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Top 5 Lawyers in Film

In honor of International Love Your Lawyer Day today, we thought it would be fun to come up with a list of top five lawyers on film who we’d want defending us if we were in trouble. Lawyers are stereotypically known for being slick, sleazy characters so we didn’t anticipate that we’d have to narrow down from a list of over twenty admirable lawyers on film to this final compilation of five. There was a lot of arguing amongst friends as to who would make the final five (with honorable mentions listed below) so without further ado, here are our top five laudable lawyers on film who we’d want defending us in a court of law. Warning: spoilers ahead.

5. Lt. Daniel Kaffee (Tom Cruise) in A Few Good Men
Admit it. After your fifth or so viewing of this film (because it’s almost impossible to avoid its almost weekly showings on cable television) you anxiously look forward to the final scenery chewing courtroom scene where Jack Nicholson’s Col. Jessup proudly barks that he ordered the fateful Code Red. More than holding his own, however, was Tom Cruise’s ambitious, baseball-loving litigator who was more than ready to handle the truth.


4. James B. Donovan (Tom Hanks) in Bridge of Spies
Widely loved actor Tom Hanks is no stranger to playing pure-hearted, stubborn lawyers. His affecting (and Oscar winning) turn as corporate lawyer Andrew Beckett in Philadelphia is regarded as one of the best screen performances of the past few decades. Already his recent nuanced performance as tenacious insurance lawyer (and real life hero) James B. Donovan is garnering Oscar buzz, and deservedly so. Hanks perfectly captures the resolute spirit of Donovan who was determined to mediate the return of KGB spy Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance, in a beguiling performance) in exchange for Americans Francis Gary Powers (Austin Stowell) and Frederic Pryor (Will Rogers). Catch the thrilling film in theaters now.

bridge-of-spies tom hanks courtroom

3. Vinny Gambini (Joe Pesci) in My Cousin Vinny
 Like A Few Good Men, this courtroom comedy is played on cable television ad nauseum and, like A Few Good Men, this film never gets old. Italian-American New Yorker lawyer Vincent Gambini goes hunting for the truth in the South when “two yutes”- his nephew Bill (Karate Kid Ralph Macchio) and his friend Stan (Mitchell Whitfield) are wrongfully accused of murder. With a little help from his savvy fiancee Mona Lisa Vito (Oscar winner Marisa Tomei), a former mechanic, he wins his first trial case (and a ton of laughs from the film’s viewers).


2. Erin Brockovich (Julia Roberts) in Erin Brockovich
Pretty woman Julia Roberts captivated audiences (and Oscar voters) with her dramatic portrayal of the (real life) tough as nails, ballsy Erin Brockovich, assistant to lawyer Ed Masry (Albert Finney). Yes she’s not a lawyer, but without her persistent support, the ailing residents of Hinkley, California would not have received such a groundbreaking settlement from the Pacific Gas and Electric Company, the company which was fully aware of its contamination of the groundwater in the area.


1. Atticus Finch (Gregory Peck) in To Kill A Mockingbird
Perhaps the most beloved lawyer in film and literature (we choose to ignore the recently released follow-up novel Go Set A Watchman), Atticus Finch was also ranked by the American Film Institute as the greatest hero in American film.Tender father to the Finch children Jem (Phillip Alford) and Scout (Mary Badham) and tough defender of not only racism in 1930s Alabama but also wrongfully accused African-American rapist Tom Robinson (Brock Peters), Atticus is the very epitome of the lawyer we’d most want defending us in a court of law.


Honorable mentions (in no particular order): Elle Woods (Reese Witherspoon) in Legally Blonde 1 and 2, Frank Galvin (Paul Newman) in The Verdict, Fred Gailey (John Payne) in Miracle on 34th Street, Paul Biegler (James Stewart) in Anatomy of a Murder, Fletcher Reede (Jim Carrey) in Liar Liar, Matthew McConaughey’s respective characters in A Time to Kill and The Lincoln Lawyer, Henry Drummond (Spencer Tracy) in Inherit the Wind, and Richard Gere’s respective characters in Chicago and Primal Fear.

Leora Heilbronn

Leora Heilbronn is a Toronto based film aficionado who has a weakness for musicals and violent action flicks. She can often be spotted reading a wide range of literature or listening to show tunes.