Most lists of lawyers from movies or TV shows focus on the greats. The ABA gave its list of The 25 Greatest Fictional Lawyers (Who are Not Atticus Finch), we have our own list of 16 great lawyers overlooked by the ABA Journal. Bloomberg Law now has The 10 Greatest Legal Movie Lines. Well, we figured it was time to look at the other side of fictional lawyers. Everyone knows that lawyers don't have a great reputation out in the public. For every person that considers lawyers to be Leaders of Society, there are scores who think they're worthless shysters. Wouldn't that portrayal show up on the big and little screen as well?
Today, we honor ten lawyers who aren't great. Some of them may be funny, they may be beloved fictional characters, but no one thinks they're great lawyers. Not necessarily the ten worst, just ten.
Donald Gennaro (Michael Ferrero), Jurassic Park
What's the matter, kid, you never had lamb chops?
You probably didn't recognize the name, but say the movie and everyone knows who the lawyer is. He's the one reptile everyone is hoping gets killed, and the movie doesn't disappoint. Not counting the introduction to the movie, he's the first to get killed, and he goes out in a blaze of shitting himself.
Judge Carl Robertson (Sherman Hemsley), The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
Will: At least my uncle stands for something.
Robertson: What? A Buffet?
Robertson is a judge, not a lawyer, but we'll assume he was a lawyer once too. He's obnoxious and incompetent, and to call him amoral would be a compliment. The man is simply bad. When Uncle Phil runs against him for Superior Court Judge, Robertson launches a smear campaign criticizing Banks for not having "thrown any bums in jail." When Robertson dies just after winning the judicial race, his funeral is attended by those he wrongfully imprisoned. They show up just to make sure he's dead.
Susan Porter (Tamara Taylor), Lost
Michael: You're not taking him, you're not taking my son. You can go if you want to, but Walt stays with me.
Susan: I'm trying to have a discussion with you.
Michael: No you're not. You're talking about going to Amsterdam, just you and him. How is that a discussion?
Susan: It's an offer, Michael, and that's where the job is.
Michael: You said you were happy. What about the legal clinic being a good fit, you said that.
Susan: This is a huge opportunity. You know I've always wanted to do international law.
The non-lawyer audience will see there's a conflict. Unmarried couple, they have a kid, she gets a great job offer, but it's all the way in Amsterdam. What to do? Should she sacrifice her career just to keep daddy in the picture?
The lawyer audience will see the same scene and think "the fuck is international law?" If you mean things like setting up private equity funds in the Cayman Islands, or structuring multi-jurisdictional tax breaks, that can be done right from jolly ol' New York City. But, maybe she means real international law. She is after all moving to Amsterdam, not far from The Hague and the International Court of Justice.
Later we find out she's boning her boss, and they two of them pack up and move to Rome, and then to Australia. She didn't want to practice international law. She wanted to practice big corporate law in a series of exciting foreign locals, and boning her boss was a better way of getting to do that than boning an artist making his living by doing temporary construction work.
Avery Tolar (Gene Hackman), The Firm
Abby, the girl on the beach was a setup. They do things like that, in case the other enticements don't work.
You can lump in the rest of the partners at Bendini, Lambert and Locke as well. Conspiracies are hard to pull off. The less manpower you have, the less capable your organization is. But, the more manpower you have, the higher the chances are that someone will fink. So, it makes perfect sense for a firm whose main client is the mob to go out and aggressively hire fresh law school graduates.
Why? Because rather than just being satisfied with the $1000 an hour they charge to the mob for that work, they also want to have other practice areas and a bunch of other clients, just to pile some more money on top of the mountain. If an associate doesn't like the arrangement, he either has to reluctantly go along with it, or get murdered. Great options.
Just to make matters worse, on top of having a whale of a client in the mob and lots of other high paying clients, the white shoe firm decides to go on step further and overbill everyone. This is a firm bent on destroying itself, and dragging down as many talented lawyers with it as it can get its hands on.
Jane Bingum (Brooke Elliot), Drop Dead Diva
Stacy: That is highly insensitive. Maybe the client has a thyroid problem.
Jane: Oh, no. Sweetie, a "whale" is what we call a wealthy client.
So, here's the premise of the show in case you haven't seen it, and if you have seen it, we're sorry. Deb, a pretty but shallow model, is killed in a car wreck. She gets up to Heaven's processing department, and since she is a complete wash for good and bad deeds, she is sent back down to earth Heaven Can Wait style, to inhabit the recently deceased body of Jane Bingum. Deb keeps her personality, what little of it there is, but also somehow retains Jane's legal knowledge. So, basically the premise of the show is pretty people = shallow and dumb, fat people = smart and deep. And of course, none of Deb's diet or exercise habits survived. Wouldn't want to send the message that Deb had any redeeming qualities or that Jane's weight was at all her own down. Nope, the donuts just fly into her mouth. You can imagine pretty easily the crowd this appeals to.
Along with the premise, the individual episode plots are terrible and Jane is a trainwreck of a lawyer. Well, if this were the real world, she'd be a trainwreck. You cannot represent the plaintiff in a tort case and ask the jury to find a new cause of action that didn't previously exist at law. That just-- you can't do that. But, in the world of Drop Dead Diva, that works and Jane's the hero.
John Gibbons (Austin Pendleton), My Cousin Vinny
John Gibbons: Mr. Tipton, I see you wear glasses.
Mr. Tipton: Yes I do.
John Gibbons: Could you show those glasses to the court, please? Okay, now were you wearing them that day?
Mr. Tipton: No.
John Gibbons: Uh huh. You see? You were fifty feet away, you made a positive eyewitness identification and-and-and-and-and-and-and YET, you were not wearing your necessary, prescription eye glasses.
Mr. Tipton: They're reading glasses.
John Gibbons: Um Mr., Um... Could you tell the court what color eyes the defendants have?
Mr. Tipton: Brown and hazel green.
This movie is actually a whole train wreck of bad lawyers. Obviously John the public defender is terrible. There's a reason they fire him and go with Vinny. Vinny is a pretty bad lawyer, too. He took six tries to pass the bar exam, and his courtroom decorum leaves on wanting. Yes, Vinny is incredibly smart and he wins the case, but he's not exactly adept as a lawyer. Mona Lisa does most of the legal research for him. The prosecutor doesn't realize all the holes in his case (and if he had, he could not in good faith proceed with the prosecution), and the judge is incapable of determining the identity of the lawyers arguing in his court room.
My Cousin Vinny is one of the greatest legal films of all time, and Vinny's scenes are priceless. But, none of the characters are particularly good lawyers.
"Sweaty" Ted Buckland (Sam Lloyd), Scrubs
Finally, doctors, if there is a mistake, don't admit it to the patient. Of course, if the patient is deceased -- and you're sure -- you can feel free to tell him or her...anything.
There's not too much to say about Sweaty Teddy. He's incompetent as a lawyer, and barely even functional as a human being. Look at him while thinking a mildly rude thought and he's break out into flop sweats and start drafting the settlement agreement.
Endearing, yes. And the musical numbers are some of the best scenes on the show. But as a lawyer goes? He's the lawyer that even other shyster lawyers make fun of.
Neena Broderick (Julianna Margulies), Scrubs
Hey, you, get in the back of my car.
Neena is introduced as the antithesis of Teddy. She's the "black haired, soulless bottom feeder." Where Ted's reaction to confrontation is sweat and fear, Neena's reaction is pure aggression. So, if she's supposed to be the opposite of Teddy, doesn't that make her a great lawyer?
No. She basically gets her way by whacking people in the nuts until they, or their nuts, cave in. It's an effective strategy, but it's also extra-legal, and that doesn't make you a great lawyer. She'd be a great mob enforcer, just not particularly upstanding as far as members of the bar are concerned.
Lionel Hutz (voiced by Phil Hartman), The Simpsons
Lionel Hutz: Well, I didn't win. Here's your pizza.
Marge: But we did win.
Lionel Hutz: That's okay. The box is empty.
Easily up there alongside Atticus Finch as one of the most beloved lawyers of all time. But, he's beloved because of the amazing writing on The Simpsons (at least, back when the show still had amazing writing).
He's an alcoholic, can barely keep up with what's going on in his own cases, and has to refer to himself as a "law talking guy" because he can't even remember the word "lawyer." A graduate of the Knight School of Law, Lionel Hutz is probably the best portrayal of what most people think about their lawyers. You'd say he's the best you can afford, but even that is an overstatement.
Lee "Apollo" Adama (Jamie Bamber), Battlestar Galactica
Did the defendant make mistakes? Sure. He did. Serious mistakes. But did he actually commit any crimes? Did he commit treason? No. I mean, it was an impossible situation. When the Cylons arrived, what could he possibly do? What could anyone have done? Ask yourself, what would you have done? What would you have done?
If he had refused to surrender, the Cylons would have probably nuked the planet right then and there. So did he appear to cooperate with the Cylons? Sure. So did hundreds of others. What's the difference between him and them? The President issued a blanket pardon. They were all forgiven, no questions asked. Colonel Tigh. Colonel Tigh used suicide bombers, killed dozens of people. Forgiven. Lieutenant Agathon and Chief Tyrol. They murdered an officer on the Pegasus. Forgiven. The Admiral. The Admiral instigated a military coup d'état against the President. Forgiven. And me? Well, where do I begin? I shot down a civilian passenger ship, the Olympic Carrier. Over a thousand people on board. Forgiven. I raised my weapon to a superior officer, committed an act of mutiny. Forgiven. And then on the very day when Baltar surrendered to those Cylons, I as commander of Pegasus jumped away. I left everybody on that planet, alone, undefended, for months. I even tried to persuade the Admiral never to return, to abandon you all there for good. If I'd had my way nobody would have made it off that planet. I'm the coward. I'm the traitor. I'm forgiven. I'd say we are very forgiving of mistakes.
We make our own laws now; our own justice. And we've been pretty creative in finding ways to let people off the hook for everything from theft to murder. And we've had to be, because...because we're not a civilization anymore. We are a gang, and we are on the run, and we have to fight to survive. We have to break rules. We have to bend laws. We have to improvise. But not this time, no. Not this time. Not for Gaius Baltar. No, you...you have to die. You have to die, because, well, because we don't like you very much. Because you're arrogant. Because you're weak. Because you're a coward, and we, the mob, want to throw you out of the airlock, because you didn't stand up to the Cylons and get yourself killed in the process. That's justice now. You should have been killed back on New Caprica, but since you had the temerity to live, we're going to execute you now. That's justice.
This case...this case is built on emotion, on anger, bitterness, vengeance. But most of all, it is built on shame. It's about the shame of what we did to ourselves back on that planet. It's about the guilt of those of us who ran away. Who ran away. And we're trying to dump all that guilt and all that shame on one man and then flush him out the airlock, and hope that just gets rid of it all. So that we could live with ourselves. But that won't work. That won't work. That's not justice; not to me. Not to me.
It's a great defense, and it works. It's especially remarkable coming from someone whose entire legal background is just fond memories of his lawyer grandfather. So, why does Lee Adama make the list of crappy lawyers?
He doesn't offer his reasoning as a closing argument, where it belongs. He asks to be called as a witness.
The fuck is that about?