MVP of the Month: Real-Life Heroic Lawyers

Posted on December 16, 2019 at 9:21 am

Copyright Warner Brothers 2019
At awards season, we often get uplifting real-life stories and this year we have three that are about heroic lawyers fighting for justice against almost insurmountable odds. Here they are, with a little background on the real stories.

Mark Ruffalo as Rob Bilott in “Dark Waters

Billot was profiled by the New York Times, which dubbed him DuPont’s Biggest Nightmare. “Rob Bilott was a corporate defense attorney for eight years. Then he took on an environmental suit that would upend his entire career — and expose a brazen, decades-long history of chemical pollution.”

Michael B. Jordan as Bryan Stevenson in “Just Mercy”

Stevenson is a Harvard Law graduate who has spent his career in the town where the man who inspired the most beloved lawyer in movie history, Atticus Finch, practiced law. And like Finch, he defends those who have been unfairly accused and not had adequate access to counsel. He is also the Founder of the stunning Legacy Museum and National Memorial to Peace and Justice, sometimes called the Lynching Museum because of its extraordinary challenge to communities to acknowledge their past.

HBO has a documentary about Stevenson and his Equal Justice Initiative.

Sam Rockwell as Watson Bryant in “Richard Jewell

Clint Eastwood’s “Richard Jewell” is based on the true story of the man who was initially hailed as a hero for discovering a bomb at a concert celebrating the Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia, and then accused of planting it to make himself famous. Watson Bryant was the lawyer who represented him, proving that the FBI and the local and national media were irresponsible to the point of negligence and abuse.

The movie was inspired by a Vanity Fair article called “American Nightmare” by Marie Brenner. Here is what she said about the lawyer who happened on to Jewell because they had briefly worked together:

The simple fact was that Bryant had no qualifications for the job. He had no legal staff except for his assistant, Nadya Light, no contacts in the press, and no history in Washington. He was the opposite of media-savvy; he rarely read the papers and never watched the nightly news, preferring the Discovery Channel’s shows on dog psychology. Now that Richard Jewell was his client, he had entered a zone of worldwide media hysteria fraught with potential peril. Jewell suspected that his pickup truck had been flown in a C-130 transport plane to the F.B.I. unit at Quantico in Virginia, and Bryant worried that his friend would be arrested any minute. Worse, Bryant knew that he had nothing going for him, no levers anywhere. His only asset was his personality; he had the bravado and profane hyperbole of a southern rich boy, but he was in way over his head.

You can see the real Bryant here:

Related Tags:

 

The Real Story

Interview: Breckin Meyer and Mark-Paul Gosselaar of “Franklin & Bash”

Posted on May 31, 2011 at 3:36 pm

Franklin & Bash” is a new lawyer show on TNT.  It is about two brash, rule-breaking best friend lawyers who join a very conservative, old-school law firm.  It is sometimes silly but it is sexy, funny, and fun.  And it stars two guys who have been acting since their teens, Breckin Meyer (“The Craft,” “Clueless,” “Garfield,” “Robot Chicken”) and Mark-Paul Gosselaar (“Saved By the Bell,” “NYPD Blue,” “Passing the Bar”).  Like the characters they play, they do not take themselves seriously, but they take their work seriously.

I spoke to them about what they learned as child actors and how practicing law is like being in show business.

What did you do to get comfortable with the legal language and procedures?

Gosselaar: I was on a show called “Raising the Bar” for two seasons.  The creator of that show was a public defender in the South Bronx.  That was much more letter of the law — he was on set all the time and tried to make sure we stayed as true as possible because it was so important for him.  He wanted to teach America about what it was really like.  I interned for a week at the Bronx defenders’ office.  So the set-up was not at all like what we’re working with now but Bill Chase, one of the co-creators is an attorney and we have questions or don’t understand something or a pronunciation he is there.

Meyer: Yeah, like “objection” — how do you say that?  And this word, “law…..”

Gosselaar: We’re much looser on this show, of course, but the law is the catalyst for the stories.  You get the great stories of struggle and conflict and the way our characters relate to the clients.  And in a way, putting on a trial is like putting on a play.

You play long-time friends but you did not know each other before the show.  How do you create that sense of history and chemistry?

Meyer: You always cross your fingers that first you even get along with the other actor, second that you have something in common.  Mark-Paul and I had more in common with each other than we even knew.  We both started acting very young and have consistently worked.  We’re both family guys, both have kids.

Gosselaar: Our personal lives parallel each other, too.

Meyer: And our work styles.  We both show up knowing our stuff, and then we will have fun with it.  We take the work seriously but not each other at all.  That’s where the fun comes from on the show — the drama comes from the cases and having now been bought up by this white-shoe law firm, how do you stay true to fighting for the underdog when your firm is working for the corporation you are fighting against?  But the fun is in these two guys and we were lucky that we really get along.  We are shooting in LA but we shot the pilot in Atlanta and it helped a lot, being “sequestered” there away from our families.  Normally we finish and go to our houses.  In Atlanta we’d have dinner and work on the script — part was we had nothing else to do but part of it was we loved the show and wanted it to work.  The script was so good — if we could elevate that, it would be amazing.  We worked non-stop, more than on anything else I can think of, around the clock, and neither one of us ever said, “Uncle.”

Tell me about working with the wonderful Malcolm McDowell (“Clockwork Orange,” “If…”), who plays the head of the law firm.

Meyer: He’s everything you want Malcolm McDowell to be.  He’s funny, he’s intense, he’s terrifying, and he is so sweet!  He is a living legend. He’s done a thousand movies and is 287 years old.  If anyone has earned the right to be a diva, it’s him.  But he showed up on set exactly the way we do, knowing his stuff and wanting to have fun.  It sets the bar for everyone.  It sets the tone for a really nice set where everyone’s free to try and fail.  And he has the greatest stories known to men.  He’s worked with everybody.

I’ve seen the first episode, but tell me about what’s coming up later in the season.

Meyer: Beau Bridges comes in as my dad, a litigator.  James Van Der Beek comes on as the ADA’s fiance, who needs a lawyer.  We go into the backstory.

Gosselaar: Our characters evolve.  We began with the personal injury and smaller-time pot cases.  Now we’re doing more corporate, some murder trials, and in the third episode a woman who was fired for being too hot, but it isn’t your conventional vision of what hot would be.

Meyer: That’s one of our favorites.

Gosselaar: And Jason Alexander comes on as a Bernie Madoff-type character.

You both began as child actors so you have had a lot of opportunities to observe the way that movies and television work.  What did you learn from watching the grown-ups around you?

Gosselaar: Don’t be an ass.

Meyer: Don’t be a jackass. It’s a job. Know your stuff.

Gosselaar:  Take pride in what you do.  It has to stem from what we saw around us at home. Our parents instilled in us how important it is to take pride in what you do.

Meyer: No one in my family is in the business, no one in his family is in the business.  That helps, too.  Even though we were in the business, we grew up out of the business.  There are times to have fun and goof off and we were kids, but it was a job and we saw it that way.  We were looking at the work, so we avoided the sense of entitlement.  There’s a lot of luck to it, too, but you have to be determined, and we both were.  And it’s the only I knew that I am mildly good at.

 

Related Tags:

 

Actors Courtroom Interview Television

Law on Television: the ABA’s Top 25

Posted on August 8, 2009 at 8:00 am

The magazine of the country’s largest organization of lawyers, the American Bar Associaton has published its list of the 25 all-time greatest legal television shows from enduring classics like “LA Law,” “Law & Order,” and “Perry Mason” to some quirkier choices like the animated “Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law” and the short-lived divorce lawyer drama “Civil Wars.” The list includes a comedy (“Night Court”) and genre-expanding, even surreal (“Ally McBeal”). Some focus more on civil litigators with controversial cases like “Owen Marshall,” “Boston Legal,” “The Practice,” and “The Defenders,” while others focus on the military (“JAG”), civilian prosecutors (“Law & Order”) or defense attorneys — almost always with innocent clients, of course — (“Perry Mason”). Sometimes, the focus is on the judge (“Judging Amy”).
Drama requires confrontation, and putting on a trial is always about telling a story, or rather telling two competing stories and letting the judge and jury decide which one they believe. And the law is where people go in the direst of circumstances, often when they have already tried to come to an agreement and failed. Only certain parts of the story are relevant in a courtroom, but it is always intriguing to find out what goes on behind all of that party of the first part and let the record show. So courtrooms and law offices are always a good place to look for good stories. Real-life lawyers like Erle Stanley Gardner (creator of Perry Mason), barrister John Mortimer (creator of “Rumpole of the Bailey”), Terry Louis Fisher (co-creator of “LA Law”), and Fred Thompson (co-star of “Law & Order”).
In an interview in the magazine, Sam Waterston of “Law & Order” reminds us that there is a fantasy element to even the grittiest legal drama on television. The cases brought to conclusion in one episode would take months or years to resolve in real life. “We tell stories about what’s fair and what’s just so we can get our minds around them, or just get to know them. In reality, conclusions are muddy, there are no final curtains, and life just goes on.”

Related Tags:

 

Lists Television

List: The Top 25 Law Movies

Posted on July 26, 2008 at 8:00 am

The magazine published by the American Bar Association has assembled a list of the 25 best movies about the law, with another 25 on the list of runners-up. I am a lawyer from a family of lawyers and we all love movies about the law. Just about every lawyer I know would agree with the ABA’s assessment that “To Kill a Mockingbird” is the all-time best.

I’d like to say that it is because I am a lawyer that I have such a passion for courtroom dramas, but I think it is more accurate to say that I became a lawyer because I was so inspired by films like To Kill a Mockingbird and Anatomy of a Murder.  I even wrote a law review article about two of my favorites, Miracle on 34th Street and Inherit the Wind.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Y5Baa0IV1I&feature=related

I am partial to the movies based on real-life cases like “Philadelphia,” “Amistad,” and “Erin Brocovich.” Another of my favorites, “Inherit the Wind,” includes dialogue lifted straight from the court transcripts. “Anatomy of a Murder has the additional distinction of being based on a book by a judge and having a real-life judge and American hero playing the part of the judge on screen. And it is the only law movie I can think of where one of the highlights is a lawyer finding the right precedent in the law library.

I know it is a popular movie, but I was surprised to find “The Verdict” on the ABA’s list, even with Paul Newman’s Oscar-winning performance. It is wrong on so many points of law that my law professor sister said she could ask her students to find all the errors as an exam for her Civil Procedure class. All of the movies on the full list, including the honorable mentions, are worth watching. There is something inherently gripping about a courtroom drama, as “Law and Order” shows several nights a week.

Interestingly, though, one of the most widely seen and highly regarded of the films takes place entirely outside the courtroom: 12 Angry Men. A friend recently gave me a copy of a a special issue of the Chicago-Kent Law Review dedicated to the 50th anniversary of that classic movie.

In , all but a few moments of the film take place in one room as a dozen men deliberate in a murder case. A teenager has been charged with stabbing his father to death. In the initial vote, all but one (Henry Fonda as Juror #8) vote “guilty.” I go on jury duty myself for the first time after Labor Day and will keep this movie very much in mind as I try to live up to one of society’s most important responsibilities.

 

Related Tags:

 

Classic Drama For Your Netflix Queue Lists Movie Mom’s Top Picks for Families Rediscovered Classic Spiritual films
THE MOVIE MOM® is a registered trademark of Nell Minow. Use of the mark without express consent from Nell Minow constitutes trademark infringement and unfair competition in violation of federal and state laws. All material © Nell Minow 1995-2024, all rights reserved, and no use or republication is permitted without explicit permission. This site hosts Nell Minow’s Movie Mom® archive, with material that originally appeared on Yahoo! Movies, Beliefnet, and other sources. Much of her new material can be found at Rogerebert.com, Huffington Post, and WheretoWatch. Her books include The Movie Mom’s Guide to Family Movies and 101 Must-See Movie Moments, and she can be heard each week on radio stations across the country.

Website Designed by Max LaZebnik