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I visited another blog this evening and contained in that individual’s thirteen for today was this statement: “I hate attorneys.” So that inspired me to present the . . .

The Thirteen All-Time Best Movies About Attorneys and/or the Legal Profession

1. A Civil Action “A Civil Action” is my all-time favorite movie with a legal theme. I read the book on Pismo Beach one summer . . . couldn’t put it down. I was completely engrossed, even though I had no idea then what lay just ahead for me. I ended up having an experience that very much paralleled that of real-life attorney Jan Schlichtmann depicted in “A Civil Action.” Like Mr. Schlichtmann, I litigated a case that could have easily have been my undoing — and might have been had I not read this book when my case was gearing up. Robert Duvall was robbed of an Academy Award for his portrayal of the shrewd defense counsel who appears to outwit Mr. Schlichtmann. My favorite actor, James Gandolfini, has a pivotal role and the movie’s ending — which I won’t spoil here in case you haven’t seen it and plan to take my advice and get the DVD — is chilling and sobering, with Kathy Bates giving a brief but credible performance.

2. The Verdict Why is this my second-favorite? Simple answer: Paul Newman. If any other actor had portrayed Frank Galvin, this movie would have been just a run-of-the-mill legal tale. This was another case of Oscar-theft which I am convinced is why Mr. Newman ended up winning a couple of years later for “The Color of Money.” Throw in Jack Warden and the incomparable James Mason as the lead defense counsel, not to mention Milo O’Shea as the complacent judge, and you have a masterpiece. Released in 1982, this is a classic.
3. And Justice for All

Another Jack Warden tour de force! Yes, Al Pacino, John Forsythe and Jeffrey Tambor are all at the top of their game, but Jack Warden stole this movie from all of them as a judge with a death wish who is, in reality, one of the more sane members of the legal profession. If you’ve never seen this movie, rent the DVD if only to watch the last 20 minutes or so which includes the classic Al Pacino line, “I have just concluded my opening statement!” 4. Erin Brockovich Can you tell that I love movies about ordinary people who do extraordinary things? Julia Roberts deserved the Best Actress Oscar for her portrayal of a woman who finally discovers her calling and self-worth. Albert Finney is equally as good.

5. To Kill a Mockingbird

Gregory Peck’s portrayal of Atticus Fitch is as relevant, poignant and inspiring as it was when this movie was released in 1962. 6. The Firm

Before Tom Cruise started jumping on couches, he was extremely believable and sympathetic as a naive young law school graduate who accepts an offer that seems too good to be true with a Memphis law firm. As good as Cruise is, this film would not be the crisp thriller that it is without an unbelievable ensemble that includes Hal Holbrook, Gene Hackman, Holly Hunter, Wilford Brimley, and David Straithairn. I read the book in no time . . . I just couldn’t stop turning the pages! And went to see the movie with my mother the day after I finished taking the Bar Exam.

7. A Time to KillAnother excellent movie adapted from a John Grisham novel which was published before “The Firm,” but did not do very well. After “The Firm” was a monster hit, readers discovered “A Time to Kill.” Samuel L. Jackson gives a heartbreaking performance.

8. Runaway Jury Based upon yet another John Grisham novel, the story was changed. In the book, the trial revolves around tobacco manufacturers — in the movie, the plaintiff is suing gun manufacturers after her husband is murdered during an office rampage. What’s delicious about this film is not just John Cusack (although that would be enough). It’s the chance to watch old pros Dustin Hoffman and Gene Hackman square off in an all-too-brief scene in the men’s room of the courthouse. Get the DVD so that you can watch the interviews with them and hear their discussion about the painstaking preparation, improvisation and rehearsal that went into making that one short scene absolutely perfect. It should be required watching in every drama classroom in America.

9. Liar, Liar I don’t usually like Jim Carrey movies because the joke has worn itself out long before the movie ends. (“Bruce Almighty” is an exception because of Morgan Freeman, the funniest God since George Burns.) But this one kept me laughing all the way. Probably an occupational hazard. 10. Chicago

I wish I could have seen the original Broadway production starring Chita Rivera, Gwen Verdon and Jerry Orbach, and directed by Bob Fosse. The movie is outstanding, though, and my favorite scene is Richard Gere’s tap dance as he leads Catherine Zeta-Jones (Velma) through her testimony at Roxie Hart’s trial. Every litigator can relate. If they say they can’t, they’re a liar! (See #9 above.) 11. Presumed Innocent Raul Julia was wonderful as Sandy Stern, the flamboyant defense attorney who must prove that Harrison Ford didn’t murder his mistress. And the late, great John Spencer as Detective Lipranzer was excellent in a supporting role filmed between his “LA Law” and “West Wing” gigs. This is one of the rare instances when the movie was every bit as good as the novel — and the novel was very good indeed.

12. The Paper Chase Another classic. I re-watched it not too long ago and it was just as wonderful as when I first saw it in 1973. I was addicted to the series on Showtime in the ’80’s starring John Houseman, Jane Kaczmarek, James Stephens, Michael Tucci and Robert Ginty. In fact, I should see if it has been released on DVD’s. It was a great series that accurately portrayed the pressures we all face in law school and the ways students learn to cope — or don’t.

13. Philadelphia Last but by no means least, I’d like to tell you that “Philadelphia” is about the way things were “back in the day” but if you watch it again now, you will realize that we just haven’t come that far. Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington should have shared the Oscar, and the supporting players, including the always-astonishing Joanne Woodward, Antonio Banderas, Jason Robards (in my mind, he will always be Ben Bradlee) and Bradley Whitford are all outstanding. Mary Steenburgen is superb, cast against type, as the icy attorney defending the law firm that discriminated against Tom Hanks’ character because of his sexual orientation and physical disability (AIDS).


  1. I didn’t really like Erin Brockovich, but To Kill A Mockingbird, yes, would have to agree with that.

    No mention of A Few Good Men though?

  2. Where is A Few Good Men? This is a great list! I was cheering at the end of Erin Brackovich. I also liked the Firm. I read the book after I saw the movie so it was still great for me. LOL I just now see that that “fence” said the same thing about A Few Good Men.

  3. MarillaAnne

    What a great list. I’ve only seen Liar Liar … not because I’m a Jim Carrey fan but because I was trapped at someone’s house. I’m fairly sure it was a relative.

    And I have to totally agree with you about Erin Brockovich. In fact I think I need to see it again soon!

    In general though, I can’t handle intense dramas. I usually have enough drama of my own.

    But … there were a few … that after listening to you describe them … i might be persuaded … like A Civil Action and To Kill a Mockingbird

  4. “A Time to Kill” and “Philadelphia” are two of my favorite films. of course, “Chicago” was awesome!

    hate was too strong a word, I think. I work for good attorneys who drive me nuts. it’s one of the perks of the job:)

    stop by my blog anytime!!

  5. Sparky Duck

    The Verdict is one of my all time faves as well, though Paul Newman helps. Mockingbird is so good it doesnt feel like a legal thriller and Philadelphia is so sad and great all at once.

  6. Such great movies! Have to agree that A Few Good Men should definitely be on the list!

    Happy TT!!

  7. Kimo & Sabi

    We’s never seen these movies but we likes attorneys! We gots lots in our fambly, including an appellate judge and a superior ct judge – AND, Mommakitty used to be a paralegal! Have a nice day attorney lady ๐Ÿ™‚

  8. Have you seen The Gingerbread Man? It is pretty cool, about a Southern attorney (interesting sidenote: the actor who plays the attorney is British, although you can’t really tell). This is a very cool list.

  9. Julie in Texas

    Excellent list. I agree with many of them. What would we do without all the John Grisham novel/movies??

    Presumed Innocent was one of my favorites.

    Happy TT!

  10. An excellent list. I’m a little disturbed by how many of these I haven’t seen. Huh.

    Thanks for stopping by earlier today, and I’ll definitely check out your list about things to do in your town. ๐Ÿ™‚

  11. suchprettycolors

    great list! i love love love erin brockovich.

  12. Oh I just loved some of those movies! I will have to copy the ones I have not seen and check them out.
    Thanks you for sharing them.
    Have a wonderful day!
    Happy TT’ing!
    (“)_ (“)ล 

  13. alisonwonderland

    i’ve seen about half of these, and there are some great movies here! i love john grisham, and i was just thinking about presumed innocent because i just finished reading scott turow’s latest novel. i’m definitely going to check out some of the ones i haven’t seen yet.

    happy TT! thanks for stopping by!

  14. Great list. I think that I need to go on a movie spree.

    Toys at my TT today.

  15. I saw a lot of those and love movies with court settings. There was one with Cher…and one with Demi Moore and Alex Baldwin (scary). I’ll have to look into the first one. I can’t recall it.

  16. OH yes, I loved Civil Action. I didn’t recognize it because I don’t think you mentioned John Travolta.

  17. Great list..I loved Erin Brocovich and Runaway Jury from that list… I also enjoyed Civil Action which surprised me

  18. Still haven’t watch most of those movies!! Heard about it, start to watch some, but never finish them!!
    The only one I’ve watch are liar liar and phidalephia!!

  19. Thanks for sharing! There are some that i haven’t watch…

    favorites last blog post..Mozart and the Whale

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