The Ultimate Guide to the Law in Pop Culture Part II: Movies & Documentaries

Ultimate Guide to the Law in Pop Culture Part II - Movies & DocumentariesPlease welcome back 2L guest writer Jaclyn Wishnia to discuss the best movies and documentaries to look for when you want to find some legal entertainment.

In the first installment of our ultimate guide to the law in pop culture series, we curated a list of top TV shows that involve various legal themes and span multiple genres. For law students who either prefer full-length films to hour-long episodes, or are simply looking for some good legal entertainment during a law school break, the second part of our series focuses on the law found in the forms of movies and documentaries.

1. To Kill a Mockingbird

Originally based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Harper Lee, the movie To Kill a Mockingbird has played a vital role in galvanizing students to pursue a legal career due to its courtroom theatrics and lead protagonist’s (Atticus Finch, an attorney) enthralling performance. Whether you are a pre-law or current law student, we strongly recommend both reading and watching this acclaimed classic ahead of the Broadway adaptation, which is set to be released by the end of this year.

Best Scene: When Atticus Finch cross-examines Mayella Ewell.

2. The Central Park Five

First on our list of documentaries, filmmaker Ken Burns relays the horrifying facts behind The Central Park Five; a group of teenagers who were wrongfully convicted for a serious crime. It will force you to consider how the media and racial injustice can have an impact on the outcome of a case.

Interesting Documentary Fact: The documentary features our current President’s involvement in the case prior to him taking office.

3. My Cousin Vinny

If you are gearing up for a mock trial competition, My Cousin Vinny has the perfect paradigm to emulate for both witness prep and cross-examination stages (one of the movie’s most famous scenes). It also shows what may occur when you argue in a venue that is outside of the jurisdiction of which you are familiar. Plus, the legal procedure in the film is portrayed accurately and certain scenes are taken directly from a real-life trial transcript.

Best Scene: Vinny putting Mona Lisa on the stand to testify as an expert witness.

4. The Confession Tapes

Using six true crime cases as its basis, The Confession Tapes demonstrates just how important the rights granted to U.S. citizens under the 4th and 5th Amendments truly are, especially when it involves coerced evidence.

Best Episode: “True East Part 2” (S1, E2).

5. Legally Blonde

While clearly more fiction than fact, Legally Blonde is the type of movie that leaves you feeling lighthearted and empowered simultaneously; the ultimate triumph of juxtaposition sentiments. The movie follows a sorority girl on her journey of being accepted and eventually graduating from Harvard Law. Though more comedic than serious, some of the movie’s law school classroom scenes represent the epitome of your stricter law professors’ behavioral quirks. Check it out and we guarantee that Elle Woods will quickly become your new law school beacon of confidence.

Best Scene (Tied): Elle’s cross-examination of Chutney, and The ‘Bend and Snap’ (for reasons purely related to entertainment value).

6. Counterfeit Culture

Interested in IP law or Product Liability? We highly recommend watching Counterfeit Culture. This hour-long documentary delves into the world of fake products and the repercussions they can wreak on society.

Interesting Documentary Fact: Trafficking counterfeit goods represents approximately 10% of all global trade.

7. Erin Brockovich

Based on the real Erin Brockovich, the movie provides a glimpse at what it’s like for poorer plaintiffs to build a case against a major corporation. The movie concentrates on gathering evidence, conducting due diligence, and the reality that most cases do not make it to the courtroom, but instead settle.

Best Scene: When Erin receives a “lame” settlement offer.

8. Making a Murderer

What do reputation and law enforcement have in common? When it comes to criminal cases, everything. Previously exonerated by the Innocence Project, Making a Murderer follows the real life story of a murder suspect, his trial, and tribulations, of his experience with the U.S. justice system.

Best Episode: “The Last Person to See Teresa Alive” (S1, E5).

9. A Time to Kill

Based on one of John Grisham’s bestselling legal thrillers, A Time to Kill is another captivating courtroom drama that preoccupies itself with the notion of defining justice. One caveat about the movie is that law student viewers should focus more on the idea of justice and racial inequality, rather than what the defense uses as their final argument, because it is not entirely accurate in terms of black letter law, and you would most likely lose that argument in an actual courtroom.

Best Scene: The closing argument.

10. O.J.: Made in America

If you have to choose between just one of the many versions of the O.J. Simpson story, O.J. Made in America should be your leading option. Produced by ESPN, it covers both the trial and the historical climate of the U.S. during the late 20th century.

Interesting Documentary Fact: O.J.’s defense team takes down numerous photos of him with friends and replaces them with paintings, including a Normal Rockwell print, to stage his estate for the jury.

That wraps up part two of our Ultimate Guide to the Law in Pop Culture series. Looking for mediums that are more conducive to commuting or traveling? Be on the lookout for Part III of our guide to legal entertainment, which provides an intriguing list of books and podcasts related to the law.


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About Jaclyn Wishnia

Jaclyn Wishnia graduated from Fordham University with a double major in Journalism and the Classics. Upon graduation, she accepted a role as a paralegal. After several years of working for both criminal and entertainment law firms, she decided to pursue her passion, to become an attorney, and enrolled in law school. She is currently a 2L at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law located in New York, NY. Additionally, she serves as a staff editor for Cardozo's Arts & Entertainment Law Journal, Treasurer of Cardozo's Entertainment Law Society, and is a student liaison for the NYS Bar EASL committee.

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