A survey of lawyers on film
The conversation about great lawyers on film used to
begin and end with Atticus Finch—with maybe Lt. Daniel
Kaffee, Sir Wilfred Robarts or young Abe Lincoln tossed
in for good measure.
During the last year, Super Lawyers asked attorneys from
across the country to name their favorite legal movie, and
To Kill a Mockingbird, with Gregory Peck as the thoughtful,
pacifist Southern lawyer fighting racism in 1930s Alabama,
didn’t come out on top; it didn’t even place.
The winner, by a landslide, was My Cousin Vinny. Here
are the top choices from the 84 attorneys polled.
Our Cousin Vinny
Move over, Atticus: Lawyers have a new favorite cinematic lawyer BY ERIK LUNDEGAARD
What accounts for Atticus’ fall from favor? Some
might blame the recent, controversial publication of Go
Set a Watchman, in which an older, less saintly Atticus
rails against integration and the NAACP in 1950s Ala-
bama. But half of the votes occurred before Harper Lee’s
sequel was published; and most of Mockingbird’s picks
came after that date.
More likely, Mockingbird was simply a victim of its own
success. It was too obvious a choice.
“The answer you’ve probably heard a million times is
To Kill a Mockingbird,” says J. Guthrie True of Frankfort,
Kentucky, before opting for Witness for the Prosecution.
“Honestly, my favorite legal movies are To Kill a Mock-
ingbird and The Verdict, but I figure there’s a 90 percent
chance that others have written about them,” says Martha
E. Gifford, of Brooklyn, New York, before recommending
My Cousin Vinny 19
A Few Good Men 9
A Time to Kill 5
Legally Blonde 4
To Kill a Mockingbird 4
12 Angry Men 3
A Civil Action 3
The lawyers who chose My Cousin Vinny, meanwhile,
mention how light-hearted and funny it is. More than a
few wish that they could repeat Vinny Gambini’s memo-
rable opening statement: “Everything that guy just said
They also identify with him.
“He doesn’t give up,” says David McGuffey, an elder
law attorney in Georgia. “And at the end of the day he
prevails, as much as anything, because of his tenacity.”
“The critics call it satire but I would call it reality,”
says Bradford C. Berge of Santa Fe, New Mexico. “I’ve
taken on cases that I shouldn’t have. I’ve represented my
relatives. I’ve been in over my head with no way out. I’ve
been ‘hometowned’ by opposing counsel who called the
judge and jury by their first names. I have felt the wrath
of judges who made no effort to hide their feelings that I
was wasting their time.”
“If you are enthusiastic and diligent and you really love
being a lawyer,” adds Dean T. Kirby Jr. in San Diego, “that’s
got to be about 90 percent of success. In a weird way, it’s
an uplifting take on the profession.”
There’s also this: Atticus lost his case; Vinny won.