Law and the Screen

by Morgan Dodd

As the newest member of Andrews Davis, I decided to look to prior blog entries for guidance. Seeing my colleague Mark Toffoli’s recent “Law and Literature”, I have decided to give a kind of update, if you will, and write on Law and the Screen, with an example from both the big screen and the small screen.

Many times when we think of lawyers, and specifically lawyers on screen, we think of the outward advocates, vigorously defending their clients, either in the courtroom or perhaps out on the front steps of the courthouse in front of numerous microphones and reporters. Perhaps you think of Raymond Burr as Perry Mason, Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch, or John Payne as Kris Kringle’s staunchest defender in the original “Miracle on 34th Street”. While these are very important functions for legal counsel, the most memorable attorneys on screen and their most memorable scenes are quite different for me.

Mark quoted Mario Puzo’s classic, The Godfather, in saying: “We are all honorable men here, we do not have to give each other assurances as if we were lawyers.” Mark’s point was that lawyers are seldom treated kindly in even modern literature, and he is right. But remember that Tom Hagen, the Irish-German orphan found by Sonny on the streets of New York and taken in by the Corleone family, was steered to law school so that he could become the Corleone family consigliere, or adviser. Why? Because wise counsel—a trusted adviser looking out for another’s interests, listening and discussing concerns—was of great value in its own right, even apart from the outward advocacy that we often think of. And in one of the more volatile scenes, with Sonny lashing out at Tom, it was Tom’s counsel, not any lack of guns or muscle or paid politicians, that let Sonny down, with Sonny bursting out: “If I had a wartime consigliere, a Sicilian, I wouldn’t be in this shape!” When things get rough, it can be the counsel you receive that makes all the difference.

Let’s fast forward a bit, to a popular television series of the past few years, “Breaking Bad”. Now, I am not about to say that you should be like Saul Goodman through and through—I like my law license too much for that! But I would like to point out the more memorable scenes where Saul Goodman appeared. We hardly saw him in court or arranging any of his, ahem, side matters to take care of things for Walter White (though all of that did happen—just off-screen). Instead, our attention is directed to Saul’s office and his private meetings with Walt and Jesse. We see their discussions. We see Saul spend a great amount of time listening to Walt and Jesse and then warning them of issues that will arise that they have not even thought about.

I hope that you are satisfied with your legal representation, that you feel listened to and heard, and that you can share your concerns and feel that you have someone looking out for you.

And as the newest member of Andrews Davis, where we say that we are not just attorneys but also counsellors, I am very glad for the great emphasis placed on the inward role of a lawyer.

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