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How Hollywood Lied To Us About What It Means To Be A Lawyer: Legally Blonde

Most Americans have not seen a criminal trial in person. Most Americans have not picked up books on the Federal Rules of Evidence. Shoot, most Americans have probably not even read the Constitution. That’s why the national perception of so many lawyers is colored by how they are portrayed on television and film. Sadly, the portrayal of lawyers in film is not always favorable (think Kevin Spacey in A Time to Kill). Sometimes though, even the legal heroes present a false perception of how the law operates. This can create unrealistic expectations in the hearts of aspiring young attorneys – who only receive the crushing blow of disappointment that Hollywood law is not like real world law after they decide to go to law school.

So without further ado, let’s dispel the obfuscating cloud of Hollywood fiction and kick off this new blog post series by analyzing:

Legally Blonde

Oh, Legally Blonde. Inspiration to thousands of sorority sisters turned lawyers everywhere. After borderline negligent representation from a rich sleaze bag attorney, law student Elle Woods steps up to defend her client. In a dramatic scene during cross examination of the prosecution’s witness, Elle saves the day using her knowledge of perms and hair products – proving that the witness in fact committed the murder.

Here’s why Elle was failing in her job as a lawyer: Up to that point, she had nothing. She didn’t figure out this “you couldn’t have been in the shower because you just had a perm” defense until the actual cross. Nights and nights poring over evidence and testimony: nothing. Certainly it adds to the drama which is why it was written that way, but as far as the actual practice of law it is terrible. Going in with no plan of attack (other than street smarts and a genuine belief in the goodness of your client) is a good way to lose early and often in a court room. But for the glaring error in the witness testimony, Elle (and the adorable Luke Wilson) had nothing.

Elle WoodsLike OMG! You totes just made my case for me!

Here’s the take home: Being a trial lawyer requires preparation. A lot of preparation. If you are finding out new and incredibly relevant information from a witness mid-trial, you probably didn’t do your job right when you should have. While it does ruin the “dramatic revelation” moment that court room dramas so obviously love, the more realistic approach would be to catch inconsistencies in depositions and then use those depositions to impeach the witness.

On the chopping block next week: To Kill a Mockingbird

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