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Top Hollywood Myths About Lawyers

By William Vogeler, Esq. | Last updated on

Hollywood lawyers -- those characters created for movies and television -- represent both truths and falsehoods about lawyers in real life.

Bold or brash? Smart or smart-aleck? Self-assured or self-centered? Criminal attorney or redundancy?

Seriously, the line between fact and fiction sometimes can be quite thin. After all, everyone has seen one real-life lawyer like Vinny Gambini from "My Cousin Vinny" or at least one with a really bad suit.

There are Hollywood myths, however. They are stories built upon false beliefs, not to be confused with true legends that seem bigger than life. Let's try to sort out the differences:

Confident and Principled

"To Kill a Mockingbird," starring Gregory Peck in the lead lawyer role, was ranked by the ABA Journal as the most popular lawyer movie ever.

Peck portrays small-town attorney Atticus Finch, who fights against racism in Depression-era Alabama to defend a black man falsely accused of rape by a white woman. He battled in the courtroom with self-confidence and principle.

"Real courage is when you know you're licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what," he said.

Albeit fiction, the film became an instant classic with a legendary lawyer portrayal. It must have been true about some lawyers when it was released in 1962. And of course it's still true for some lawyers today. Unfortunately, there are too many examples of attorneys acting without principle.

Advocate or Aggressor

According to lawyer and crisis communicator Jamie Wright, the attorney's courtroom conduct in "The Devil's Advocate" is an egregious example of Hollywood gone bad.

She said Keanu Reeves, whose character never lost a case, gets away with murder in cross-examining a child on the witness stand. Wright told the Business Insider it was nonsensical.

"This would not happen in real life," she said. "In real life, the opposing counsel would object ... and the judge would instruct the jury to disregard some of the harassing questions and answers."

Whether or not Reeves was a real devil's advocate, the portrayal was hellishly mythical.

Fact and Fiction

Melvin Belli, the legendary "King of Torts" and sometimes Hollywood actor, was known for his courtroom theatrics. Representing a woman in a personal injury case, he literally dropped her prosthetic leg in a juror's lap for dramatic effect.

In another case, he completely erased the line between fact and fiction. He told me, in an interview with the Los Angeles Daily Journal, that he coached his client to put on a show at a strategic point in a criminal trial.

The woman wanted to testify, but Belli thought she would not survive cross-examination. So he told her to stand up and exclaim her innocence after he said, "the defense rests."

And as they say in Hollywood, the rest is probably fiction.

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