A career as a lawyer is an extraordinary calling, and to become a lawyer is an enormous undertaking in terms of personal commitment and financial investment. So why do we become lawyers?
“A good many reasons why we became lawyers can be seen every day in [our society]: When people get on a bus and can take any seat they choose; when all of our children can attend the same public schools, and can aspire to any job for which they are capable without discrimination; when people can speak their minds about their government without fear of reprisal; and when the police are controlled by the people not the reverse. All these reasons speak daily about what lawyers have done and what they continue to do. If you can get a little misty dwelling on our precious civil rights, it’s probably one reason you became a lawyer”. [Don Bivens, Why We Are Lawyers After All]
As noted by some legal commentators, what we do as lawyers has the potential to be life affirming, helping our clients, and potentially shaping society for the public good. Our society – while certainly tolerating lawyer jokes during the “good times” – generally respect and admire what lawyers bring to the table in the “bad times” when they are most in need of legal assistance, advice and justice. This general admiration is reflected in our movies and television, our books and even comics (yes, I am referring to Matt Murdock, lawyer by day and Daredevil crime fighter by night).
There are many movies, books and television series in which the lawyer is portrayed as a hero, a person in society who can be admired for their courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities that are not normally exhibited. An aspiration to pursue, to achieve.
In this light, here is my list of extraordinary and memorable fictional lawyers from Hollywood and television that inspired many of us, warts and all:
1. Atticus Finch (Gregory Peck), To Kill A Mockingbird – southern lawyer fighting racial intolerance and injustice with principle and honour.
It was times like these when I thought my father, who hated guns and had never been to any wars, was the bravest man who ever lived” – Scout Finch
Atticus Finch: “Before I can live with other folks I’ve got to live with myself.”
Atticus Finch: “I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do.”
2. Horace Rumpole (Leo McKern), Rumpole of the Bailey – disheveled but brilliant British barrister.
“I never plead guilty!”
Horace Rumpole: My lord, may I make a suggestion?
Judge Gerald Graves: What is it?
Horace Rumpole: May I suggest that your lordship sits quietly and allows me to develop the defense.
Judge Gerald Graves: Mr. Rumpole, may I ask where these questions are leading?
Horace Rumpole: I hope, my lord, to the truth.
3. Daniel Kafee (Tom Cruise), A Few Good Men – military courtroom drama.
“So this is what a courtroom looks like”.
Kaffee: We have a witness.
Lt. Weinberg: A dead witness.
Kaffee: And in the hands of a lesser attorney that’d be a problem.
Kaffee: I want the truth!
Col. Jessep: You can’t handle the truth!
4. Jack McCoy (Sam Waterston), Law & Order – New York Executive Assistant District Attorney prosecuting serious crimes, usually adapted from current headlines.
“In the criminal justice system, the people, are represented by two separate yet equally important groups: the police, who investigate crime; and the district attorneys, who prosecute the offenders. These are their stories”. [Narrator]
Jack McCoy: “I’ve got you for conspiracy, and if I eat my Wheaties I can get you for second-degree murder”.
5. Vincent “Vinny” Gambini (Joe Pesci), My Cousin Vinny – Street smart inexperienced lawyer from Brooklyn defending his cousin in a murder case in the heart of Alabama.
“Uh… everything that guy just said is bullshit… Thank you.” [opening statement]
Vinny Gambini: … you’re in Ala-[Fricking]-Bama. You come from New York. You killed a good old boy. There is no way this not going to trial.
So why do we become lawyers?
At the end of the day, lawyers are respected and “entrusted to help people balance competing interests through the process we call the pursuit of justice. A passion for the pursuit of justice is one reason we became lawyers. We help people solve problems they cannot solve on their own. We share burdens they cannot bear alone. Because we deal with people, lawyers have the opportunity to comfort, to teach, and to empower clients to resolve their problems and go on with their life better for having met us”. [Don Bivens, Why We Are Lawyers After All]
That is why we become lawyers!