January 13, 2009

Homework Is Fun!

Getting ready to coach the kids for the mock trial team is tons of fun. My first real meeting with them is set for this afternoon. Last night, I stayed up going through lawyer movies from my archive to find good scenes so I can show them what to do, and what not to do.

Just a few insights to share with all of you. In A Few Good Men, the examinations are brief, direct, and forceful. That's good. The objections are sarcastic and indirect. This is good theater but bad courtroom demeanor. In the very best parts (Tom Cruise cross-examining Keifer Sutherland and Jack Nicholson), the lawyers ignore the court's rulings and orders on questioning and press on with questions to which objections have been sustained. That's contempt.

A Few Good Men is also a good movie for non-lawyers to see because you get an idea of just how hard lawyers work in a high-stakes trial. They're hitting the books, combing through the evidence, rehearsing their examinations, planning their strategy until the wee hours of every night. They're working on only a few hours' sleep. They're tense and not always pleasant to be around. Oh, and it's an outrageously good cast.

My Cousin Vinny is useful, too -- it starts with the very basic lesson of what a lawyer should wear in court. Joe Pesci's character is such a schmuck he doesn't understand why the straight-laced southern judge would be upset that he showed up wearing a leather jacket and a black silk shirt with no tie. But as the movie progresses, Pesci not only gets a good fashion sense, but a good grasp of criminal procedure and finally, finds the hole in the prosecution's case. Oh, and the movie is really funny.

There's actually not a lot of courtroom scenes in Legally Blonde, but I save it for the end for two reasons. First, the climactic courtroom scene features a girl -- and many of the girls who showed up for the orientation meeting seemed to lack some confidence, so I want them to see a woman in the courtroom kicking butt. It also helps that the judge and the prosecutor in that scene are both women, being assisted by men, and the defendant and the witness are also women -- women do all the important things in that scene. More importantly, in one scene, the young lawyer transforms herself from being awkward and insecure into a confident lawyer able to make her point and get exactly what she wants out of the witness.

There's lots of good lawyer movies out there. Some are more recent than this. Others are classics. My favorite "classic" lawyer movie is The Verdict, but that's more of a character study than a lawyer movie. Oh, and the scene where the hero hits Charlotte Rampling -- and we the audience are quite all right with that because she's a backstabbing wench. Yeah, that's appropriate for adults to see but I'm pushing the edge showing movie scenes that have some profanity. (Jack Nicholson's character in A Few Good Men delivers a rather vulgar threat to Tom Cruise.)

I might go back further to, say, Inherit The Wind, or To Kill A Mockingbird, but at that point we're in black and white and I'd lose contemporary high school kids for that reason alone. They simply don't know who Perry Mason even is. (Was. Raymond Burr's been dead for several years now.) No, I think I'm good here. Even as it is, they look at Tom Cruise and think "Wow, he was so young back then!" Hell, I think that. The movie was released in 1992, sixteen years ago, after all.

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