Hollywood has had an affinity for the courtroom and attorneys since its Golden Age. While lawyers in film are often depicted as dramatic and explosive, some movies poke fun at the American legal system and use the setting to introduce memorable and hilarious characters.
We asked our team for their favorite lawyer movies, and they delivered a list that runs the gamut from all-time classic legal dramas to contemporary courtroom comedies.
Here are Postali’s favorite movies about lawyers:
Just Mercy is the true story of attorney and social justice activist Bryan Stevenson and based on Stevenson’s bestselling memoir of the same name. The film depicts Stevenson’s legal career and ardent defense of Walter McMillian, a Black man wrongfully convicted of murder who is sentenced to death. After a challenging appeal, Stevenson successfully convinces the court to overturn McMillian’s sentence, freeing him after six years on death row.
Just Mercy highlights critical issues regarding wrongful conviction and how criminal
sentencing tends to discriminate against minorities. Bryan Stevenson and his Equal Justice Initiative non-profit organization have overturned dozens of wrongful convictions across the United States, showing just how much work is left to be done regarding the administration of criminal justice.
A John Grisham adaptation, this legal thriller stars an all-star cast that includes Dustin Hoffman, Gene Hackman, John Cusack, and Rachel Weisz. The film pits an idealistic lawyer, a shady jury consultant, and two people out for themselves as they all try to manipulate the jury in civil trial against a powerful gun company.
The film does deviate from the source novel a bit and there are some pretty significant liberties taken with the jury selection process. For example, Big Tobacco is replaced by a gun manufacturer, and hacking into the jury pool is made to seem laughably easy. All in all, Runaway Jury is a clever cat-and-mouse that highlights flaws in the justice system and how operating in the grey area is sometimes a necessity.
Though she isn’t a lawyer, Erin Brockovich is the true story of a legal clerk who goes above
and beyond to play an instrumental role in the case against the Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E), who illegally dumped tainted wastewater in a small Southern California town and caused devastating illness. Along with attorney Edward Masry, Brockovich uncovers the extent of PG&E’s wrongdoing and endeavors to hold the company liable for the environmental and public health harm it caused.
Thanks to Erin Brockovich’s part in establishing a class-action lawsuit against PG&E, the
company paid a $333 million settlement to residents affected by the toxic groundwater. Brockovich’s efforts and compassion show that you don’t necessarily need a J.D. to make a difference when it comes to justice.
A similar David vs. Goliath story to Erin Brockovich, Dark Waters is based on the true story of Robert Bilott, a Cincinnati corporate defense attorney who takes on a case against chemical manufacturing giant DuPont after it contaminated a West Virginia town with unregulated chemicals. The film captures Bilott’s lengthy legal battle with the chemical mega-corporation and his drive to hold it accountable for its negligence, which affected over 70,000 citizens and led to cancer, birth defects, and other chronic health problems for many.
Bilott’s multiple cases against DuPont were dragged out for years but resulted in the company paying out over $750 million in personal injury settlements. The dedication and aggressive advocacy demonstrated by Bilott in Dark Waters exemplify how passionate attorneys can create lasting change even when they face seemingly infallible opponents.
When two college friends from NY are arrested for murder and put on trial in rural Alabama, their fate rests in the hands of the only lawyer they know – “Cousin Vinny!” Despite having barely passed the bar and no experience, Vinny (Joe Pesci) and his fiancé Mona Lisa (Marisa Tomei) show up to defend them.
There are so many things to love about this movie. We love it because “I said two ‘Yutes.’” Lawyers love it because when so many movies get legal procedure wrong, My Cousin Vinny gets a lot right, teaching the audience about voir dire, cross-examination, and rules of evidence.
Mostly, we love that in the end, and thanks to Mona Lisa, the system worked. The judge, prosecutor, police chief, and even the witnesses all thought they were serving justice. But it took an adversarial system and a different (hilarious) point of view to uncover the truth.
After being dumped by her boyfriend, Elle Woods (played by Reese Witherspoon) goes on a mission to prove that she’s more than just a pretty face by enrolling in Harvard Law School and becoming a lawyer.
By smashing through stereotypes, she finds herself in the middle of a murder trial where she must cross-examine witnesses and create reasonable doubt to prove the defendant’s innocence.
Legally Blonde is outrageously funny and highlights an issue many face today regarding harmful stereotypes that hold you back in your career. This movie reminds us all to never judge a book by its cover and that unshakable confidence takes you further than you think.
12 Angry Men tells the story of 12 jurors who are left to decide the verdict of a teenager facing execution for alleged murder. Hopefully, 12 angry men aren’t deciding your verdict. But if they are, every lawyer prays for someone like Juror 8.
Played by Henry Fonda, Juror 8 takes on a defense attorney’s role casting doubt on the elements of the life-or-death case. Aside from this film being an all-time classic, it indeed sheds light on the power left in the jurors’ hands and how it’s not to be taken lightly.
Liar Liar tells the story of an attorney, Fletcher Reede (Jim Carrey), who habitually lies not only at his job but to his own family. His dedication to work and dishonest behavior hurts the ones closest to him. That is until his son makes a birthday wish, preventing his father from lying for 24 hours. This becomes a massive issue for Fletcher, who at the time is working on a divorce case where his client is dead set on lying their way to victory.
On top of being hilarious and showcasing Jim Carrey in his prime, this movie has something to say about finding a healthy work-life balance. This could be incredibly difficult in the legal industry, and it’s always important to focus on what matters most: family.
As a solo practitioner launching your new practice, working out of your car might be a real possibility until you get the ball rolling. Hopefully, your mobile office is as nice as the Lincoln Continental Mathew McConaughey uses in The Lincoln Lawyer.
McConaughey’s character, Mickey Haller, is a slick criminal defense attorney who takes any client, no matter their charges or affiliation. After taking a fairly straightforward case for attempted murder, Haller discovers the case is not what it seems, and his client turns out to be a threat to him and his entire family.
This fast-paced legal thriller is not only exciting, but it provides an interesting take on the justice system, and the position lawyers must take in each criminal defense case, whether they believe the client is innocent or guilty.
Based on Harper Lee’s classic novel, we are contractually obligated to include To Kill a Mockingbird on any list of best lawyer movies. From the point of view of his children, the film focuses on Atticus Finch, a lawyer, who believes all people deserve fair treatment as he defends a black man wrongly accused of raping a white girl.
Despite having the truth on his side, his client is ultimately convicted and killed. But it’s Atticus’s passion and commitment to stand for what’s right — conveyed through Gregory Peck’s compelling performance — that earns him a place among the best fictional lawyers and probably (at least in part) inspired you to practice law.
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