Attorney client privilege in the movies
July 10, 2012 6:07 AM   Subscribe

What are some scenes or plot points in movies relating to attorney client privilege?

I'm curious about how the concept of attorney client privilege has been treated by popular movies and to a lesser extend, television. What I am looking for is:

* short scenes that discuss or touch on attorney-client privilege or attorney work product issues.

* especially in the civil, rather than than criminal, context.

* especially depictions that are humorous, overwrought, totally incorrect, etc.

Any suggestions would be very helpful. I'm hoping to incorporate short clips into a presentation, so the easier something is to find on Youtube, the better (though I wouldn't be against pulling clips out of the source).
posted by dredge to Law & Government (20 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Lots of Law and Order episodes.

I think the scene in the Godfather where they're planning to kill the police chief and Tom wants to leave because as an officer of the court he'd have to say something.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:12 AM on July 10, 2012

In Breaking Bad season 2 there's a scene where a lawyer demands Jesse and Walt each put a dollar in his pocket so their conversation will be covered under attorney-client privilege.
posted by ghharr at 6:24 AM on July 10, 2012 [4 favorites]

The plot of The Lincoln Lawyer basically hinges on it.
posted by jedicus at 6:26 AM on July 10, 2012 [3 favorites]

In The Lincoln Lawyer (Matthew McConnaughey movie, SPOILER ALERT), defense lawyer protagonist Mickey Haller discovers that not only did his new client on trial for attempted murder actually try to kill his alleged victim, he successfully killed a woman that another of Mickey's clients was wrongly convicted of killing, and the new client deliberately hired Mickey so that attorney/client privilege would prevent him from saying anything without ruining his career (and now the new client will frame Mickey for murder like he framed innocent client #1).
posted by nicebookrack at 6:38 AM on July 10, 2012

Oh, and IIRC eventually Mickey saves the day without breaking privilege!
posted by nicebookrack at 6:40 AM on July 10, 2012

There's a scene in The Rainmaker about attorney client privilege relating to a will and not being able to discuss the contents of the will with the presumed beneficiaries.
posted by cali59 at 6:41 AM on July 10, 2012

Yeah, the Lincoln Lawyer. I actually gave a CLE presentation using the Lincoln Lawyer as a springboard for a discussion about attorney-client privilege. Clips and everything. It's a criminal case, but it's right on point.

Also consider Michael Clayton. This is a sort of civil/criminal hybrid, as both are implicated, but privilege is definitely at issue.
posted by valkyryn at 6:42 AM on July 10, 2012

A major plot point in the Richard Gere movie Primal Fear turns on the privilege.
posted by MoonOrb at 6:47 AM on July 10, 2012

Many episodes of The Good Wife hinge on attorney/client privilege -- do you want lists of specific episodes to check out?
posted by Narrative Priorities at 6:49 AM on July 10, 2012

If I have my movie memories correct, attorney-client privilege is the key that saves Mitch's (Tom Cruise) life in the climactic scene of the movie The Firm.

Mitch ends up with a lot of incriminating evidence against the mob, which he explains to the mob boss he can never reveal "as your attorney," and promises that the evidence will never be seen as long as he remains unharmed. It's a clever and funny scene.
posted by The Deej at 6:50 AM on July 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh, The Firm is another "the lawyer knows a terrible secret and cannot reveal it but must somehow see that justice is done" plot.
posted by jedicus at 6:50 AM on July 10, 2012

…And Justice for All. One key plot point is Al Pacino's character knowing something his client revealed in a privileged conversation.
posted by kirkaracha at 7:03 AM on July 10, 2012

Many episodes of The Good Wife revolve around that issue, or at least incorporate it into the story.

Specifically from the last season:
Season 03 Ep.07Executive Order 13224
"Alicia worries that she will break confidentiality when the Treasury Department forces her to report on her latest client, while Peter reluctantly digs into Will's past transgressions."
[ This is a YT clip from this episode—though it can be hard to make out what they are talking about exactly, without knowing the context of the full episode. ]

Season 03 Ep.13Bitcoin for Dummies
"Alicia defends a lawyer (Jason Biggs) who was arrested for not revealing the name of a client who illegally invented a new online currency, prompting a number of legal challenges regarding the right of client-attorney confidentiality."
posted by procrastinator at 7:04 AM on July 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Ha! In Legally Blonde, Elle finds out her accused-of-murder client's humiliating alibi and refuses to tell. Of course, she saves the day without having to compromise attorney/client privilege. And has great hair the whole time!
posted by Elly Vortex at 7:30 AM on July 10, 2012 [4 favorites]

This clip from The Andy Griffith Show springs to mind.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 7:31 AM on July 10, 2012

Wow, thank you for all the great suggestions! Bunch of great stuff in here, but the Andy Griffith clip is probably my favorite.
posted by dredge at 9:03 AM on July 10, 2012

Ooh, don't miss the pilot episode of the short-lived Eli Stone. Eli Stone is a biglaw attorney whose hallucinations are forcing him to reevaluate his career. His client, a pharmaceutical company, is being threatened by a woman who believes a vaccine caused her son's autism. Eli's hallucinations convince him to switch sides in the case and represent the woman against the pharmaceutical company. This is accomplished by means of a "Chinese wall."

Unfortunately I never found out what happens in the second episode.
posted by jhc at 11:44 AM on July 10, 2012

Fair warning: that episode treats the "vaccines cause autism" argument as credible, and thus may cause facewalling.

(The show doesn't hit that depth again, thankfully, and does bring up attorney-client issues occasionally, as Stone remains at the big firm while taking anti-biglaw cases)
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 11:53 AM on July 10, 2012

On the TV show The Practice, the attorneys realize late into trial that their client, who they thought was crazy but harmless, was actually the brutal murderer that the prosecution claimed. But they couldn't tell anyone, and they had to watch him walk out a free man.
posted by Clambone at 12:34 PM on July 10, 2012

There's at least one scene in Sister Act where the mob-boss villain's lawyer plugs his ears and sings rather than hearing what the other villains are discussing. It's interesting how a number of examples illustrate (or attempt to illustrate) the limits of privilege.
posted by sarahkeebs at 6:01 AM on July 11, 2012

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