From Youtube and other sites
The Verdict : This is Frank Galvin's (Paul Newman) summation in "The Verdict." It is one of the all time great legal movie scenes. Galvin's appeals to the jurors' innate sense of justice, subtly urging them to ignore the judge's legal rulings that excluded his evidence. It raises issues of jury nullification and the very nature of law and the legal system.
The People vs. Larry Flint : This clip opens with a reporter setting the scene, "God vs. the Devil; America's minister vs. America's pimp." This clip recreates the oral argument before the US Supreme Court in the case of Hustler v. Falwell . Students have the opportunity not only to consider the Freedom of Expression arguments but to see what an an appellate argument looks like at the highest level (and to hear the "Oyez, oyez . . . " opening as well). It's a bit long, but I usually cut it off after the oral argument.
Man of the Year : This is the scene where Jeff Goldblum' s character (the company's general counsel) explains that the fact that there is a computer glitch in the Presidential election is irrelevant, as long as everyone believes that the process was fair. I usually pause the clip on the spot where he says, "Perception of legitimacy is more important than legitimacy itself. That's the greater truth." While this statement may appear cynical when discussing an election that should have a tabulated result, it may be a blunt yet fair assessment of the nature of legal legitimacy.
The American President : This is the scene where President Shepard (Michael Douglas) barges into a press conference to unexpectedly address allegations from an opposing candidate that he is a member of the ACLU and that his girlfriend once burned an American flag in protest. The free speech argument is compelling. I think the writers of this script were trying to write what Michael Dukakis supporters wished that he had said back in 1988 (with the exception of the girlfriend part, of course).
My Cousin Vinny : Brooklyn lawyer Vinny Gambini (Joe Pesci) is struggling through his first trial - defending his younger cousin against an erroneous murder charge in Alabama. In this clip, he shreds an eyewitness's testimony with a sharp mind and a "New Yawk" swagger. I guess it's not surprising that I use this clip to consider the unreliable nature of eyewitness testimony.
Razzle Dazzle - "Chicago" movie : This is great commentary from the movie "Chicago." It equates the trial process to a circus, squarely addressing the issue of "trial as search for truth." It's a little long, but it's worth it.
Trial and Error : This one needs some explanation. This isn't a great law movie, but it does have a great premise. Jeff Daniels is a lawyer with a top firm in L.A. He is dispatched to "the desert" to request a continuance on a criminal case. On the night before the court appearance, two important things happen: He runs into an old friend (Michael Richards - a down on his luck actor) and he gets stinking drunk. The next morning, he is too hung over to appear in court. Richards convinces Daniels to allow Richards to play the role of the lawyer for purposes of asking for the continuance. Daniels will tag along as a "legal assistant" just in case. The problem, of course, is that the judge denies the continuance and orders trial to begin. Richards is now stuck in the "role" of the lawyer. In the clip accessed here, the DA (Jessica Steen) agrees to a plea bargain and reduced sentence. Their conversation touches on at least three durable images of lawyers and the legal system:
1. Richards suggests that they have a drink like "two warriors after the battle, toasting the effort." This imagery of litigation as war is simultaneously disrespectful to those who actually face mortality in combat and sadly apt to the mindset of many litigators. I caution students that litigation is not a picnic in the park. It is not to be undertaken lightly. When negotaiting a deal, structure it to avoid litigation. Do not have the mindset that the court system will be there to bail you out and give you "justice" if the deal goes bad.
2. Steen: "See how easy it is to win when you lie." The truth can be a casualty in the unilateral pursuit of legal victory.
3. Steen: "You don't care. It's all the same thing; truth, lies; lies truth . . . You know, you really missed your calling. You should have been an actor. . . . You're amazing, you could have won an oscar in there." Richards got what he wanted out of the litigation because he was a good actor - which is apparently more important than knowledge of the law and procedure. Spinning the story, portraying what you need to win as "truth" is the most desirable charcteristic of a trial lawyer. Truth becomes relative. (It is true if I can convince you of its truth.) This is another reason to be suspicious of litigation as a means to acheiving "justice."
Mark DeAngelis, JD; Asst. Prof. in Residence, BLAW; UConn; email@example.com