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10 Best Movie Lawyers Ever

by Samantha Gordanier

We’ve put together a list of the 10 most memorable lawyers from movies. Will you agree with our number 1?

Lawyers and Movie Buffs – otherwise well informed and well-watched audiences – often debate “the best” [insert anything here] it’s just in their nature. Your favourite is, of course, subjective (our favourites are subjective too), due to a wide range of criteria that makes a movie or TV show lawyer “the best”. We tried to touch on quite a few criterium; whether it’s morality, determination, having a killer-instinct, or being a tough talker, we’ve got’em all.

A few notes: We do not own, or claim to own, any of the YouTube content we’ve linked to. We hope you enjoy our custom (and very downloadable) images we’ve made for this article! Also, as always, if you disagree and don’t see your favourite on the list – fear not – leave a comment on our Facebook page explaining who the character is and why they should’ve made the cut.

Now, drum roll please….

Vinny Gambini is one the the Best Movie Lawyers of All Time
10. Vinny Gambini

Two New Yorkers visit Alabama while traveling back from college and are accused of murder – one of them calls their cousin Vinny to help them out.
Played by Joe Pesci in My Cousin Vinny

“Uh, everything that guy just said is bull%^&. Thank you.”

Just barely passing the bar in Brooklyn after his sixth attempt, having zero trial experience, and a loud mouth to boot all make Vinny the perfect candidate to defend two young men in a murder trial in the South (right?). His and Tomei’s over the top Good Fellas-esque accents are also addictive. One more thing, Joe Pesci has an album as Vinny Gambini – seriously, this is a thing.

Elle Woods is one the the Best Movie Lawyers of All Time
9. Elle Woods

Sorority girl who has a 4.0 (fashion major), a 179 on her LSATS, was in a Ricky Martin music video, and designed a line of faux fur underwear goes to Harvard Law School.
Played by Reese Witherspoon in Legally Blonde

“I just don’t think that Brooke could’ve done this. Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people just don’t shoot their husbands, they just don’t.”

Sorority President Elle Woods wanted nothing else in life than to design animal friendly fashion line, live in LA, and marry her boyfriend (governor’s son) Warner Huntington III. When she’d told she’s not serious enough (and too blonde) to marry, Elle decides to study like mad and follow her (now ex-boyfriend) to Harvard Law. You know what they say: the best revenge is to study, get into Harvard, meet a lawyer, and get proposed to by him – that’s a saying, right?

Michael Clayton is one the the Best Movie Lawyers of All Time
8. Michael Clayton

A major law firm’s “fixer” is called in to smooth over a problem – a lawyer had a mental breakdown in the middle of defending a chemical company during a class action suit.
Played by George Clooney in Michael Clayton

“I’m not the guy you kill. I’m the guy you buy! Are you so f*$%^ blind that you don’t even see what I am? I sold out Arthur for 80 grand. I’m your easiest problem and you’re gonna kill me?”

Did your main litigator get arrested while running around naked in a parking lot after having a meltdown during a 3 billion dollar class action suit? Who ya gonna call? Michael Clayton!

Rita Harrison Williams is one the the Best Movie Lawyers of All Time

7. Rita Harrison Williams

An unfeeling lawyer takes on a heart-breaking pro bono case of parental rights to prove something to her peers.
Played by Michelle Pfeiffer in I Am Sam

“Sam, I can go at least another nine rounds, but you got to let me in.”

In order to prove she’s sympathetic, a cold woman with the perfect job, family, car, hair, you name it – takes on a pro bono case of parental custody for a mentally challenged man to keep his daughter. Her interactions with Sam evolve from strictly business to coaching each other on personal matters. Needless to say, this one’s a real tear jerker.

Daniel Kaffee is one the the Best Movie Lawyers of All Time

6. Lt. Daniel Kaffee

A rookie military lawyer defends marines accused of murder (who claim they were acting under orders)
Played by Tom Cruise in A Few Good Men

“Oh, hah, I’m sorry, I keep forgetting. You were sick the day they taught law at law school.”

Kaffee, new grad from Harvard Law, has gotten his first big murder case – but how do you defend marines who murdered someone under orders? In our (non-expert) opinion, Kaffee navigates the murky waters of military law quite well while getting bossy with Jack Nicholson (something we could never imagine doing). One suggestion: more “YOU CAN”T HANDLE THE TRUTH” please.

Strang and Buting are some of the Best Movie Lawyers of All Time
5. Dean Strang and Jerome Buting

The criminal defence dream team as seen on Netflix’s highly addictive Documentary: Making a Murderer.

Strang: “Most of what ails our criminal justice system lie in unwarranted certitude on the part of police officers and prosecutors and defense lawyers and judges and jurors that they are getting it right. That they are simply right. Just a tragic lack of humility in everyone who participates in our criminal justice system”

Buting: “Who better than a police officer would know how to frame somebody?”

Steven Avery had already served 18 years in prison for a sexual assault he was wrongfully accused of when, in 2005, he was arrested again in connection with the murder of Teresa Halbach. While Avery plead innocent, and with overwhelming evidence that something suspicious, or even illegal, was happening with the Manitowoc County police department (framing), these two lawyers had an uphill battle against a long-time alleged crooked DA from the start of the trial. Their brilliance aside, these gentlemen have quite a large fangirl community quite a large fangirl community – and are completely bewildered as to why (which is adorable).

Erin Brockovich is one of the Best Movie Lawyers of All Time
4. Erin Brockovich

A true story of an unemployed mother of 3 who fought her way into a law clerk job at a practice in California and ended up uncovering one of the largest corporate scandals to date.
Played by Julia Roberts in Erin Brockovich

“Not personal? That is my work, my sweat, and my time away from my kids! If that is not personal, I don’t know what is!”

Erin may not be a lawyer, but she spearheaded a class action lawsuit against Pacific Gas and Electric that won $333 million for her plaintiffs (who she all knew personally). Haven’t seen the movie? Let us sum it up for you: Erin takes a no bullsh*t approach to basically everything, especially when it comes to getting her clients what they deserve (which we love her for).

Jim Garrison is one of the Best Movie Lawyers of All Time

3. Jim Garrison

As New Orleans District Attorney, Garrison began an investigation into the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in late 1966 which included highlights like the infamous Magic Bullet Theory.
Played by Kevin Costner in Oliver Stone’s JFK

“A patriot must always be ready to defend his country against his government.”

Like a dog with a bone, we remember Garrison for tirelessly going after the Warren Commission. Despite the slew of negative reviews (see below), and fans love-to-hate of poor Costner – we believe this character has earned his spot at #3.

“Casting the heroically soothing Costner as an agitated man who dances with facts is a cunning stroke. Costner puts the audience in Garrison’s corner from the get-go. And Stone is shameless in exploiting Costner’s appeal: When Garrison’s wife, Liz (a shrill Sissy Spacek), nags him for neglecting his family in favor of bringing evildoers to justice, Garrison has a cuddle with his kids on the porch swing, evoking Gregory Peck in To Kill a Mockingbird.” – Peter Travers

Joe Miller is one of the Best Movie Lawyers of All Time
2. Joe Miller

Joe Miller is a defence attorney who fought against the discrimination of his client who was a victim of AIDS.
Played by Denzel Washington in Philadelphia.

Forget everything you’ve seen on television and in the movies.”

Joe Miller represented Andrew Beckett (also a lawyer) in his wrongful dismissal case when no one else would. Why wouldn’t they? Because Beckett had AIDS – which at the time was a stigmatized and underrepresented disease. Miller takes the journey from being an ignorant and homophobic attorney (who refused to touch the same documents as Andrew Beckett) to championing his client’s legal rights against discrimination. We think Denzel should have gotten an Oscars nod for this one! 21st century audience note: some of the phrasing in this 1993 movie may make you squirm in your seat a little.

Atticus Finch is the Best lawyer of All Time
1. Atticus Finch

A defence attorney from Southern Alabama who fought for equal rights.
Played by Gregory Peck in To Kill a Mockingbird.

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

Dear, dear Atticus Finch is chalk full of life lessons. His demeanour, his conviction, and his quotability after 80 years are all great qualities. His calm and knowing air sets the tone for the movie (and novel) as the one constant throughout. Whether battling mob rule, fighting for equal rights, or teaching his children right from wrong, Atticus is always rational and sympathetic (and who wouldn’t want that in a lawyer or Dad?). And besides – boy oh boy – can that man ever wear a suit!

Honourable Mentions…
  • Billy Flynn, played by Richard Gere in Chicago
  • Mitch McDeere, played by Tom Cruise in The Firm
  • Deck Shifflet, played by Danny Devito in the Rainmaker
  • Rozat ‘Rusty’ Sabich, played by Harrison Ford in Presumed Innocent
  • Roy Foltrigg, played by Tommy Lee Jones The Client
  • Kevin Lomax, played byKeanu Reeves Devil’s Advocate
  • Robert Clayton Dean, played by Will Smith Enemy of the State

Author’s Corner

Sam Gordanier

Hey I’m Sam, the Marketing Coordinator here at Beam Local, where I work on helping my team make great marketing decisions. What do I love about my work? Helping small business owners find uncomplicated ways to grow their own businesses. I’m always on the lookout for businesses who are interested in applying innovative tech strategy to their marketing plans. I’ve worked with hundreds of small businesses, and write content to help business owners get better at running their businesses. When I’m not helping small businesses get better, you can find me on my couch with my cat watching Seinfeld.

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