25 June 2019

How Law Is Portrayed In Film Culture

Law books
Law books (Photo by Mikhail Pavstyuk on Unsplash)

When it comes to film culture, directors and writers alike want to spice it up. To make it as gripping as possible. Juicing up the storylines, adding massive twists to it. And every case needs to be pushed through immediately.

But is that reality?

Different Specialisms

Well, some of it is and other times it really just misses the mark. Typically you won’t be told the difference between what each Lawyer does. Which means we can have a distinct lack of knowledge if we ever a) need a need a lawyer ourselves or b) want to go into law in the future. 

Over the years, we’ve been given more of a glimpse into the different specialties, which has been really interesting for the typical viewer. Suits really made a display of the different specialties that were possible. From injury lawyers, not unlike Robinette Law, to Lewis Litt, the corporate finance wizard. And that makes it more interesting.

But there are other times where one specialist jumps ships and lands somewhere else. Things that probably wouldn’t typically happen in the real world. After all, why spend years learning to be one thing, and then dabbling in another (with a lot less knowledge)?

Rich Man Poor Man

In the world of movie lawyers, they are very, very rich or they have an office about a Chinese takeaway and look like they need a good nap. In reality, there is a lot in between those two things. But for entertainment reasons, it is better to have an underdog that does extraordinary things, or a wealthy, successful lawyer deeply embroiled in a scary and challenging world.

Let’s take a look at a few average salaries for some different specialisms.
  • Corporate Lawyer - $98,823
  • Criminal Lawyer - $51,810 public defenders, $115k+ at a firm
  • Personal Injury Lawyer - $73,000
But those are the median salary. But, as you can see, while there are a top and a bottom of the pay scale, there is a lot of space in between that too. But, an ‘average joe’ isn't exciting enough for the big screen. However, you’ll see them much more often.


It can seem like a case is built in a matter of days, by a trust private investigator and a few lucky breaks. But, Erin Brockovich had it a little bit more correct. They showed that it took over 4 years (and more) of contact people, research, some lucky breaks and more sleepless nights than anyone should have to deal with.

As we live in a consumer society, we expect everything quickly delivered to us in a neat recyclable box. But that isn’t the case. To truly put an airtight case together, you are looking at years. If you consider that the FBI and Police often spend years building cases, it would make sense that in order to finish the job, the lawyers would need all of that information, plus their own findings, and everything from the opposition too. So instead we get the montage scene of the leading players sitting around the table reading book after book looking for the precedent that will play into their favor when they take it to court. And, perhaps if we knew how long it really took it wouldn’t feel as punchy but does that devalue the work that real lawyers do? Maybe just a little. It doesn’t make it less entertaining, though.

Anyone Can Do It

Well… maybe. Legally Blonde anyone? It is a great film, it’s easy to watch, has some beautiful punchy moments and has a lot of feel good to it. But, it is essentially taking what might be seen as a ‘less than clever’ person and turning them into a high-flying lawyer. And, it inspired millions of people actually to apply to law school. Which is great.

A big focus of the film was the fact she couldn’t do anything but study, and that is about as close to the law as the movie really gets. To get into the great schools, you need to put in all the hours you can for those excellent scores.

It isn’t about fitting in, it is about standing out, and Elle Woods does that. If you consider just how many people are applying to the elite firms, then you need to really be something special. High scores, an impressive specialist skill, or a personality that people are always expecting.


In a few films, and TV series you will find that many of the big players look down on other staff because of where they went to school, who studied with, or where the finish in their class, it can be pretty brutal. But the truth is that in all walks of life there will be some elitism. People don't have to like you, and in an environment where who you are, your family and your education matter - that does get worse. So there is a real aspect of elitism, but you will find that in every office.


We have all watched the passionate closing arguments, and you want your chosen person to win the battle. You want them to get their client off scott-free. Even if you know that the person is guilty. Or, you want them, as the prosecution to really get them the time that they deserve.

The truth is that if you were to get so dramatic, you would likely be shut down - and fast. There won’t be something that dramatic when you are aiming to get someone sent to prison - regardless of the crime. And, some cases are more high profile than others. They are the ones that fill the media - so lawyers must correctly conduct themselves.

What the movies and TV do get right, on all fronts is the passion. Lawyers have a passion for what they do. They want to get to the bottom of things. They want to get justice for the public or their private clients. While the money is excellent, the principals and reasoning are so much more. Lawyers have a fire in their belly, to do the right thing, and that is what makes both the real-life and fictional characters so damn cool.