Apart from reading books and attending lectures, there are plenty of other ways to learn about your course. Movies can be good for learning because they keep you entertained and engaged while providing you with relevant information. After all, humans process visual information way faster than text.
And depending on the genre, films often keep you relaxed — with your mind away from the stressful classroom recitations and book chapters. Plus, if you’re stuck at home during this pandemic, watching movies is a great way to pass the time.
Not All Lawyer Movies Work
When it comes to law, however, films are often unreliable sources of information, especially legal action films and movies based on John Grisham novels. This is because a lot of them focus on creating dramatic and engaging scenes instead of realistic ones. The general public probably doesn’t want to see attorneys on their normal work days — sifting through their law books and typing on their computer for hours. They want the exciting arguments between the prosecution and defense, and the drama that it creates inside and outside the courtroom.
It’s rare to find a lawyer movie with a good balance between entertaining and realistic. Fortunately for you, you don’t have to dig through your streaming service’s library to find out which ones are worth watching. Here are the best courtroom movies to watch during the pandemic.
The Best Lawyer Movies
My Cousin Vinny (1992)
This lawyer movie can often be overlooked as more of a blockbuster comedy than a courtroom drama. After all, its main star is the legendary Joe Pesci, who found his comedic chops in “Home Alone” two years before. However, Persci is nothing short of brilliant when it comes to its courtroom scenes.
“My Cousin Vinny” follows the story of two young students from New York who got wrongly arrested and put on trial for murder while they were traveling through Alabama. Bill Gambini (Ralph Macchio), one of the students, calls on his cousin Vincent “Vinny” Gambini, an inexperienced lawyer from New York who has never handled a criminal case before. Vinny drives down south with his girlfriend Lisa (Marisa Tomei), providing him the support he needs to convince a Southern judge and jury of his cousin’s innocence.
This film is considered to have one of the most accurate portrayals of a U.S. courtroom. It’s lauded by New Jersey U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman in one of his keynote speeches in Fairleigh Dickinson University. He praised Vinny’s realistic and excellent cross examination techniques as the character interrogated a key witness in the movie. Fishman also stated that U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia cited My Cousin Vinny as an example regarding a defendant’s right to choose a lawyer in a 2006 case.
Max Kennerly, Esq. also praised the movie in his website Litigation & Trial, saying that it’s a movie that every young trial lawyer needs to watch. He stated that the subtle details are what made the movie so close to reality, like the limited budgets and preparation, hostile experts, impatient judges and arguments that went nowhere, among others. And like other lawyers who raved about “My Cousin Vinny,” he also praised the cross examination scene in the movie.
It’s no surprise that the movie provides an accurate depiction of courtroom proceedings, as the director Jonathan Lynn has a law degree from Pembroke College – University of Cambridge. The staff also consulted with various legal professionals to make the scenes as realistic as possible. Sure, there were scenes that were too over-the-top, but it’s still one of the best legal movies that you can truly learn a lot from.
Erin Brokovich (2000)
“Erin Brokovich” (2000) was a hit among moviegoers and critics alike. It has an 84 percent certified fresh rating from review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes. It was a hit at the Academy Awards, too. Julia Roberts won best actress for her lead role. The movie was also nominated for best picture, best original screenplay, best supporting actor, and best director.
The movie is based on true-to-life events, where Erin Brokovich, a newly-hired legal assistant investigates a real estate case involving a large gas and electric firm. She discovers that the company was secretly buying land to cover up the fact that they’re dumping contaminants into a community’s water supply, causing devastating illnesses among the residents in the area. As Brokovich works to shed more light onto the case, she finds herself in the forefront of one of the largest class action lawsuits the US has ever seen.
What’s great about Erin Brokovich (the movie) is that it’s not only gripping and genuine, it’s also faithful to what really happened in real life.
The real Erin Brokovich said it herself in a CNBC article she wrote that the film is probably 98 percent accurate, sans a few creative liberties. She stated that she did have a potty mouth and dressed the same way that Jula Roberts did in the movie. Most importantly, the company she fought against was real. A lot of people in Hinkley, California were poisoned by the contaminated groundwater that Pacific Gas and Electric dumped in the area. It’s a great movie to watch if you want to see a realistic glimpse of what it’s like to handle a class action lawsuit against one of the biggest businesses in the country.
Anatomy of a Murder (1959)
If you want to see a vintage courtroom drama, “Anatomy of a Murder” (1959) is for you. It has perfect to near-perfect scores among critics and review sites. Rotten Tomatoes gave it a 100 percent Certified Fresh rating. It’s also given a 5/5 star rating by Empire Online.
“Anatomy of a Murder” is about a semi-retired lawyer named Paul Biegler who took on a case to defend Army Lt. Manion who was accused of murder. The lieutenant killed a local innkeeper after the latter supposedly raped and beat the former’s wife. After learning the full details of the case, Biegler soon learns that the evidence is against Manion. As his client pleads not guilty to the allegations, the seasoned lawyer has to pull every legal trick in the book and find evidence to save his case.
This movie is regarded as one of the first realistic courtroom dramas. It’s also no surprise since the author of the novel based the story off of was a Supreme Court judge in Michigan. The American Bar Association’s flagship magazine the ABA Journal listed one of the movie’s cross examination scenes as an entry in its list of movie scenes with lessons for lawyers. The entry, however, contains a spoiler, so read it at your own risk if you haven’t seen “Anatomy of a Murder.”
This film teaches budding lawyers like you to keep an open mind because what you ask every witness won’t always lead to the answers you want (or thought you knew). How you react to those answers can make or break your case, too. It’s also a great example of why a lot of lawyer movies are about defense attorneys. It shows how difficult it is to defend someone who’s possibly innocent, especially if the evidence is stacked against them.
Lawyers and Courtroom Movies
Hollywood loves showcasing lawyers (not just defense attorneys, but prosecutors, too) in its movies.
There are also a wide variety of courtroom dramas on TV. As gripping and entertaining these motion pictures are, however, a lot of them misrepresent what truly happens in real life. If you want to watch the best lawyer movies right now, check these selections out. They’re well-loved by both lawyers and movie critics alike.
Unfortunately these great courtroom movies can’t be found on Netflix. As such, you may have to rent or buy them from other sites. But they’re definitely worth your time, effort and money.