Law Firms in Fiction - in Books and Film

In Books and Film

The opposing large law firm is a standard villain in legal thrillers and trial films alike. In 2001, UCLA law professor Michael Asimow wrote:

Movies accurately reflect the public's dismal opinion of law firms. During the seventy years of the sound era, filmmakers have often presented lawyers in solo practice as decent human beings and as excellent lawyers, although that is much less true in the last thirty years than in the first forty. Once movie lawyers join together into law firms, however, they are portrayed quite negatively, regardless of the era. In film, lawyers who practice in small law firms are worse than solo lawyers, and big firms are much worse than small firms. Judging by what we are taught in the movies, lawyers in firms (especially large ones) are miserable, bigoted, materialistic people. Despite their wealth and beautiful cars and homes, they have mostly unhappy personal lives and dysfunctional families. As lawyers, they are greedy, heartless, predatory, unethical, and often buffoonish or incompetent.

Because of this perception, law firms are readily represented as places of intrigue and deception, with modern portrayals that "extend from the surreal to the diabolical". Asimow notes that these portrayals have real legal significance because "stories about law, lawyers, or the legal system in film, television, or print" are the vehicle by which "the public learns most of what it thinks it knows about law, lawyers and the legal system".

Although the first film specifically about a law firm, the 1933 film Counsellor at Law, portrays the fictional New York City law firm of Simon & Tedesco as an upstanding practice populated by attorneys who are good-hearted (if occasionally lapsing in their ethical conduct), this type of entity was thereafter typically portrayed on film as a villainous enterprise.

John Grisham, in particular, has displayed a penchant for portraying large firms as evil entities, contrasted against heroic solo practitioners, small firm attorneys, law students, and against their own more ethical young associates.

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