I'm going to allow this.
December 16, 2011 9:48 PM   Subscribe

Looking for movies with accurate depictions of legal proceedings.

I'm re-taking the bar at the end of February, doing things right this time after a tough year. I'm trying to get excited about the field again. Last night, I watched The People vs. Larry Flynt, which I hadn't seen since it was first out, and was loving the fact that, due to much of the courtroom dialog being taken from actual steno notes, and the biographical nature of it, that the movie was actually pretty accurate about the practice of law, as opposed to falling into the usual cliched mistakes.

I'm looking for other movies which can get me back into the game over the next few weeks, as my Barbri classes don't begin until January 3.

posted by Navelgazer to Law & Government (16 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
My lawyer dad can't stop raving about the accuracy of the old film Anatomy of a Murder.
posted by steinsaltz at 9:59 PM on December 16, 2011

I also was going to say Anatomy of a Murder.
posted by JimN2TAW at 10:35 PM on December 16, 2011

It's not a movie but the entire collection of the original Law & Order is now available for streaming on Netflix. I've been working my way through it and I feel that it is quite accurate for a drama.
posted by sophist at 11:06 PM on December 16, 2011

Best answer: I'm not a lawyer, so it is hard for me to really attest to accuracy, but I can provide you with some links to get you going:

* Here's a general list of great legal movies for starters.

* The ABA Journal's list of the 25 greatest legal movies plus honorable mentions. Additional commentary in their sidebar, "How I Learned to Litigate at the Movies."

* LSU Law Associate Professor Christine Alice Corcos' list of the top 10 legal movies every US law student should see.

* The Law Movie Review

Anatomy of a Murder tends to appear near or at the top of all these lists, so there's another vote of support.

Personally, I've always been a sucker for A Few Good Men. Is it incredibly true to life? Not particularly, but the entire film is a great portrait of the meaning of duty to the law and to each other. Furthermore, I have never seen a conference room full of lawyers having more fun than when someone was shouting "Did you order the Code Red???," so it does have that going for it.

On the other hand, I'm also a sucker for Boston Legal (which probably makes me the only person under the age of 65 to have watched the show). The show is literally the opposite to pretty much everything your question stands for (and yet I'm going to talk about it anyway), in that realism and accuracy aren't words that are remotely applicable. An associate holds a knife to the neck of a senior partner after being passed up for promotion and is subsequently rehired and made partner, one lawyer routinely shoots people, judges are sex-crazed buffoons, council are often jailed for contempt, virtually every trial involves arguing jury nullification, and lawyers from the same firm periodically represent both parties in the same case. It's also hilarious, and beneath all the crazy, it actually is a show very much about respect for the law and its role in society. If nothing else, you might find it an interesting law-related diversion when you're not in the mood for something serious. Its predecessor series, The Practice, is more on the realistic side, though most cases are still won by arguing jury nullification.
posted by zachlipton at 11:14 PM on December 16, 2011 [3 favorites]

Law and order is terrible. Terrible, terrible, terrible. Everything is overblown, the objections are stupid, it's just ... gah. Sorry I don't have a better suggestion though.
posted by Happydaz at 11:14 PM on December 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

A Civil Action
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:16 PM on December 16, 2011

Just remembered that The Verdict, Paul Newman, was good too.
posted by JimN2TAW at 11:29 PM on December 16, 2011

Response by poster: zachlipton, thank you for your lists, and I'm glad that at least one of them mentioned My Counsin Vinny, which I didn't bring up in the OP and which was used repeatedly in my Criminal Justice Clinic to teach us proper cross and direct. It is, actually, shockingly accurate as to form and procedure.
posted by Navelgazer at 1:38 AM on December 17, 2011

The Verdict.
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:07 AM on December 17, 2011

A Few Good Men does show how a good trial lawyer would act on their feet in the midst of a trial. For procedure, probably not so good (don't know UCMJ too well).

You can tell a good law movie by whether or not counsel testifies while talking in court. That's the worst. They have the lawyer up there telling what happened in the midst of the trial. You can do that in open and close but not during the trial when witnesses are up there.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:22 AM on December 17, 2011

I was going to say that lawyers I have known have spoken well of My Cousin Vinnie but you have that sewn up. If the bad example interests you at all there was just a 6 WORST list out of Cracked recently talking about lawyering screwups and pointless behavior.
posted by phearlez at 8:48 AM on December 17, 2011

I thought The Insider gave a good sense of legal proceedings. The tension, the waiting.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 8:55 AM on December 17, 2011

My cousin Vinny actually provides a very good example of good investigation of the factual side of case preparation. And it's funny. And Marisa Tomei in a body stocking!
posted by BrooksCooper at 9:36 AM on December 17, 2011

I actually only recently saw My Cousin Vinny, after all these years, upon recommendations of lawyers. It's a good movie!

Witness For The Prosecution is supposedly accurate with regard to an older style of lawyering. Aside from being a great movie in itself, of course.
posted by rhizome at 11:54 AM on December 17, 2011

I agree with everyone who recommended My Cousin Vinny, but disagree with those who cited The Verdict. I thought the trial procedure aspects of that movie were just terrible. I even wondered if they had a lawyer to advise them (it certainly didn't seem as if they did!), or if they just made stuff up as they went along.
posted by merejane at 4:26 PM on December 17, 2011

I am not a lawyer, but the "the Rainmaker" and "The Verdict" were really good; however, I felt that the book was better in the case of the Rainmaker.
posted by theobserver at 12:36 AM on December 18, 2011

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