CAREER DEVELOPMENT / OCT. 08, 2014
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Top 10 Films to Inspire Disillusioned Lawyers

Ask any lawyer who’s got the time to listen and they’ll tell you that pursuing – and maintaining - a career in law is exacting and unrelenting. Although lawyers often get paid very attractive salaries and enjoy a degree of job security that most other industry professionals baulk at, working in this game is certainly no easy ride.

As well as having to deal with truly colossal amounts of pressure on an all too frequent basis, many lawyers are often forced to observe (and sometimes indirectly engender) uncomfortable miscarriages of justice. With even these few snippets of information it is easy to see why individuals who choose this career path may struggle to ’keep the faith’ every now and then.

If you’re nodding your head right know then you may well be one of them...

If that is indeed the case then you’re no doubt smart enough to know that these kinds of crises in confidence more often than not turn out to be nothing more than temporary glitches; conscientious pit stops on the legal highway, if you like. Everybody in the profession gets them at one time or another; it’s simply the nature of the beast.

So what can you do, if anything, to power through these emotional dips and come out the other side, raring to go.

Well you could take up white collar boxing (still very popular among London lawyers) or take up full-time charity marathon running. You could even devote your very limited time off to philanthropic endeavours in the hope that it might help to cleanse your soul...

However, if you’re looking for a far quicker, cheaper and arguably more effective (in the short term, anyway) route to feeling reinvigorated, just settle down in front of the telly after a hard day at work and put on one of these genuinely inspiring legal eagle films.


In the Name of the Father

A powerful piece of cinema, In the Name of the Father tells the true story of Giuseppe and Gerry Conlon, an Irish father and son who, along with a number of other ’co-conspirators’, were falsely imprisoned by the British authorities for their apparent roles in two separate IRA bombing sprees outside London during the 1970s. The only reason this travesty of justice gets brought to light is because a tenacious human rights lawyer (Gareth Peirce) discovers that the police altered the records of their interrogations. Although this turned out to be a victory for justice in the end, it took over fifteen years to come through, during which time Giuseppe Conlon died in jail. If this film doesn’t rekindle your passion for justice then you’re probably due a career change...

To Kill A Mockingbird

The unofficial granddaddy of law movies, To Kill A Mockingbird is as powerful and relevant today as it was when first released more than fifty years ago. This faithful adaption of Harper Lee’s (only) book tells the story of a Depression-era lawyer (Atticus Finch) in the deep south of the USA who defends a black man accused of raping a white woman in a racially prejudiced neighbourhood. Considered groundbreaking at the time for showing audiences what actually happens within the courtroom, To Kill A Mockingbird is littered with quotes and scenes which have become almost gospel to idealistic lawyers everywhere. Without any question, if you have any kind of interest in discrimination law then you will not fail to be moved by this truly outstanding piece of cinema: it WILL motivate you to change lives.

Erin Brokovich

How many aspiring female students in the early nineties decided law was definitely for them after seeing Julia Roberts’ Academy Award-winning turn as the real-life paralegal and streetwise single mother, Erin Brokovich. Answer: plenty. The movie’s account of how Brokovich’s dogged investigation into a suspicious US real estate case turns up a pattern of illegal dumping of highly toxic material really is highly inspirational, as its it’s meritocratic message that anyone – regardless of how inconsequential or irrelevant they may believe themselves to be – can make a difference if they are prepared to work hard (in this case, really, really hard). Despite what the lads may think, this is not just one for female legal eagles.

Philadelphia

Another story loosely based on real-life events, Philadelphia is a moving account of a dispute that arises when a lawyer is fired from his firm after his fellow employees discover he has contracted AIDS. While undoubtedly a little saccharine in places, the film’s core message of ’taking on the big boys’ for a just cause resonates strongly throughout. This film is also inspiring because it tackles the topic of institutionalised homophobia head on and shows how decent lawyers – even those who believe they are flawed - can use their legal experiences to grow and become more emotionally developed human beings.

The Verdict

Ah, where would we be without a ’one last chance’ movie in the top 10? On paper it all sounds clichéd. A washed-up, alcoholic lawyer who gets handed a medical-malpractice case and sees it as one last chance to get his career right. Fortunately, Paul Newman is on hand to save the day, taking what could have been a laboured film and turning it into a really quite inspiring (if quite tense) tale of manipulative skullduggery and reticent reinvigoration. The uplifting message to take from this one is simple: if you’re willing to give your best, even when things aren’t going so well, then things just might, come up trumps.

A Man for All Seasons

While some people may not consider Tudor-era England to be the most complimentary setting for a legal movie, many celluloid-loving lawyers consider A Man for All Seasons to be a bona fide classic. This can be backed up by the fact the memorable script delivers lines which have become common idioms in courtrooms all across the English-speaking world. Without doubt, hearing such wonderful lines as “I know what’s legal, not what’s right; and I’ll stick to what’s legal” delivered in such stirring fashion is enough to get even the most world weary lawyers feeling like they can – and must - take on the world.

A Few Good Men

I guarantee that every legal professional will have barked “I want the truth!” in Tom Cruise type fashion (albeit it in mockery rather than a military court) at some point during their career. In case you don’t know, A Few Good Men tells the story of how two low-ranking US Marines get court-martialled for killing a fellow soldier, allegedly as part of an unofficial punishment (known as a “Code Red”) While the Marines maintain they were simply following orders, their commander, Colonel Jessup (a scintillating Jack Nicholson) says they acted on their own. Arguably the best thing about this highly engaging and at times extremely taut film is that it deliberately makes the viewer question the relationship between legality, duty and truth. The truth (if you can handle it) is that even high ranking individuals who ’do good’ cannot consider themselves to be above the law. Gripping stuff.

Compulsion

If you enjoy watching law movies of the ’passionate crusader’ ilk, then Compulsion is likely to be right up your alley. Based on a true story, the film follows a sensational murder (apparently committed by two brilliant, wealthy teenagers looking to carry out the perfect crime) set in the moody and highly charged surroundings of 1920s Chicago. Cue the crusading lawyer (a quite wonderful Orson Welles), an ageing yet ultimately idealistic defence attorney who takes every opportunity he can to fire sustained broadsides at the belief a modern, progressive country can or should maintain and enforce a death penalty in this day and age. A compelling, if sometimes awkward to watch movie.

Amistad


It would be fair to say that Steven Spielberg has a pretty good track record in making inspiring movies. While Amistad is not quite on a par with the likes of E.T. or Schindler’s List for making you feel like shouting at the world when the end credits roll, it has more than enough going for it to give despondent legal eagles a healthy shot in the arm. Another retelling of a true story (although it was criticised for taking a few too many liberties with the truth), the Amistad of the title refers to a slave ship sailing from West Africa to the USA that was violently taken over by those onboard it in 1839. As well showing how a legal system (especially one in its infancy) can be manipulated for both good and ill, Amistad succeeds in delivering some very rousing (and moving) courtroom scenes that will leave the hairs on the back of your neck standing up.

Chicago

For all its benefits and perks, the legal industry isn’t known for being an overly fun one to work in. So, with this in mind, imagine just for a moment how different your day would be if you could tap dance your way through a briefing or be part of a big show dance number when cross examining witnesses. Inspiration can come in many forms so go on, pretend you’re Richard Gere/Catherine Zeta Jones for two hours and indulge yourself in “All that Jazz”. You never know, you might just like it..!

 

Image: istock

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