Tapping Positive Lawyer Archetypes from Pop Culture

Author  Nadia Jones offers an intriguing insight into the pop culture world of law.

Believe it or not, the image of lawyers in the public imagination isn’t all bad. Just think how many people obsessively watch Law and Order. It’s got to be the most endlessly rerun TV show of the past fifteen years, especially if you figure in all the various spin-offs. (And yes: many of the most addicted viewers out there are lawyers themselves, but not a majority, probably not even a plurality.) 

Ordinary people often do see (some) lawyers as heroes. They stand up for the disenfranchised, fight the powers that be, and ensure that justice is carried out as faithfully as possible. As ancient a pedigree as the lawyer jokes have (everyone remembers Shakespeare’s quote, “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers”), we have also always admired those who fought, by persuasion and reason and research, for the betterment of society. In real life, for instance, we have the dignity of Cicero to look up to, the martyrdom of Sir Thomas More, the brave dedication of Thurgood Marshall. In the fictional realm, mythic figures linger in the unconscious of every potential client, shaping their ideal view of what a lawyer should be. Here are a few of those characters and the values they embody:

Character: Atticus Finch

Source: To Kill A Mockingbird

Prime Attribute: Decency

Certainly the greatest and most beloved lawyer in American culture, Atticus Finch is certainly the hero of Harper Lee’s novel and Robert Mulligan’s film (both canonical in their respective media). But he is, importantly, not the protagonist. As praiseworthy as his defense of a wrongly accused black man is, it’s the family aspect that lifts the story from a didactic political drama to classic status. We see him through the eyes of his own daughter Scout, and therefore he is a comforting, rock-solid presence. This cuts through the most negative stereotype about lawyers: people don’t trust them.

Character: Perry Mason

Source: Perry Mason

Prime Attribute: Acuity

Perry Mason was the star of a pulp novel series, then a radio show, then an endlessly-syndicated TV show with Raymond Burr. The plot was formulaic: Perry defends a murder suspect with the evidence stacked against them, but manages to unravel the case and cause the real murderer to break down on the witness stand. Repetitive, implausible...and irresistible. Sonia Sotomayor, for instance, now of the Supreme Court, testified in her Senate confirmation hearing that Perry Mason inspired her as a young girl to become a lawyer. Every client wants a lawyer like sharp-eyed, unflappable Raymond Burr, who will focus like a laser on their case and blow it wide open. 

Character: Vincent “Vinny” Gambini

Source: My Cousin Vinny

Attribute: Relatability

Joe Pesci’s wisecracking, questionably-credentialed New York attorney comes to the rescue of his cousin wrongfully accused of murder in a suddenly not-so-hospitable South. If you’re a lawyer, you’ve probably seen this excellent 1992 comedy, and if not, get on it (it was written by a lawyer and is renowned for its fairly impressive accuracy, even being used as a teaching tool in law schools). The great thing about it is that the abrasive Yankee eventually proves so lovable to the instinctively suspicious Southerners, even the judge (played by Fred Gwynne of Munsters fame in his last role). He’s not a great mind, or a perfect hero, yet he wins not only the case but the hearts and minds of those around him, through sheer devotion, frankness, and authenticity.

These intangibles may sound too fuzzy to work with, but they’re absolutely crucial for you to consider when you’re crafting a marketing image for your firm. These works of storytelling offer us examples of how we can create those feelings in the minds of clients and inform the way the public thinks about the practice of law. You could do worse than to take a page from the great attorney-heroes of literature and film.

Nadia Jones is a full-time education blogger based in Houston, Texas. Interested in all things academia, Nadia frequently writes at onlinecollege.org for those interested in the realm of online education. For questions and comments reach her at nadia.jones5@gmail.com.

 

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