What makes a good law-related movie? Snappy one-liners don't hurt, attorneys say

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By Tom Gantert

Jackson Legal News

There is no doubt what law-related movie Jackson attorney Peter Langley likes best.

It's "A Few Good Men"starring Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson.

"I watch it every time I see it when I'm flipping through the channels," Langley said.

Why does he like it so much?

"Besides all the great one liners in the movie, the overriding message of the movie is to seek the truth," Langley said. "As an attorney, that should be the goal of the profession. Plus, there are a lot of great direct and cross examination examples throughout the movie."

Langley admits he's repeated the now classic line from the movie "You can't handle the truth!" numerous times.

"The only other line from the movie that I use more is, 'I strenuously object,' usually followed by a chuckle," he said, referring to the inexperienced (in the courtroom) lawyer played by Demi Moore.

The American Bar Association released its list of the top 25 movies ever made about the law. The 1962 movie "To Kill A Mockingbird" was No. 1.

Many lawyers from Jackson and Washtenaw counties prefer more contemporary movies about the justice system.

Jackson attorney Rick Mills said his favorite movie was "The Verdict" starring Paul Newman.

"It seems more realistic, and it's kind of gritty," Mills said.

When Mills taught a conflict management class at Baker College last year, he showed "The Verdict" to his class.

"I thought it showed the behind-the-scenes of negotiating litigation," he said.

Mills said almost all movies about lawyers are very unrealistic. But he said he did like the 1959 movie "Anatomy of a Murder," adapted from a book written by Michigan Supreme Court Justice John Voelker, for its realism.

Here are the favorite--and in some cases, least favorite--movies of area attorneys.

Sherry Chin

Sherry Chin Law, Ann Arbor

"My favorite is "My Cousin Vinny." It was a hilarious movie and it's fun to see the law portrayed in a humorous light. I really can't think of a worst film. But as I think about best films, I would also have to add these: "Philadelphia," "The Verdict" and the original "12 Angry Men."

Angie Martell

Iglesia Martell Law Firm, Ann Arbor

"There have been so many great law-related movies it's hard to choose. "Adam's Rib," "12 Angry Men," "Amistad," "Philadelphia," "A Few Good Men," "Judgment of Nuremberg," etc. but my all-time favorite is "Erin Brockovich." It's a true story that demonstrates anything is possible! Unemployed and single mom Erin Brockovich becomes a legal assistant to bring down a California power company accused of polluting a city's water supply. Awesome!!! Least favorite is an easy choice: "The Descendants." The movie had such promise. Great topic. Great piece on the history of land issues in Hawaii (i.e. one of my favorite states in the union.) But it fell short acting and the script did not deliver. Second least favorite is "Legally Blonde." Too cheesy!"

Susan Brown

Chelsea Family Law

"Favorites because they show the best/worst of humanity and the best usually triumphs: "To Kill a Mockingbird," "The Verdict," "Anatomy of a Murder," "12 Angry Men," "A Civil Action," "Erin Brockovich."

Larry Margolis

Margolis Law, Ann Arbor

"A Few Good Men," and "Presumed Innocent" for their courtroom scenes, attorney client portrayals, and the prosecutor/defense lawyer/ judge interactions, which I found to be somewhat accurate. Least favorites: Probably any of the Grisham or Grisham-esque ones. Good entertainment, but too unrealistic to be considered legal movies."

Michael Falahee

White, Hotchkiss & Falahee, Jackson

"Favorite: "Liar, Liar." Jim Carrey is hilarious! Least Favorite: "The Paper Chase," because it reminds me of law school."

Jennifer Lamp

Jennifer V. Lamp, Attorney at Law, PLLC, Jackson

"To Kill a Mockingbird." What's not to like? The lawyer, setting aside the any personal cost to himself and his family, standing up for what is right simply because it is the right thing to do--particularly on the issue of race. And the bonus is the fine example Atticus Finch sets for his two lovely children.

(I saw this movie for the first time--after having read the book and listening to it on audio-book--at the Old Redford theater where Mary Badham, who played Scout, made a personal appearance. Very cool.)

"Soul Man" with James Earl Jones as the Harvard Law professor is also a personal favorite (although more of a law school movie). It was likely this movie that really made me want to go to law school. The movie addressed a lot of good issues: setting goals, hard work, realities about racial inequality. And, of course, there was a dash of romance.

The highlight was the ''court room'' scene where Mark Watson's roommate Gordon argues Watson's case while coming down the stairs of the Harvard lecture hall, ending nose to nose with the professor played by James Earl Jones.

"The Lincoln Lawyer" was another movie that, among other things, dealt with the conflict between a lawyer's professional code of ethics and personal code of morals.

As both "The Lincoln Lawyer" and "From the Hip" show, a good lawyer must pay attention and step carefully down the path of client representation in order to adhere to the high ethical standards attorneys are required to uphold--and yet still act in accord with one's personal set of values regarding right & wrong--all while providing the best representation to one's client.

Published: Mon, Jul 1, 2013

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