Posts Tagged 'legal movies'

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.

Book Review: Movie Therapy For Law Students (and pre-law, paralegal, and related majors)

Buck, Sonia J., Movie Therapy for Law Students (And Pre-Law, Paralegal and Related Majors).  Bloomington, IN, AuthorHouse, 2009, soft bound, 194p. 

Book Review by Christine I. Hepler, Associate  Director, Garbrecht Law Library, University of Maine School of Law

 Movie Therapy for Law Students is an excellent resource that should be included in every academic law library.  I say this for two reasons.  First, the faculty could use this book to facilitate classroom discussion.  Learning the law is often done through the use of hypotheticals.  This book provides law professors with interesting hypotheticals that keep the students engaged in the class and the material being taught.  Second, this is a great resource for students who want to review the concepts they are learning in the classroom.  As suggested by the author, law students can now turn their movie watching into a guilt free review session.  Furthermore, I suggest that law professors get to work developing new hypotheticals for their classes.  Pop some popcorn and enjoy the movies!

I was drawn to Movie Therapy for Law Students, written by Sonia Buck, for a two reasons.  First, the author is a graduate of the University of Maine School of Law where I am the Associate Director of the Garbrecht Law Library, as well as a proud alum (Class of 1996).  Sonia Buck was a 1L when I returned to work at the University of Maine School of Law after a seven year stint in Southern California.  I remember Sonia and the other members of the Class of 2005 fondly.  They were a fun class filled with very smart, but more importantly, genuinely nice people.  Second, I came across this title after I had just returned from the American Association of Law Libraries Annual Meeting.  At the annual meeting I attended a session on teaching techniques used to keep students engaged during the class.  Part of that session included the use of scenes from the movie Fracture to teach some concepts in legal research.  Sitting at this session reminded me of when I was a law student.  Like most law students, I found it very difficult to watch any television programs or movies that involved some aspect of the legal system without putting my new found knowledge to use.  My constant refrain was “They can’t do that,” whether it was L.A. Law, Law & Order , The Firm, or Twelve Angry Men.  I was instantly curious about the lessons I could learn from the movies included in this book and wondered how I might be able to use them in the classes I teach.

In Movie Therapy for Law Students, Ms. Buck compiles an interesting mix of movies to discuss, including classics like 12 Angry Men and To Kill A Mockingbird, as well as current favorites like Erin Brockovich, My Cousin Vinny, and The Firm, covering legal concepts in several areas of law, such as business law, criminal law, criminal procedure, civil procedure, contracts, evidence, torts, family law, intellectual property, and ethics.  Each entry in the book provides the reader with a brief description of the movie’s plot, and a detailed analysis of the legal issues involved in the movie.  The author provides clear headings at the beginning of each new issue she discusses, making it easy to switch gears with each new issue.  Furthermore, the author provides ample citation to applicable rules and case law to support the assertions she makes.  After discussing the issues, she then provides the reader with applicable “Exam Tips,” for either law school exams or the bar exam.  I often found myself wishing I had these tips when I was in law school!

In addition, Ms. Buck made this librarian proud with the finding aids she included in her book.  In addition to a Table of Content, Ms. Buck included a list of the movies by subject matter, and an alphabetical listing of the movies discussed in her book.  Law professors and law students are busy people, without a great deal of time to waste.  These two features make it easy to jump through the book to find all of the movies on a particular legal topic.  This makes it easier for professors to find movies that discuss the issues in which they are interested and law students are provided with a movie guide from which they can choose only the movies that discuss the issues they need to review. 

We live in a society that loves to go to the movies.  Movie Therapy for Law Students has renewed my interest in legal movies and there are many movies discussed in Ms. Buck’s book that I cannot wait to watch.  As professors, the ultimate goal is to find methods to better convey the concepts we wish to teach.  Using movies to teach them legal concepts and strategies will keep the students interested in the discussion topics and they will learn more.  Maybe I will come across some issues about legal research that I can convey in a more interesting fashion, rather than by just standing in the front of the room lecturing the students.   I better get to work developing my new hypotheticals.  See you at the movies!

Christine Hepler is associate director at the University of Maine School of Law Donald L. Garbrecht Law Library in Portland.

August 2022

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