Book Review – Advocacy to Zealousness: Learning Lawyering Skills from Classic Films

Advocacy to Zealousness: Learning Lawyering Skills from Classic Films, by Kelly Lynn Anders. Carolina Academic Press, 2012, 218 pages. Paperback, $28.00. ISBN 978-1594607981.

This book provides resources that lawyers interested in developing professional skills or professors teaching skills and ethics courses could draw on. It appeals to classic film buffs and is particularly appropriate for any law school library that maintains a film collection. It could easily form the basis for a film series organized by a law school or legal education entity. While there are other books that talk about the appearance of legal topics and lawyers in movies, this appears to be a unique addition to the literature.

The introduction focuses on the need for skills training in law school, contextualizing the discussion in the wake of the 2007 Carnegie Report and ongoing discussions in the legal community about the need to produce “practice ready” lawyers. This book provides an easy-to-implement approach to skills training through the use of films. While many professors in the legal academy and elsewhere often use film to illustrate key points of discussion, this book takes the somewhat unusual step of using exclusively older material (pre-1968, when the modern MPAA ratings system was implemented).

As implied by the title, each letter of the alphabet is attached to a skill, and a chapter is devoted to it. Perhaps surprisingly, almost all of the assigned skills fit easily into this alphabetical scheme. As the introduction explains, each skill is an element of professionalism rather than a doctrinal or research-based skill—the sort of “soft skills” that are often overlooked in law school. Each chapter consists of a short essay defining and discussing the skill followed by a brief description of the film and its historical context but with surprisingly little examination of the skill. Chapters also include 10 film discussion questions (some of which are factual while others are interpretive or reflective) and five exercises for improvement.

The book is thoroughly indexed by skill, movie title, actor, character name, and subject matter. Some chapters provide useful cross-references from one skill to another (balance is linked to judgment, which in turn is linked to honesty). Most of the essays themselves are not footnoted; the film descriptions tend to refer to pop culture resources like the Internet Movie Database, Turner Classic Movies, and The New York Times movie reviews for a great deal of the historical referents. Somewhat disappointingly, though the skills identified in each chapter are linked to professionalism, there are no connections made to the ABA’s model rules or code of professional conduct.

The audience for the book is not entirely clear. The book’s introduction discusses the context of law school courses in lawyering practice, but these are not “lesson plans” ready to translate to the classroom. Indeed, one of the five exercises in each chapter is specifically identified for law students, implying that the main audience for the text may be practicing lawyers. The content of the discussion questions and surface description provided in each chapter will require you to view the entire film before discussion. The mere fact that the questions are labeled “for discussion” implies a group setting of some kind. The exercises are not classroom exercises but more ideas for exploration or personal growth. They could certainly be adapted for classroom use; however, it would be more useful for creating lesson plans if specific scenes were identified that exemplify the skill in question. The author’s prior book, The Organized Lawyer, is clearly an aid aimed at lawyers and law students interested in improving their organizational skills on their own, but this seems more difficult to implement by oneself.

While the use of classic films does have advantages over some modern films in terms of content being appropriate for broader audiences, it also means the content is less familiar to younger readers. (This reviewer, who is not as young as she used to be, has only seen four of the 26 movies, though most of the titles were at least familiar.) The author notes that all 26 are available on DVD but only two are available streaming from Netflix. Most are available streaming from Blockbuster On Demand or iTunes, however, so they are widely available.

A quick and enjoyable read, this book is recommended for collections focusing on practical lawyering skills and for professionals interested in approaching skills from a new perspective.

Kate Irwin-Smiler, JD, MLS, is a reference librarian at the Wake Forest University Professional Center Library in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

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