ArticlesVolume 4, Number 2 (1994)

“What a Waste. Beautiful, Sexy Gal. Hell of a Lawyer.”: Film and the Female Attorney

Abstract

Previously an impenetrable bastion, the castle of patriarchal legal privilege has begun to crumble. Women are entering law school in numbers almost equal to their male counterparts. Women constitute twenty-seven percent of the full-time law faculty, and comprise fifty-four percent of deans and administrators. However, the fact that women have become a familiar and permanent part of the legal landscape has been largely ignored by those who mass produce legal images, consumed by the public via print, television, or film. This cultural production, or “legal culture,” is the composite of the “ideas, attitudes, values, and opinions about law held by people in a society,” and it has a much greater impact on the common understanding of the law than any American Bar Association report.

In recognition of this influence, legal scholarship has turned its academic attention to this field, attempting to tease out the discrete steps in the process which begins with the creation of an image and ends in the assumption on the part of a layperson that his/her attorney will act like the main characters of A Few Good Men or The Firm. A critical legal eye has now been focused on the cultural production which is the public’s primary source of information on the legal profession. While popular movies do not have any presumptive educational missions, many simulated television courtroom dramas do. The long-running program The People’s Court, for example, publishes a legal guide as a companion to its television show. Noting its purported ability to both educate and entertain, Professor Anthony Chase writes: “Few of the orthodox West and Foundation published casebooks could make the latter claim and none of the┬áprofessional texts used in law schools reach even remotely as large an audience as ‘The People’s Court.'”