While lawyers might get a bad rap in reality, Hollywood has long had a fascination with our lives and careers.
In fact, some of the best movies ever made have been about lawyers.
But that doesn’t mean those films accurately portray what being a lawyer is like. Or, in some cases, even come close.
Are the movies about lawyers listed below the ones that get being a lawyer the most wrong? Maybe, maybe not. But one thing’s for certain: None of us is able to sit down and watch any of them without some objections about how lawyers are portrayed.
Legally Blonde (2001)
This one gets being a lawyer and a law school student, like, totally wrong. No offense to Reese Witherspoon and her charming character Elle Woods, as the movie itself is funny and has a satisfying ending. But there’s just no way so much of what happens in the film could ever happen in real life.
First of all, that video “admissions essay” that got her into Harvard Law? Wouldn’t happen. Woods and some of her 1L classmates then take on a prestigious internship with Professor Callahan that might be realistic for third-year students, but definitely not those at the very beginning of law school. And finally, as a 1L Woods would never be permitted to question a witness in criminal court, which means the movie’s climax is just flat-out off.
The Firm (1993)
If The Firm were realistic, the L.A. Times quoted one lawyer as saying, “it would be people sitting around in a library—and no one would want to watch it.” While the film is based on a novel by an actual lawyer (John Grisham), it portrays lawyers’ lives as far too glamorous and action-packed. As we all know, most of the work we do happens in front of a computer screen.
So, no, lawyers don’t spend most of their time on the job dodging bullets, laundering money, or working with the mafia. And students studying for the bar certainly don’t jet off to the Cayman Islands, as Tom Cruise’s character Mitch McDeere does in The Firm. The movie is thrilling and suspenseful, but its portrayal of lawyers’ lives leaves a lot to be desired.
…And Justice For All (1979)
Don’t get us wrong; we love Al Pacino, and his performance as Arthur Kirkland earned him an Oscar nomination. But that doesn’t mean the film didn’t have so much about being a lawyer so “out of order.” (In case you haven’t seen it, this is the movie that includes the famous line “You’re out of order! You’re out of order! The whole trial is out of order!”)
In …And Justice For All, Pacino plays an attorney who must represent a judge who committed rape. During his opening statement, Kirkland declares that the judge (who also happens to be his nemesis) is guilty. Sure, this tanks his future career prospects, but at least at the end of the film we can all rest assured that the guilty judge will go to jail. Except … that’s not how it would work at all. In reality, Kirkland would be guilty of legal malpractice and a mistrial would be declared. So much for that happy ending.
The Lincoln Lawyer (2011)
In The Lincoln Lawyer, Matthew McConaughey plays a boozing defense attorney who operates out of his car—a Lincoln Continental. Get it? Lincoln lawyer! So clever!
For the purposes of the film, his car-office adds dimension to his character, but in reality, lawyers need offices with internet connections to get anything done. The “officemobile” would never actually work. The movie also never really shows McConaughey’s character Mickey Haller doing any actual, you know, work. What we do see is Haller lie to a judge and reach some pretty questionable legal conclusions.
Liar Liar (1997)
Even when you set aside the fact that the premise—a lawyer who suddenly can’t tell any kind of lie—is pure fantasy, pretty much everything about Jim Carrey’s character Fletcher Reede in Liar, Liar gets being a lawyer wrong. But it’s the courtroom scene at the culmination of the film that’s really off.
If you don’t cringe during Carrey’s … shall we say “preemptive” … courtroom celebration, you should probably head back to law school for a refresher. No lawyer would ever pull off a Michael Jordan impression while screaming “swoosh!” in court. Especially since Reede technically hasn’t even won his case yet, and would likely very soon be up against another court case he’d probably lose.