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William C. Altreuter
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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

I have pretty much worked out the list of what we will be watching in my Lawyers in Movies class this semester. Thanks to everyone who made suggestions; chances are you will recognize your contributions. Subject to last minute fine-tuning, by year of release:

Counselor At Law (1933)
Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
Witness for the Prosecution (1957)
Anatomy of a Murder (1959)
Inherit the Wind (1960)
To Kill A Mockingbird (1962)
The Fortune Cookie (1966)
The Paper Chase (1973)
…And Justice for All (1979)
The Verdict (1982)
Class Action (1991)
My Cousin Vinny (1992)
A Civil Action (1998)
Legally Blonde (2001)
Laws of Attraction (2004)
Michael Clayton (2007)

Three movies from this century, three from the sixties. Two from the seventies-- a peak moment in American film, although you wouldn't necessarily know that from the lawyer movies of the period. One 80's movie, and three from the 90's. I managed to cover every decade from the 30's to date due to serendipitously coming across Counselor At Law. There's a funny story about Counselor At Law, but it's not my story, so if TCA wants to tell it, that's what the comments section is for.

Who can identify the only director who has two movies on the list? Anybody care to opine as to which movie has the most accurate depiction of a trial?

I was worried that criminal law would dominate, but it hasn’t, really. If you will allow me the notion that Inherit the Wind and To Kill A Mockingbird are really about civil rights and intellectual freedom respectively, then only four are criminal law movies. (And if you reject that notion, well, that’s still only six criminal law movies—still less than half.) We’ve got environmental law, and matrimonial law and a strong showing from the tort bar. There’s a competency hearing.

What didn’t make the cut? "Philadelphia" (1993) would be a worthy inclusion. I was overloaded with 90's movies, and I am not sure if it holds up. What works in "Philadelphia" is mostly the acting. We've reached the point where the students in the class are likely to find the social point that the movie makes pretty obvious. "Legal Eagles" (1986) is movie I was prepared to dislike, but I think there is actually a good movie in there trying to get out. It has pacing problems, but it is thematically well composed in a way that is subtle and surprisingly sophisticated for a movie with so many explosions. I nearly included "Chicago" (2002), to have a musical in the mix. I didn’t because I wanted to avoid over-balancing the criminal law in the mix, but it’s certainly a movie that might get shuffled in some time down the road.

I’m sure there are plenty more that I’ve missed, so I remain open to suggestions. (Not ‘up for grabs’, but open to suggestions.) This is an ongoing project. I’d like to showcase more women in the law, for example, unless they are Katherine Hepburn. I’d like to see more about transactional law, and ADR.

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