Think back for a moment. Can you recollect your first encounter with the term “lawyer”? For many of us, it was more than likely in a television series or film. Maybe you can vaguely picture your parents watching shows like Matlock, or possibly you remember reading or watching To Kill a Mockingbird in school, cheering on Atticus Finch. But honestly, what is the attraction of films depicting law? Could it be the desire to have justice served? The hope that we can depend on the legal system to repair the fallible, and create the integrity amongst society that we deserve? Whatever it may be, Hollywood has long used the cinematic courtroom as a method to make social and political statements or manipulate public perception, and oftentimes lawyers are portrayed in an unrealistic light.
Is the public perception of lawyers truly jaded by the big screen? For this segment, Werewolf Media has reached out to some of the nation’s most decorated, and respected attorneys and law firms on their opinions about the portrayal of lawyers in Hollywood.
1. John Rhodeback, partner at Dill, Evans & Rhodeback, primarily practices in the areas of real estate, land use, municipal, and elder law. Rhodeback says that Hollywood can sway the public’s perception of lawyers to an extent. “Every Hollywood portrayal I have seen misrepresents the legal industry to varying degrees. It gives the general public false impressions about what lawyers do, what the litigation/transaction process entails, and what effective advocacy looks like. That being said, the most important influence on how people think of the legal profession is their personal experiences with the legal process and members of the profession.”
2. Austin N. Aaronson, founder of The Aaronson Law Firm, represents individual consumers with legal grievances against timeshare developers. Aaronson states that Hollywood has represented lawyers in many misconstruing ways. “Regrettably, Hollywood has produced very few realistic portrayals of the legal profession. What is out there tends to both glamorize, and ironically, demean the image of our profession, particularly individual players in the milieu. Consequently, most aspiring attorneys have a very unrealistic, and indeed misguided perception of how things really are.”
3. Alex Peterson, founder of Family First Legal Group, focuses on divorce and custody law and helps parents and spouses ensure future stability. Peterson says that the most common misconception of practicing law is the amount of time it takes to resolve cases. “Everyone has preconceptions about the practice/profession but the largest misunderstanding is the length of time cases can last. The television shows leave off that cases can last for several years. That is a very long time in a hyper-responsive era. The court system is painfully slow.
4. James Maxson, founder of Maxson Firm, PLLC, exclusively focuses on unemployment law, and represents claimants and businesses throughout the process. Maxson states that Hollywood commonly portrays lawyers in specific ways, making most lawyers out to be something they are not. “Pop culture perceives attorneys as falling into two very different groups: either the shady solo practitioner working out of a strip mall, or suit-clad yuppies working in a glass tower. I think most people have realized the former is pretty baseless, but people still seem to think my workday looks like L.A. Law. Perhaps that's true for some, but if I don't have any meetings on any given day, you are likely to find me wearing tennis shoes and a t-shirt, and listening to a podcast while I work.
Although 2020 does appear to be something out of a movie, this is the real world - not a fictitious film set. Despite the often wrong portrayal of lawyers in Hollywood, as a society we have confided in the council and opinions of trusted attorneys since the dawn of this country. Lawmen in almost every area of practice have always played a key role in making sense of unsettling times, and this won’t be changing in the foreseeable future.
Werewolf Media is a Miami based Public Relations agency.