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f/k/a archives . . . real opinions & real haiku

January 8, 2008

the long and short of lawyer films

Filed under: q.s. quickies — David Giacalone @ 7:16 pm

On a sunny day when Spamalot comes to Schenectady (see Gazette photo), along with record-high temperatures, the f/k/a Gang seems especially frantic to get me to step foot outside and avoid this weblog. You’d think that would be easy, now that we’ve sworn off writing about legal ethics (and successfully overcame the temptation to join in the current blawgisphere discussion of billable hours and the status of lawyers in our society). But, alas, nothing ever seems easy or uncomplicated around here.

the morning after –
she says hindsight
is 20/40

……………………………….. dagosan

For example, an email came yesterday from Lisa Solomon, of the humor-vending Billable Hour Company, asking whether writing about a lawyer-ethics video clip [to wit, “Ethical Dropout” at BHC’s new The Video Venue] constitutes prohibited punditry these days at f/k/a. That got me thinking way too hard about politesse, parsing, punchlines, and similar p-words. It also reminded me how much I actually enjoyed, prior to getting broadband access a few months ago, being able to tell friends, “I only have a dial-up modem, so I can’t go to YouTube to marvel at your new fave video.”

Since we watched the whole thing, here is our painfully-honest, mini-review of the 5-minute TVV video “Ethical Dropout“: Didn’t laugh, lust, or learn any legal ethics.

Eventually, I decided that “pointing ain’t punditry” and I remembered — especially after reading about the up-coming truncated version of the Golden Globes — that I’ve been meaning to tell our readers about some interesting sources and resources on “lawyer films.”

Fictional lawyer “Michael Clayton” confronts many ethical issues and personal crises in the critically-acclaimed eponymous film, which is likely to be a big winner at awards shows this year (see Wikipedia for awards, and nominations; and find critic reviews)

So, without undue explanation, explication, nor exegesis, here are some links for lovers and critics of lawyers on film:

highway patrolman –
his leather jacket squeaks
taking the stand
………………………………………………. by barry george

LPOPThe Lawyer and Popular Culture Collection, housed at the U. Texas Tarlton Law Library, brings together information and materials on how the profession is portrayed in the our modern culture. As part of its collection, LPOP owns over 700 featured films and tv series about lawyers — from Abe Lincoln in Illinois (1940) to Zoot Suit (1981). Click for its alphabetical list. The website also republishes scholarly work such as “Reading/Teaching Lawyer Films,” by Prof. Prof. James R. Elkins (see our prior post on his Legal Studies Forum), Vermont Law Review, Volume 28, Number 4 (2004).

summer day
a seat in the movies
away from others

…………………….. by John StevensonUpstate Dim Sum (2004/II)

If you’re serious about the genre of lawyer films, and the discipline/past-time of legal film criticism, you will want to read the Winter 2007 edition of the Loyola of Los Angeles Law Review, which presents the “Symposium: Access to Justice: Law and Popular Culture“( Vol. 40, No. 2, 2007). You’ll find a summary of the symposium submissions in an Introduction by Prof. John T. Nockleby (at 539). The table of contents contains links to articles such as:

  • TRUTH TALES AND TRIAL FILMS, by Jessica Silbey, at 551
  • A MANIFESTO FOR VISUAL LEGAL REALISM, by Richard K. Sherwin, at 719

Prof. Elkins has taught a course on “Lawyers and Film” for many years at U. West Virginia law school. In the course he asks some important questions:

  • What can we learn about ourselves as lawyers from watching lawyer films?
  • If we are to learn something about ourselves as lawyers from films, what elements of the films–story, narrative, drama, plot, character portrayal, lawyer rhetoric, mythology, visual presentation, criticism–are of particular interest to us as lawyers?
  • How are the ideals associated with a life in law portrayed in film? What critical views and interpretations of law, lawyers, and lawyering are presented in film?
  • How are we to “read” the social, political, and cultural messages we associate with lawyer films?

In his symposium article, Elkins challenges the “reality critique”— the supposition by some legal scholars that law as portrayed on screen inaccurately represents law, lawyers, or the “legal system.” He also claims that “we know far less about the effects of popular culture on law and lawyering than we would like to think we do.”

Although I’m admitting sloth and avoiding commentary these days, I’d like to hear what blawggers — such as Anne Reed at Deliberations, Dan Solove at Law & Humanities Blog and Concurring Opinions, Anne Skove at Court-o-Rama, and Scott G-r-e-e-n-f-i-e-l-d of Simple Justice — have to say about some of the issues raised by Jim Elkins:

• Are jurors “influenced” by popular culture representations
of law and lawyers?
• Do lawyers and judges think that jurors are being influenced
by popular culture representations?
• How does the influence of popular culture representations
change the legal system?

update (Jan. 10, 2008):  Scott G. at Simple Justice has reacted to our plea above with a little punt and promise of his own.  And, Anne Skove at Court-o-rama bit at our bait with inciteful, entertaining insights “as seen on TV” (Jan. 10, 2008) that you don’t want to miss.

TVV: JDTube — Finally, I want to point you all to The Video Venue, brought to you by The Billable Hour Co. As Lisa Solomon has explained, “TVV features video clips by, for, and about lawyers, law students, and legal professionals.” Indeed, it “aggregates funny law-related videos from various web video sites (including YouTube, Revver and Google Video, among others). Videos are grouped into playlists organized by topic (such as law school, jury duty, court reporters and paralegals), practice area (such as contracts, torts and criminal law) and type of video (such as music, movie clips and commercials).” Site visitors can also create their own playlists to personalize their viewing experience, and upload their own videos (subject to review for appropriateness and quality by the site owner).

To help launch the new site, they’ve got a contest, with the winner of a $50 Billable Hour Company gift certificate to be chosen at random: “The Video Venue, a new niche video website featuring humorous law-related videos, is hosting a contest to name the funniest law-related video on the web. Contestants can enter by visiting and posting a video, or reviewing, commenting or tagging any video already on the site, which aggregates funny law-related videos from various web sites, and also allows visitors to upload their own videos.

As you know, we’re curmudgeons around here, who’ve probably never called anything “hilarious” nor promised our readers lots of yuks. We don’t spend time browsing at humor sites, or clicking randomly on video clips. So, we’re not going to rate The Video Venue. We’ve told you enough to decide whether you want to check it out. If you find TVV worthwhile, please let us know.

Warning & Disclaimer: BHC’s Mark Solomon notes that “So many of the law-related videos on sites like YouTube just bash lawyers.” He then observes that “lawyers and legal professionals appreciate content . . . and products . . . that find humor in the law without attacking lawyers. That’s what TVV is all about.”

wind-beaten marque
saying only
“Coming Soon”

the summer sun
under the exit door

…………. by John Stevenson
“wind-beaten marquee” – Some of the Silence (1999)
“matinee” – Quiet Enough (Red Moon Press, 2004)

p.s. For more on lawyer films, see our discussion of the Court TV’s 15 Most Memorable Movie Lawyers” (Hollywood Heat, by Daniel Green, May 12, 2005.)

Elvis’ birthday —
Little Sister sneaks out
to the cineplex

……………………… dagosan [Happy Anniversary to Ed and Laurice Markowski! Click for Elvis Presley doing “Little Sister” at]

drive in movie…
opening our eyes
during the love scene

……………………………………………….. ed markowski


  1. Happy belated
    Elvis’s birthday. Check out
    court-o-rama, please!

    Comment by Anne — January 10, 2008 @ 9:11 am

  2. Anne, I was at your website appreciating your posting on lawyers and pop culture when this Comment popped up here at f/k/a. I hope our readers will indeed go to see your insights on this topic. As I said in my Comment at c-o-r, the hype about your new blawg is spot-on: thoughtful and entertaining (not to mention prolific).

    Meanwhile, please check out our post “Is it or ain’t it haiku?“, so we won’t have to send the Haiku Sheriff to your neck of the woods.

    Comment by David Giacalone — January 10, 2008 @ 9:36 am

  3. Thanks!

    I know, it was a sorry excuse for a haiku!

    Comment by Anne — January 10, 2008 @ 9:48 am

  4. This post was a partial inspiration to my Blawg Review #142…Letter to a New Lawyer. Thanks.

    Comment by Susan Cartier Liebel — January 14, 2008 @ 11:31 am

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