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Top Five Inspirational Films For Law Students

Atticus Finch, To Kill a Mockingbird

It’s unlikely that as a law student you’ll find time to lie around and watch films…who am I kidding? Any excuse to procrastinate is a good enough excuse and it’s even better when your procrastination comes in the form of a film that has the potential to motivate and inspire you to finish that Admin tute work once and for all.

Films can be the perfect catalyst for you to “reach for the stars” (I know for a fact, because the my law school journey spawned from my first viewing of Legally Blonde) and are a no frill stress release on the kinds of days where another dissenting opinion could drive you to permanent insanity. Here are my top 5 inspirational legal stories – regardless of whether they are fictitious or based on real events, they are destined to lift you from the couch and have you quoting Aristotle in no time.

5. The Paper Chase (1973)

This film adaption of the widely popular 1970 book of the same name is one of the most realistic depictions of law school I have ever seen – the protagonist – Hart, begins his first year of law at Harvard with a somewhat ideological view of what it’s going to be like. Slowly but surely in a spiral of disaster, Hart fails to impress his militant contracts professor whom he worships, struggles to get the girl of his dreams (who is also his professor’s daughter – can you say controversy?!) and sacrifices friendships all in the name of his degree.

It’s a perfect portrayal of professor worship (we’ve all been there), obsession and the mountains of paper first year students have to suffer through. If it sounds like a horror film with a mortifying conclusion then I haven’t portrayed the film well enough – it will inspire you to stress less, fight for your dreams and persevere when you feel like you are running on empty. Highly recommended for all first years and law students alike.

4. To Kill A Mockingbird (1962)

No list of inspirational legal films can go without mentioning To Kill A Mockingbird. The classic film tells the story of a Southern lawyer who defends a black man accused of raping a white woman in a close-minded and discriminatory neighbourhood. It delves into the lives of the children in the neighbourhood who are affected by the case and it’s ability to violently split the town as people questioned their values and the law alike.

This story was one of the first to represent to a wider audience how what happens in the courtroom can impact society in a way unimaginable. For those interested in a career in discrimination law this is the film that will motivate you to change lives.

3. Erin Brokovich (2000)

Think studying law is hard? Yeah. Well, imagine being Erin Brokovich in the year 1993. As an unemployed single mother of three children who has just lost a personal injury law suit against a wealthy doctor, Erin had lost all hope. In order to compensate her for her loss, her lawyer employs her as a file clerk in his office until soon enough she single-handedly brings down the Californian Pacific Gas and Electric Company, the company accused of polluting the water supply and adversely affecting the health of several citizens.

This story is biographical, which means, yes, with no formal law degree and hardly a penny to her name, the hard working single mother cracked one of the most controversial legal cases of her time (and got a big fat 2 million dollar pay check afterwards). Years later, with a law degree and several firms of her own, Brokovich is an inspiration to anyone who ever felt they weren’t good enough. If she doesn’t ring a bell then I should bring your attention that she’s the face of Shine Lawyers.

2. Philadelphia (1993)

Another story loosely based on real life lawyer Geoffery Bowers is Philadelphia, where an Ivy-educated lawyer is fired from his firm after his fellow employees discover he has contracted AIDS. What makes the film even more epic than it’s inspirational story is the appearance of Denzel Washington as the personal injury lawyer who handles this controversial case when everyone else runs for the hills. The story is quite brilliant because of it’s inspiration – Geoffery Bowers was the plaintiff in one of the very first AIDs discrimination cases in the world to be heard publicly. Twelve out of the 15 partners at the company voted to dismiss him from the firm and his determination to rid the taboo of AIDs meant his case became one of the biggest discrimination compensation cases of its time. In the film his personal injury lawyer learns to overcome his own battles with homophobia and reap justice in a time when the fast emergence of AIDS brought with it so much confusion and misunderstanding.

1. Legally Blonde (2001)

Anyone can be a successful law student, just look at Elle Woods. No one ever thought that a Delta Nu sorority queen would go from scheduling manicures to ruling the lecture theatres of Harvard – but she did. After battling with a depressing break up, Elle decides to take herself more seriously in order to win back the man of her dreams.

When she arrives at law school Elle realises that the place is no picnic – no trips to the Cape, no mixers and no one takes her seriously. That is until she decides to prove everyone wrong by working extremely hard and making a stellar impression on everyone in the halls of Harvard. In an ultimate screw you to her nasty ex boyfriend and his snooty fiancé, Elle is chosen to intern for a top tier law firm who are defending the accused in a controversial murder case. With a little bit of integrity and sheer determination Elle manages to solve the case, frame a corrupt lawyer and bag the attractive academic – who says you can’t do the same?

(Note: real life is not always like the movies but we sure as hell can try).

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