from the truth its ridiculous. As in, some things that you see in the movies are way, way off the mark.

Lets take the movie Fracture for example. If you haven't seen it, Ryan Gosling plays the young Assistant District Attorney with a record for winning and Anthony Hopkins plays the cagey old business man suspected of shooting his trophy wife. Hopkins' character then chooses to represent himself at trial. Without revealing too much of the plot, which has some interesting elements, the gist of it is Hopkins neutralizes the Government's central witness against him and plays a dunce at trial while actually mopping the floor with Gosling.

So, the truth in this movie is that jurors don't like it when a witness has a stake in the outcome of a case or is otherwise biased in their testimony. Especially when that bias isn't revealed during direct examination. Being called out as a liar or being caught shading the truth during cross examination is usually a good way to lose a case. While this moment of cross examination isn't usually as dramatic as it was in this film, the principle is there.

Of course, there are some parts of Fracture that are a little off the mark. To start, I acknowledge the film was set in Los Angeles. Okay. Life is different there. But the dude was an assistant district attorney under thirty years old driving a classic BMW to work everyday. Let me tell you, I don't care if you are the only Attorney in North America that doesn't have student loans. What I know about old BMWs is that there is no way to keep up with those maintenance costs while holding a position in public service. Sad but true. How about the part where Gosling got an obviously handmade tux delivered to his office? Let me be clear: if you work for any D.A.'s office in the Commonwealth it is very unlikely you will ever be ordering a handmade tux. And you definitely won't get it delivered to the office. That would probably cause a little controversy given the low salaries and exorbitant costs of such an item.

Then there's the movie the Lincoln Lawyer. Now here’s a story about a defense attorney who likes what he does, is good at what he does and has a family that he tries to see when he can. The trial scenes are fairly accurate and, with a little Hollywood embellishment, show the kind of background research and homework that goes into building a defense.

Of course, there were a couple parts in this movie that just don't work. Lets take, for example, the fact that this guy doesn't have an office. Just a Lincoln Town Car. Let me say that I love these cars. Sure the back seats provide enough room for client meetings and you could probably fit a couple of filing cabinets in the trunk. But the reality is that there is more to being a lawyer than driving from courthouse to courthouse. You also have obscene amounts of research and reading. Then there is all the writing of memorandums that are essential to effectively representing parties at trial. I didn't see one computer or printer in that Lincoln.

The reality is, part of being an attorney means you are involved in some tense and dramatic situations. And the truth is that committing yourself to the preparation of cases and getting results for people is very rewarding. And, sure, some parts of this work make for good movies. Sometimes, though, when lawyer movies get a little too Hollywood it gives the public an impression of this profession that's something less than accurate. 

 

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