10 Lawyer-Approved Legal Movies to Watch This Weekend

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As tempting as it is to think that cases can be successfully argued by first-year associates or that pool boys and perms provide critical evidence, the reality is that most depictions of lawyers in movies make the actual professionals cringe.

The most befuddling part of these face-palm-worthy performances is that interesting court cases abound. Ultimately, portrayals of the legal profession can be fascinating and realistic. So what’s a lawyer to watch if they don’t want to spend the whole movie fielding questions about what’s realistic or not?

We asked lawyers for their favorite legal movies and got an avalanche of answers that we’ll share over time. From cinematic classics that delve into the human psyche to dramatizations of actual court cases to a goofball comedy that is actually referenced in legal briefs, here’s our starter list of lawyer-approved legal movies.

To Kill a Mockingbird (1961)

To Kill a Mockingbird | Gregory Peck is shown as attorney At… | Flickr
via Flickr

We might as well start with the greats — “To Kill a Mockingbird” was named the greatest courtroom drama by the American Film Institute. Based on the novel by Harper Lee, the movie has Atticus Finch defend a black man against an undeserved charge in the South during the Depression. 

Why lawyers love it: 

The movie is a classic for a reason — it’s almost impossible not to be moved by certain scenes, like when people in the gallery stand in tribute as Atticus walks out of the courtroom. Prepare the Kleenex.

Inherit the Wind (1960)

via Wikipedia

This dramatization of the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial has two talented lawyers duke it out over a Tennessee science teacher accused of teaching evolution. 

Why lawyers love it: 

“Based largely on actual transcripts of the original trial, this is a deeply compelling depiction of an historic, and historically accurate, courtroom drama.”

On the Basis of Sex (2018)

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg | Cknight70 | Flickr
Ruth Bader Ginsburg via Flickr

This film details Ruth Bader Ginsburg in her early career as a young lawyer, focusing on her difficult battle in Moritz v. Commissioner, a tax law case that she used to set precedent for equal rights. 

Why lawyers love it: 

As one lawyer told us, “All things RBG are wonderful.” RBG’s single-minded dedication to a cause is inspiring — it will make you remember why you entered the profession in the first place. 

12 Angry Men (1957)

12 Angry Men (1957 film poster).jpg
Movie poster via Wikipedia

Another can’t-miss classic, 12 Angry Men follows a jury deliberating the case of a poor 18-year-old boy stabbing his father to death. Though none of the characters have names until the very end, and almost the entire movie takes place in one room, it’s an emotional thriller that will have you on the edge of your seat. 

Why lawyers love it:

This movie is a masterclass on group dynamics and the power of one person to change your way of thinking. One lawyer commented, “It accurately depicts how jury rooms never follow the rules and juries are a dice roll.”

The Trial of the Chicago 7 (2020)

Caitlin Fitzgerald Daphne OConnor Alex Sharp Rennie Editorial Stock Photo -  Stock Image | Shutterstock
via Shutterstock

Currently streaming on Netflix! Following massive protests at the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago, a group of anti-Vietnam War organizers stand accused of trying to incite a riot. 

Why lawyers love it:

First of all, Sacha Baron Cohen as Abbie Hoffman is a revelation. This movie is a masterful blend of serious and ridiculous — but the courtroom antics (most of which really happened!) will make you thankful for droll procedures.

The Verdict (1982)

Movie poster via Wikipedia

A disgraced, drunken lawyer (Paul Newman) takes on a medical malpractice case ready to settle. As he digs into the case, he realizes the matter is worth taking to court — and it just might save his career.

Why lawyers love it:

Considered a very underrated legal movie by many, this is a classic worth watching. Apparently, Milo O’Shea, who played the judge, said it was his favorite film to make. 

Lincoln Lawyer (2011)

The Lincoln Lawyer Poster.jpg
Movie poster via Wikipedia

A charismatic defense attorney (Matthew McConaughey) who operates out of a Lincoln Town Car defends a playboy heir in a straightforward assault case. As the case progresses, he realizes the heir may have a connection to an earlier murder case — and he may be in danger. (Note: This movie is available for streaming in its entirety on YouTube

Why lawyers love it:

First of all, lawyers will fully accept McConaughey as one of their own. Moreover, the movie addresses the sometimes-complicated role of a defense attorney trying to do their best by their client. 

Anatomy of a Murder (1959)

1959 Movie Anatomy of Murder | Lee Remick, James Stewart, Ev… | Flickr
via Flickr

Based on a novel written by Michigan Supreme Court Justice John D. Voelker about a case he defended, this classic has Jimmy Stewart as a small-town lawyer defending an Army Lieutenant against a murder charge using temporary insanity as a defense.

Why lawyers love it:

Nominated for Best Picture, lawyers describe this as one of the more accurate trial movies (probably due to its source material — the real life trial used “irresistible impulse” as a defense for the first time in the state since 1886). The soundtrack by Duke Ellington is a nice bonus.  

My Cousin Vinny (1992)

Movie poster via Wikipedia

Hey — they don’t all have to be serious courtroom dramas! This dark comedy finds two New Yorkers accused of murder in rural Alabama. Their only hope for a defense? Their cousin, a brash, newly licensed lawyer with no trial experience. 

Why lawyers love it:
Despite this outlandish premise, the movie is...accurate? Quite a few lawyers said that the court portrayal is relatively true to life, and that it “absolutely nails” being on trial — the movie has even been quoted in briefs and in court!

The Rainmaker (1997)

Movie poster via IMDB

Based on an adaptation of John Grisham’s book, "The Rainmaker" provides a slightly dramatized, but realistic portrayal of the initial hurdles and practical considerations encountered by lawyers transitioning from law school to courtroom practice.

Why lawyers love it:

This movie portrays many challenges young lawyers face including ethical dilemmas and the pressure to succeed. In addition, it captures nuanced and realistic trail tactics.

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