Many people become lawyers because they have been exposed to an outstanding lawyer who sparked their interest in the legal field. In some cases, the lawyer may not actually be a real person but a character in a movie or a television show. While media portrayals of lawyers can sometimes be exaggerated like any other character, we have to admit that some lawyers in the cinema realm have been a great source of influence and inspiration for many.
Here’s a list of a few of the most influential lawyers in cinema history:
Tom Cruise as Lt. Daniel Kaffee in “A Few Good Men” (1992): Lt. Kaffee was involved in many solid iconic courtroom moments in A Few Good Men (i.e., the “You can’t handle the truth!” scene). In particular, Kaffee showcased one of the most exciting parts of trial: the cross-examination. The movie also alerted the world to the existence of alternative legal career avenues such as the military’s JAG program.
Matthew McConaughey as Jake Brigance in – “A Time to Kill” (1996): Many cite Attorney Brigance’s courtroom speech as one of the most moving and inspirational arguments on the big screen. His speech highlights one of the most important aspects of lawyering: persuasion. Brigance uses a mix of vivid imagery and logic to paint a mental and emotional picture that has stuck with viewers over the years.
Benicio del Toro as Dr. Gonzo in “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas”(1998): Dr. Gonzo steals the show as one of the more eccentric and unconventional lawyer characters in movie history. His escapades with Raoul Duke create a novel spin on another important aspect of lawyering—the attorney-client relationship. Dr. Gonzo’s catch phrase of “As your lawyer, I advise you to…” is highly entertaining, although it may not always be within the bounds of ethical conduct.
Reese Witherspoon as Elle Woods in “Legally Blonde” (2001): Personally, I can’t stand this movie and I can’t stand Witherspoon’s character here either. But I have listed Elle Woods here because many suspect that this movie may have increased law school applications dramatically during the years following its theatrical release. Take a look at this chart of LSAT tests administered. From 1996-2000, the numbers are hovering at the 105,000-109,000 range. Legally Blonde was released in 2001, and that year and every year following, the numbers skyrocketed to the 130,000-150,000 range. Coincidence? Maybe, maybe not.
Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch in “To Kill a Mockingbird” (1962): Atticus Finch is the embodiment of lawyerly ideals. He exemplifies courage, social justice, awareness, and integrity. On top of all this, he is able to balance his work and remain a powerful influence in his family’s life. Even non-lawyers and non-legal professionals have gleaned life lessons from Atticus Finch.
While media portrayals of the courtroom can be wildly dramatized, they are still influential nonetheless and continue to shape our perception of the legal field today. Feel free to share your favorite onscreen or in-print lawyers in the comments below!