Stacy Caplow

Copyright (c) 1999 Women's Rights Law Reporter, Rutgers--The State of New Jersey
Women's Rights Law Reporter

Spring / Summer, 1999

20 Women's Rights L. Rep. 55

LENGTH: 13930 words

ARTICLE: Still in the Dark: Disappointing Images of Women
Lawyers in the Movies


* Professor of Law and Director of Clinical Legal Education, Brooklyn Law School. With much appreciation, the author thanks Susan Herman, Nan Hunter, Minna Kotkin, Liz Schneider, and Spencer Waller.

  ... During the more than thirty years that At ticus Finch reigned as a leading-man legal role model, he had no female counterparts for the many women who became lawyers in the period beginning in the early 1970s when women first trickled into, then flooded, the legal profession. ... An examination of the depiction of law and lawyers in popular media is most useful as a measurement of the general public perception of the law and the legal profession. ... A genre film is characterized by a particu lar style, form, or content. ... These movies are all so obscure that they require a visit to a film library not a video store, yet they all send the same basic message: wo men do not really belong in the legal profession. ... Even so, it took Hollywood almost ten years to catch up with the feminization of the legal profession. ... Moreover, she clearly has not even tried to achieve the familiar indicia of success in the legal profession. ...  


For many of us, Atticus Finch, the princi pled hero of the movie To Kill a Mockingbird, n1 was our first positive legal role model. We may have heard of Clarence Darrow or known that Abraham Lincoln was a country lawyer before becoming president, and we may have even read Harper Lee's unforgettable book, n2 but it was the dignified, sagacious, and unquestiona bly humane Gregory Peck on the screen, who educated us about what a lawyer was supposed to be. Atticus Finch braved the censure of his small southern town, represented a poor black farmer against the accusation of sexual assault by a white woman in the racist south of the 1930s, artfully used his advocate's skills in court, all the while retaining the affection of his white neighbors, the respect of the black community, and the unqualified love of his children. After seeing the movie, we wanted to go to law school and become a lawyer just like him. n3

During the more than thirty years that At ticus Finch reigned as a leading-man legal role model, he had no female counterparts for the many women who became lawyers in the period beginning in the early 1970s when women first trickled into, then flooded, the legal profession. There was no female cinematic equivalent to Atticus Finch to emulate or admire, a deficiency that was all the more aggravating in light of the lack of real-life role models for this generation of aspiring lawyers. Although in the 1970s and early 1980s the number of women graduating from law school increased dramatically, n4 these lawyers, often one of only a few women in their practice settings, had no reassuring or inspira tional film characters that reflected this growth. By 1990, when women represented between 20 and 24% of the profession, n5 we still lacked au thentic cinematic role models who could be seen struggling with the everyday issues of blending career and home responsibilities, "  [*56]  glass ceiling" strictures, sexual harassment, gender stereotyping, or unequal compensation. n6 Even today, despite some depictions of women lawyers on the big screen, a trend that flowered in the mid-1980s, then withered within a ten- year period, Hollywood has been unkind and unsympathetic to and, in many cases exploitive of, women lawyers. n7 The movie industry caught up with this demographic shift in the late 1980s and early 1990s when a spate of movies were released with women lawyer protagonists. This flurry presumably signaled Hollywood's belated recognition of the dramatic potential of the in flux of women into the legal workplace. Begin ning in 1985 with Jagged Edge, n8 the profusion of movies featuring women lawyers suggested that the resume of every major actress required a lady lawyer entry in order to be competitive. In short order, moviegoers were able to see with regularity movies in which women lawyers prac ticed their profession, such as Debra Winger in Legal Eagles, n9 Ellen Barkin in The Big Easy, n10 Theresa Russell in Physical Evidence, n11 Barbara Hershey in Defenseless, n12 Penelope Ann Miller in Other People's Money, n13 Sean Young in Love Crimes, n14 Demi Moore in A Few Good Men, n15 Rebecca deMornay in Guilty as Sin, n16 and Bon nie Bedelia in Judicial Consent. n17 Historians seeking to date the end of this trend need look no further than 1995, with the casting of Cindy Crawford in Fair Game, n18 in which the super model demonstrated her meager legal prowess for about two minutes at the beginning of a movie which then required her to be decorative for its duration.

However hopeful woman lawyer movie goers may have been as a result of this phenom enon, our expectations were invariably disap pointed. A glance at this undistinguished roster of largely forgettable movies in which the fea tured female compromised herself both person ally and professionally by either having sex with an inappropriate character (adversary, boss, cli ent) or placing herself in physical or psychologi cal danger, or both, suggests that film makers have not allowed women lawyer characters to achieve even the degree of professional success and esteem that they may have in real life. With few exceptions, cinematic women lawyers have been depicted in patriarchal roles, depen dent for their success, approval or self-protec tion on male colleagues, mentors, or father  [*57]  figures. Moreover, they have been portrayed as immoral by society's standards, and unethical according to professional norms. n19 Even those movies that initially seemed to showcase the skills and successes of a woman attorney favora bly, were quickly stripped of this pretense of re spect as the plot degenerated into a trite pot- boiler in which the woman's downfall is due to either absurd professional miscalculations, seri ous emotional problems, sexual transgressions, or all of the above.

In this batch of mediocre films there were a few of better quality that are worth examining for their more serious portrayal of women law yers in their professional milieu. n20 This essay will examine six of the best known of these films, each of which pass, at least initially, a ba sic critical minimum standard. Four of them, Jagged Edge, n21 Suspect, n22 The Music Box, n23 and Class Action, n24 follow a familiar formula in which a reasonably successful, somewhat frus trated, or disappointed woman lawyer takes on a big case with either temporary or long-term disastrous consequences. The fifth, The Ac cused, n25 manages to avoid these melodramatic pitfalls, but still portrays its featured attorney as a flawed heroine, and, because of its subject matter - a rape prosecution - still suffers from some objectionable stereotyping. The Client, n26 the last chronologically, offers a more sympa thetic, humane, and likeable portrait of its law yer protagonist who, largely by supplementing her legal judgment with maternal impulses, achieves both a legal advantage for her client and a large measure of personal gratification.

As an avid cinephile, without much taste or discretion, and apparently a lot of disposable time, I saw almost all of these movies and then realized, in about 1992, that a phenomenon was taking place. At that time, I gave a speech at a law school function which argued that, despite a fair amount of on-screen exposure, women were not faring well in popular culture. Since then, the screen depiction of women lawyers has been the subject of several articles, catching the imagination of feminist critics, all of whom express degrees of disappointment and discour agement. n27

This essay updates my earlier conclusion. In the intervening years since my original obser vations, and despite the almost universal criti cism of the treatment of women lawyers in film, no apparent progress has occurred. Indeed, the most noticeable change is the declining pres ence of women lawyers in recent movies, partic ularly in a central role. Women have been rele gated to supporting characters, such as the prosecutor in Primal Fear n28 and the window- dressing advocate in Philadelphia. n29 They are law students in A Time to Kill n30 or Reversal of Fortune, n31 cultural oddities like the Chinese de fense attorney in Red Corner, n32 or anonymous judges and briefcase toting extras in courthouse hallways and elevators. Hollywood seems to have lost interest in the travails of the woman attorney.


An examination of the depiction of law and lawyers in popular media is most useful as a measurement of the general public perception of the law and the legal profession. Forms of popular culture can chart the impact of law on society as its creator has understood, processed, and then communicated the phenomena, as suming that the creator is observant and per ceptive. Looking at images of law and lawyers in popular culture permits us to view a version of the real social impact of legal ideas as seen through the eyes of a creative interpreter and as processed by a lay audience. Popular legal cul ture bears some responsibility for creating the public's understanding of the law since many people derive all of their information about the meaning of legal events through the lens of popular media. n33

Examining images of women lawyers thus permits us to question the status that women seem to have attained in the legal profession, and the personal, moral, or emotional adjust ments they have been required to make in or der to participate in that world, as conceived on film. We can also ask how the public is likely to perceive women lawyers as a result of these images.

Portrayals of women in the movies presum ably attempt to mirror the authentic ambiva lence of real-life women lawyers about whether and how their sex influences the law and its practice, and reflects and reinforces the skepti cism of lay people about the relative abilities and competence of women attorneys. These fictional characterizations and their accompany ing conflicts, dilemmas, and choices not surpris ingly suggest that media portraits of lawyers perpetuate the stereotypes as well as the actual differences between women and men in the legal culture, registering an outsider's perspec tive that those of us on the inside may have overlooked, ignored, or even rejected. We, therefore, should be able to gauge the perceived status of women in the legal profession since the credibility of plot and character depend to some degree on the authenticity of the depic tion of the woman lawyer in her professional role.

A genre film is characterized by a particu lar style, form, or content. A particular genre can be identified by familiar conventions and formulas that are plot rather than character  [*59]  centered. n34 Films about the law and lawyers have always been a popular genre, although arguably these movies really are trans-genre. They can be about gangsters, prisons, the wild west, class distinctions, femmes fatales, social causes, historical events, biography, law school, and even the military. They can be dramas, melodramas, or even screwball comedies. Moreover, the typical legal narrative contains the same basic ingredients as the classic Hollywood narrative, a form based on cause and effect relationships between characters that establish conflict, and then advance the conflict toward resolution and climax. n35

Legal issues are inherently dramatic since they generally arise out of opposition and con flict, and are often, at least in the mind of the public, resolved in a courtroom, the modern gladiatorial forum. The courtroom generally and, even more so, the inevitable climactic trial scene are excellent stages for the resolution of such global questions as guilt or innocence, good or evil, right or wrong. n36 Summations pro vide an excellent soapbox for pontification, or an opportunity for revelation; direct examina tion involves a moment of dramatic accusation; cross-examination allows the witness to expiate or the lawyer to vilify. Some of the complexi ties of difficult social issues such as abortion or the death penalty can be exposed to the public through the medium of legal conflict, yet the in dividual does not have to take sides while sit ting in the theater. Viewers expect judges and juries to make decisions and these cinematic de cision makers rarely disappoint. Perhaps mov ies even relieve the public of the responsibility of taking a position. Finally, most movies re solve the conflicts they create by solving the mystery, rendering a verdict, or contriving a confession, thereby leaving the viewer satisfied with the kind of tidy resolution that rarely oc curs in real life.

Since most movies about lawyers and the law pose questions in moral hyperboles and have larger than life plots, celluloid advocates on behalf of these positions tend to be por trayed at one extreme or the other of the vil lainy-virtue continuum without much explora tion of intermediate subtleties. When a good lawyer is corrupted or an evil lawyer redeemed, this transformation is usually the metaphor for a larger moral message. No movie ever depicts the work-a-day grind of the typical lawyer of average looks and normal abilities who is too busy juggling the demands of clients, bosses, judges, adversaries, errands, and family to allow for much dalliance and distraction.

Movies featuring lawyers have been popu lar for a long time. n37 In many, particularly those in the 1930s and 1940s, the lawyer was corrupt, depraved, or degenerate. In these so-called "shysters and mouthpieces" movies, the lawyers are alcoholics, murderers, evidence or jury tam perers, and perjurers, among other unattractive types. n38 They are susceptible to seduction in the form of power, money, or sex. They are almost exclusively men.

Even in more recent films, lawyers have not made much progress beyond the shyster cliche. For example, Walter Matthau's ambu lance chaser in The Fortune Cookie n39 persuades his friend to fake injuries for a negligence suit after a very minor accident. In The Verdict, n40 Paul Newman, a burnt-out alcoholic attorney,  [*60]  resorts to questionable ethics while represent ing a particularly sympathetic client against a powerful adversary. The real-world sport of lawyer bashing is recreated on the screen by portraying celluloid lawyers in an unfavorable light.

Occasionally, a film does offer a counter point to this relentless negative imagery. Such movies include Young Mister Lincoln, n41 Anat omy of a Murder, n42 To Kill a Mockingbird, n43 Cape Fear, n44 and Judgment at Nuremburg, n45 starring respectively such jut-jawed defenders of justice as Henry Fonda, James Stewart, Greg ory Peck (twice), and Spencer Tracy. These positive images are few and far between and may only be credible because of the charisma of the featured actor.

By most accounts, lawyers are flawed cine matic heroes, and now that women make up a significant percentage of the legal population, it is not surprising that movies treat women lawyers with equal disdain and distrust. This treatment is consistent with the highly dubious approach of varying a convention by putting a woman in a traditional male role or situation. Their sex supposedly is irrelevant, but, of course, it always does matter. As much as Hollywood might try to cause women to forfeit their sexual identities, these efforts usually fail--or at least result in inauthentic, unsatisfy ing films. n46

Whether or not the media's villainous por trayal of lawyers is fair to the profession, there is no particular reason to exempt women law yers from this censure or to portray them as any less greedy, devious, amoral, or evil, let alone more virtuous than male attorneys. Neverthe less, it is ironic that the women attorneys de picted in recent films have not suffered from the moral and ethical lapses usually ascribed to male lawyers, but rather have imperfections that are more traditionally identified with their sex.

Any critique of women lawyer movies must acknowledge that usually the sex of the protag onist does matter. The Hollywood technique of varying a genre film by writing a male role as female simply does not work since it is usually impossible to divorce a protagonist's sex from the plot. Thus, a movie about legal conventions featuring a female attorney incorporates the woman's movie conventions, and the latter genre actually may dominate. We are left with both a more complex portrait of our lawyer her oines than the more monochromatic picture which shyster films painted, adding elements of family, emotion, and conscience that derive from gender rather than profession.

In From Reverence to Rape, n47 the film critic, Molly Haskell, identifies the "woman's movie" as genre unto itself. n48 Although the very idea of a separate category featuring exclu sively women may seem denigrating, Haskell's description of this genre resonates and reminds us of many dark movie theaters in which we never had enough kleenex. According to Has kell, the main themes of the woman's movie are sacrifice, choice, affliction, or competition. n49 Prime examples, among the numerous possibili ties, are Joan Crawford in Mildred Pierce n50 (sac rifice), Bette Davis in such films as Now Voy ager n51 (choice), Dark Victory n52 (affliction), and All About Eve n53 (competition). Even when the featured woman was a professional, she would have to sacrifice her career for her marriage, choose between her career or her children, compete with another woman for a man's love, or die on the heels of a professional triumph.

Haskell discusses some of the hypocrisy perpetrated by popular films about women. n54 She reminds us that the worst examples of a man's flaws, such as crime or espionage, are viewed with less animosity than those of a striv ing woman with executive power, or artistic, lit erary, or professional aspirations. n55 She points  [*61]  out the irony that often situations in movies are characterized as "problems" and "conflicts" simply because they are happening to a woman, when, if the sexes were reversed, there would be no problem at all. n56 For example, if an older woman is having a romance with a younger man, the affair is viewed romantically as a com ing of age experience from the boy's viewpoint. If the story is the woman's, however, the rela tionship between an older woman and a younger man is an act of desperation or seduc tion. The same affair would be charming for the man and corrupt for the woman. The double standard applies to work as well as to sex. A man is expected to work without jeopardizing his personal life, whereas a woman who has chosen a career takes a detour from conven tional behavior and risks personal unhappiness.

Surprisingly, there were a notable number of movies made during the 1930s and 1940s that featured women lawyers. n57 One film historian found that when women had careers in the films of that era, they were more frequently lawyers than other professionals. n58 These were largely woman's movies in a legal setting with sacrifice themes that frequently highlighted their hero ines' flaws, moral lapses, or failures as women, but not necessarily as lawyers. Indeed, more often than not, the women were quite compe tent as lawyers, judging largely by their results rather than any portrayal of competent profes sional skills. Their occupation seemed inciden tal, relevant only to provide a context for the sacrifice and the courtroom's dramatic setting. Typically, the women lawyers were forced to admit their hubris for wanting it all at the ex pense of their more feminine duties of wife or mother. Like other women's films of that time period, they were melodramas.

Quick plot summaries easily convey the flavor of these movies. In the earliest of them, Scarlet Pages, n59 a woman attorney defends an other woman accused of murdering her father when he tried to attack her. It turns out that her client is the lawyer's long-lost daughter. In Ann Carver's Profession, n60 the heroine-attorney earns more than her architect husband. Despite his competitiveness, when he is tried for mur der, she successfully defends him and, at the end of the trial, gives up her career to save her marriage. This sacrifice movie was even remade into The Lady Objects, n61 in which, dur ing her summation, the heroine argues for her husband's acquittal by blaming his predicament on the marital turmoil caused by her ambi tions. n62

Other movies echo these melodramatic themes of sacrifice and choice. The Defense Rests n63 concerns a successful lawyer for organ ized crime and a young female law school grad uate who attempts to expose him. The Law in Her Hands n64 tells the story of a woman lawyer newly admitted to the bar who becomes quickly disillusioned and eventually becomes the under world's leading mouthpiece, thus combining the shyster and woman's genres. In Career Wo men, n65 again the young woman lawyer defends a girl accused of murdering her father. In Portia on Trial n66 a female lawyer defends a woman charged with murder.

These movies are all so obscure that they require a visit to a film library not a video store, yet they all send the same basic message: wo men do not really belong in the legal profession. Even if she is spunky and good at her work, a woman lawyer is riddled with either self-hatred or self-righteousness. She induces jealousy, en gages in self-sacrifice, and simply cannot have both professional and personal identities. Moreover, she is either suckered by some shy ster or in love with the prosecutor, and in any event, cannot truly succeed without the help of a man.

 [*62]  Real women lawyers were scarce at this time and their screen counterparts were rele gated to playing melodramatic roles that em phasized their emotional weaknesses, their in ability to combine career, love, and parenting and their dependence on men. If they were suc cessful on the professional level, they had to pay a personal price of guilt and self-abnega tion, but usually only after they had achieved justice for their clients or had elevated them selves to the moral high ground. Another re currence in four of these early women lawyer films is the eventual marriage of the women at torneys to the prosecutors who opposed them at trial. Even if she is a successful litigator, the celluloid female attorney must be domesticated.

These movies also highlight their heroines' tendency to take on unpopular causes, fre quently the defense of other women, often at considerable personal cost. Most involve wo men either defending or coming to the rescue of their husband or child, or other women charged with committing crimes. For example, in Scarlet Pages, Portia on Trial, and Career Women, a wo man attorney takes the case of a young girl who has retaliated against male abuse. In The Wo man is the Judge, n67 the judge's first case is the murder trial of her long-lost daughter. She re signs her judgeship, and then argues a success ful defense theory that she is to blame for her daughter's act because she neglected her.

Some very traditional messages are sent by these films. Women lawyers who try to be in dependent or champion the cause of other wo men screw up their personal lives, and when they realize this, sacrifice their careers for mar riage or family. On the other hand, women law yers in this era of predominantly shyster and mouthpiece films, scored much higher on the moral Richter Scale than their male counter parts, including the often ruthless adversaries they faced.

In the 1940s, the tone changed from turgid to light. The few women lawyers in films were found in comedies rather than melodramas. Rosalind Russell, the archetypal career woman, was cast as a judge twice, once in Design for Scandal n68 and then in Tell it to the Judge n69 about a would-be federal judge and her recently di vorced lawyer husband. Myrna Loy's judge in The Bachelor and the Bobby Soxer n70 falls for Cary Grant. In these comedies, the female law yer and the legal setting are vehicles for ro mance and sparring instead of heartbreak and sacrifice.

Probably no comedy about the law will ever surpass the charm and genius of the classic Adam's Rib. n71 Katherine Hepburn, a solo prac titioner, defends a woman accused of assault and attempted murder after she shoots her hus band while he was in the arms of his lover. Hepburn's husband, Spencer Tracy, is prosecut ing. Despite a few disturbing unexplained de tails such as Hepburn's client list (she seems to have only one client at a time), the source of wealth that enables the couple to own a farm in the country and a duplex Manhattan apartment (that any New Yorker familiar with the housing market would envy), or the lack of concern about this incredible conflict of interest, this film artfully and engagingly portrays the legal and marital skirmishes of this professional couple. The charm of this movie owes a lot to the Hepburn-Tracy chemistry while its portrayal of two complementary yet equally capable pro fessionals and its explicit advocacy of women's equality are its real attractions.

Despite its comedic format, the movie sends a serious message about equality for wo men eloquently delivered by Hepburn both in and out of court. Basically, Hepburn argues against an antiquated version of justification that would deny the defense to women. Hep burn is offended that a woman would be consid ered culpable or even lunatic when a man would be considered justified under the same circumstances. An egalitarian, she declaims, "We don't want any advantages or prejudices."

While her domestic side is somewhat flut tery and flirtatious, in court, Hepburn's affect is confident and independent. She strides to the jury box and the bench with self-assurance. Others, however, are less convinced of her posi tion. Her client, a working-class mother of three, so obviously dissimilar from the Yale Law School graduate, does not really under  [*63]  stand the feminist explanation of her conduct that her lawyer is proposing as her defense. Nor does Tracy, the male prosecutor for whom the law is the law whether it is good or bad, re spect her arguments, and he chides her for hav ing "contempt for the law" because she is ad vancing a legal theory that essentially calls for jury nullification.

Once their battleground has been staked out, Tracy and Hepburn are worthy adversaries whose out-of-court wrangling mirrors their in- court arguments. Although Tracy, married to a lawyer, presumably believes the notions of equality that Hepburn espouses, he opposes her legal theory at home and in court. The viewer is infatuated with Hepburn's style, wit, verbal dexterity, and ambition. She is the iconoclast, while Tracy is the plodding, stolid gentlemanly lawyer. She breaks the mold of existing law us ing bold trial techniques, while he defends the status quo and plays by the rules, which, after all, are his rules until she undermines them.

By using the courtroom as her stage and the trial as an instrument to expose her ideas and to accomplish change, she obtains an ac quittal for her client and educates the public about the law's inequity to women. She is a cre ative trial advocate, resorting to unconventional courtroom techniques as she summons a series of successful women as testament to the equal ity of the sexes. She is gutsy, risking the cen sure of the judge and the ire of her husband, as she has a woman weightlifter preposterously hoist Tracy high into the air in open court to prove her point about female competency. Her instrumental view of the law, her non-conform ity, energy, dedication, and gumption resemble the tactics and practices of early feminist law yers.

This movie is the only intelligent cinematic representation of a woman lawyer to appear for more than thirty-five years and, to this day, re mains fresh and contemporary. It is decidedly neither a woman's movie, a shyster film, or a worshipful portrait of a legal hero. It is an as tute and original exploration of the equality of the sexes under the law and in marriage, com bining humor with legitimate legal argument.

Hepburn's client's acquittal is even more satisfying because she accomplishes this result without sacrificing either her intelligence, her principles, her femininity, or her marriage. Her client's sympathetic plight allows the viewer to feel without reservation that justice has been done. She really was innocent under the ver sion of law propounded by Hepburn, as op posed to simply not guilty because of the ma nipulative skills of her lawyer or some legal technicality that allows guilty people to be ac quitted.

Adam's Rib is so pleasing and enduring be cause of its winning portrait of a woman lawyer and because it advances a substantive legal is sue of significance to women independent of the personal life of the protagonist. Even though Hepburn's intransigence angers and alienates Tracy and she comes close to the prec ipice of sacrifice and choice when their relation ship is threatened by the case, she never really has to choose between him, her client, or her beliefs. While these tensions challenge their re lationship, when the trial is over they eventually return to their former marital harmony. More over, the viewer never doubts for a minute that the couple will survive this test. This generous denouement makes Adam's Rib unusual and takes it out of the stereotypical woman's movie genre. Hepburn makes her point and has her husband, too.

As women graduated in record numbers from law school, film makers began to recog nize the dramatic potential of the introduction of women into the workplace, and the challenge to traditional patriarchy that women profession als pose. Even so, it took Hollywood almost ten years to catch up with the feminization of the legal profession. In about 1985, when women lawyer movies began to proliferate, many ques tions surfaced. n72

 [*64]  Now that women lawyers were to have fea tured roles, what image would be projected? Would they be able to break out of the woman's movie genre? If they were permitted to be more than soap opera heroines, would they be "shysters and mouthpieces" or female Finches? Would this breakthrough also permit them to resemble their real-life counterparts who have work-home conflicts, experience gender bias, sexual politics and harassment, do not have time to exercise or get a haircut, and who some times feel alienated by the professional stan dards and norms of an adversarial legal system? Since the reality of most women lawyers - fraught with tensions about clients and cases, family responsibilities, and personal time - is more than a little boring, Hollywood cannot af ford to be true to life. Moreover, there is no reason to expect that the film industry would be less ambivalent about the presence of powerful accomplished women, in a traditionally male profession, than the rest of the population. It is inevitable, therefore, that most movies about women lawyers are exaggerated and unrealistic, indeed even insulting, to the accomplishments of women lawyers.

As it turns out, the modern cinematic wo man lawyer has much in common with her predecessors from the handkerchief age. Al though our times permit dramas to unfold with a level of sex and violence unknown in earlier years, these heroines are plagued by many fa miliar personal conflicts. In keeping with the increased complexity of the times in an era free from the constraints of the Production Code, n73 their professional lives generally feature ambig uous ethical and moral dilemmas, as well as, sexual, psychological, and physical perils that could never have been developed in the more one-dimensional woman's movies of the earlier era.

The six better-than-average films that merit more serious scrutiny n74 have much in common in their narrative development, and in the profiles of their heroine's lives. Although not every narrative element is the same, typi cally the viewer's first glimpse of each heroine is in her professional role, either arguing in court, interacting with a client or colleague, or in the context of a complimentary reference to her abilities by another lawyer. To one extent or another, the professional skills of these wo men are showcased as we are treated to their destructive depositions, cutting cross-examina tions, thorough preparation, and aggressive ne gotiation style. We are meant to be convinced through these cliches of masculine lawyer be havior that they are successful and accepted.

None of the women lawyers is married, al lowing them to dedicate long hours to work and leaving them open to sexual temptation. Three are divorced (Glenn Close in Jagged Edge, n75 Jessica Lange in Music Box, n76 and Susan Sarandon in The Client n77). While the two wo men with children (Close and Lange) superfi cially appear to be good mothers with support ive ex-husbands, they spend little time with their children and often put their personal and professional interests ahead of the needs of their kids. Three of them are having sexual re lations with inappropriate men (Close with her client, Mary Elizabeth Mastroantonio in Class Action n78 with a partner in her firm, and Cher in Suspect n79 with a juror). Two are excessively emotionally intertwined with their fathers with disastrous professional consequences (Lange's father is her client and Mastroantonio's is her adversary). Two are burnt out and frustrated by sexism at their jobs (Cher's public defender in Suspect and Kelly McGillis's prosecutor in The Accused), while two (Close and Mastroantonio) are climbing the partnership ladder. All (ex cept Sarandon) have either male mentors or professional father figures and protectors. Sev eral have a male protege such as the junior as sociate in Class Action and the paralegal in The Client. All have male adversaries in court, and, with the exception of Lange, who has an Afri can-American female assistant, all appear to be the only women lawyers, and only professional women at their respective jobs.

Jagged Edge, the first of our modern mov ies, is undecided about whether it is a woman's movie morality tale, or a murder mystery. A  [*65]  talented, respected woman attorney, played by Glenn Close, is a successful litigator who left the DA's office for a lucrative private practice. Although we never see Close working on any other case, we accept at face value her compe tence, perhaps because of her fancy office and stylish clothes, even when she is persuaded, with the inducement of a promise of a partner ship, to take on the seamy case of a rich and handsome client accused of brutally murdering his wife. Throughout the movie Close is the only woman lawyer we see, and she always ap pears in a room of deferential male colleagues who appear to adore her, but who, everyone with the exception of Close herself understands, are really trying to manipulate her into ac cepting a client who they think would be best represented by a woman.

In the initial courtroom scenes, Close dem onstrates clever and polished trial skills. Her el egantly shod feet soon prove to be made of clay, however, when she sleeps with her client on the eve of his trial. n80 Her sexual transgres sion is simply the final step in her psychological seduction by her client, a process the viewer has been witnessing from the outset of their rela tionship. Once she has crossed this line of im propriety, her legal prowess is tainted by her emotionality and the viewer is discomforted by her conflation of the personal and the profes sional.

Since her misconduct would be a problem whether committed by a female or male attor ney, at first we are tempted to believe that the movie escapes some of the stereotypical sexism of the woman's genre. But the movie has no patience with Close's foolish choice to become involved with her client, who most of the audi ence can tell is a killer. Thus, Close pays for her mistake when she discovers her client's treach ery and guilt, and faces her complicity in his de ception. Not only does she feel manipulated and used, but also she places herself in grave personal danger, finally killing her client-lover, literally destroying the evidence of her stupidity and supposedly recapturing some of her previ ous power. Despite having saved herself from the assassin, we doubt that she will ever be the same. Her personal lapse has doomed her. We never find out what happens to her professional life as a consequence of this, so we can only guess that she was denied her partnership, forced out of her classy firm, or ceased practic ing law altogether.

Despite her sexual misadventure, Close is not a cardboard cliche of either a lawyer or a woman. Rather, the movie offers an equivocal picture of this career woman. She is a very ef fective, focused, and proficient trial lawyer, who, with the aid of a salty male investigator, seems to find a smoking gun during her cross- examination of every prosecution witness. At the same time, she wears conspicuously tight, constricting clothing that unavoidably distracts from her professional image. She can barely walk back to her seat after a stinging cross-ex amination because her skirt is too tight and her heels too high as she walks back and forth to the witness box. The message of her clothing visually undermines any image of competence and gender-neutral skill.

She is also personally soft and vulnerable, clearly meant to appear as a decent person, even though she ends up looking foolish. When it appears that her client is not only guilty but also has lied to her, she is stung with sexual jeal ousy and outrage by his betrayal rather than be ing concerned for his legal fate. Whatever cred ibility as an independent professional Close may have had up to this point, is undercut and trivialized by her indiscretion. When she goes to the judge's house in tears, asking to be re lieved from the case because of her suspicions about her client, he straightens her out in an avuncular manner that suggests that she really is not the effective trial lawyer she pretends to be, but is, after all, only another emotional wo man.

Jagged Edge was a breakthrough movie be cause it was the first to take seriously the possi bility that a woman could function as a compe tent professional, respected and admired by her peers, and often brilliant in the courtroom. This portrayal sadly turns out to be illusory as Close succumbs to sexual temptation, compromises her professional integrity, and ultimately be  [*66]  comes a killer (as if there were no other solu tions to her problems). It is unfortunate that any subtleties in Close's portrayal are so eclipsed by the enormity of her mistake and the extremity of her resolution that we are unlikely to understand or excuse her. Close's downfall, like those of her predecessors in the movies of the 1930s, is attributable to her conceit in think ing that she could compete in a man's world. Indeed, this film owes more to those melodra mas than to the women's movement.

In Suspect, Cher plays an exhausted, yet dedicated, public defender assigned to repre sent a deaf homeless man accused of murder. Her disillusionment is quite authentic. Equally believable is her initial resignation over her as signment to this thankless, draining case with a pitiable and friendless client. Her frustration with the difficulties of defending such an in defensible person is realistic, yet her reaction to her client's plight is caring and concerned. Put ting aside the ludicrous development that the real killer is the presiding judge who has com mitted the crime in order to cover up an ancient impropriety that would prevent him from being elevated to the appeals court, Cher's portrayal of a hardworking, somewhat defeated, and brow-beaten criminal defense attorney, whose biological clock is ticking, is quite bona fide, down to her frequently inept trial skills and her obvious awareness of being outflanked in the courtroom.

Her case is hopeless and her resources non- existent when she is offered the opportunity to accept help from one of the jurors in investigat ing some heretofore uncovered leads. At first, Cher's professional ethics hold fast when she re buffs his illegal effort to help her. She says, "I want to win, but I draw the line." As the evi dence against her client mounts, she is per suaded to let the juror help her. Having taken the plunge into this misconduct, she almost im mediately compounds her guilt when she lies about the situation to the judge without blink ing an eye, assuring her descent into legal ethics hell. She discards the rules that circumscribe her ability to represent her client effectively in a totally unbalanced case. This situation does not necessarily require a female attorney for the ethical conflict to exist. Yet, Cher's capitulation has a distinctly female side, growing out of a willingness to see her role as defense attorney as less rule-determined than a male counterpart might. She knows how to accept help when it is offered because she is not delusional or con ceited enough to believe that she alone can ob tain the acquittal. We witness her ambivalence over the clear professional mandates she is vio lating, but can appreciate how her client bene fits from her lapse. She struggles emotionally for the fate of her client in a situation in which she feels powerless to help him unless she makes some personal compromises. Her choice is made easier not only because of the strength of the prosecution's case, but also by the pa tronizing attitudes of the district attorney and the judge. At one point, the prosecutor even frames an objection by asking whether she thinks the trial is a cooking class. She shoulders the full weight of the judge's condescension, hostility, and impatience as the case against her client strengthens in court while she simulta neously discovers increasing evidence convinc ing her that he may actually be innocent. With out abjuring the rules, she is powerless to help him.

Cher does two remarkable things: she breaks the law to help her client and she puts his interests above her own. Although she is never caught or prosecuted, she endangers her professional standing and her freedom for him. Rather than play by the rules, however, she places herself at risk, both professionally and physically, to do the best for her client. Given her disillusionment, it is not surprising that her frustration with the system propels her into re bellion for the sake of her client. Since the true culprit is exposed before Cher's misconduct is discovered, she never has to face any conse quences for her law breaking. The movie, thus, never addresses the hard issue of whether the ends justify the means. Perhaps they do, since in the end she gets one really good looking guy acquitted and gets to date another.

The next two films, The Music Box and Class Action, depict very different dependency relationships that drive their plots in completely unrealistic directions. In both, the male author ity figure is the woman lawyer's father with whom she has an infantilizing relationship con sidering both women are highly competitive lawyers in the corporate world. Lange is de voted to her father and has complete faith in his innocence when he is accused of being a war  [*67]  criminal. Mastroantonio is a rebellious child, who repudiates her father for his philandering and his idealism to such an extent that her en tire existence is based on childish opposition.

In The Music Box, Jessica Lange plays a criminal lawyer amicably divorced from her rich, well-connected husband, who retains a mentor relationship with her former father-in- law, a patrician lawyer. At her father's request, she defends him against an accusation that he was a member of a fascist police force in his na tive country of Hungary, and that he personally killed Jews during World War II. Her relation ship with her father is so close that even if she can see the folly in handling his case, she cannot refuse when he insists.

Throughout the pretrial and trial proceed ings her devotion to her father and her belief in his innocence never wavers, yet she also is hor rified by the testimony of his victims. The emo tional burden of her father's defense is light ened by her professional camouflage. She is very competitive with the government attorney, gloating when she scores a procedural point. She zealously represents her father, even if it means asking unpleasant questions of highly sympathetic witnesses. She allows herself to be fully identified with him, despite the damage to her professional reputation, even as the viewer is increasingly skeptical of his innocence. Fi nally, when Lange herself begins to have doubts, she becomes even more aggressive and intense as his advocate.

Being a strong, effective advocate is not enough to win the case, however. In despera tion, she secretly turns to her former father-in- law to use his CIA connections. Asking for help is a sign of professional weakness she is re luctant to display to anyone since women attor neys who try to play by the rules of the man's game feel they have to prove themselves in male ways. In that world, asking for help is an admission of failure, or at least weakness, as anyone who has ever experienced the classic gender divide over asking for directions on a car trip can attest. Yet, she is willing to ask for this assistance because helping her father and winning the case is more important than per sonal or professional pride.

After the charges have been dismissed, she discovers her father's true culpability. Her re sulting quandary reflects her dual loyalty, a situ ation a wiser, more objective (i.e., male) lawyer would have avoided. Since the discovery oc curred outside of the attorney-client relation ship, no professional norms bar her disclosure of the inculpatory photographs she now pos sesses. On the personal level, of course, her loyalty and love for her father are destroyed. On the professional level, her satisfaction at having won the case is ruined when her sense of justice refuses to let well enough alone.

Ultimately, she sends the photos to news papers and they are published in the morning headlines. In so doing, she denounces her fa ther, sacrificing him and their relationship, not for her career, but for her own peace of mind. Based on what the audience knows about her values, her decision to reveal the photos seems a foregone conclusion, even though the cost is enormous. We never see whether she suffers any professional consequences for her actions or any personal ostracism by her friends and colleagues. At the end of the film, she is shot from a distance, alone with her son, a lingering image that prophesies her likely solitary future. Again, the woman lawyer has made a profound, life-altering decision that sacrifices her personal identity and possibly her career to her sense of justice. The movie clearly suggests that this is a gendered choice. None of the men in the film--her father, her brother, her father-in- law--understand her decision, and clearly none of them would have made the same choice.

In Class Action, we are treated to an up dated shysters and mouthpieces movie leavened with a little self-sacrifice and revelation. The film not only pits the little guy against the evil, impersonal corporation, it duplicates this theme in the relationship between the heroine and her father. The twist here is that it is the father who is the compassionate champion of lost causes, while his daughter, Mary Elizabeth Mastroan tonio, is a quintessential yuppie corporate law yer on the partnership track. Again, the incom prehensible occurs for the sake of drama: the father and daughter are adversaries on the case.

Mastroantonio has committed just about every foolish error of judgment a young lawyer could. She has swallowed whole the myth of big law firm success. She has an intimate rela tionship with the partner supervising her work even when she knows women in her position are judged by different standards. She capitu  [*68]  lates easily when asked to conduct a ruthless destructive deposition of the main plaintiff whose family perished in a flaming car and who is himself disabled.

Her constant and immature clashes with her father over their conflicting vision of law yering sabotage her professional credibility. Ironically, it is his version that could be labeled "feminine" because of his devotion to lost causes and people. She is the tool of the corpo rate machine, her gender exploited in order to serve the client, when, for example, the senior partner admits that juries accept antagonistic and destructive witness examinations more readily from a woman lawyer. Although she can be ironic about herself, her introspection rarely seems sincere and she is portrayed as weak and unprincipled, particularly in contrast to her father and his African-American surro gate-son associate.

After discovering that her client is respon sible for the accidents in the first place, and also that her firm is now covering up both for the auto company and for themselves by withhold ing documents extremely helpful to the plain tiffs, she finally faces the devil. She acknowl edges that her blind acceptance of certain legal norms and her ambitions have caused her to ig nore the side of herself, as represented by her creative, mediative mother, that indeed cares about the plaintiffs' horrible tragedies and de plores the deception in which she is complicit. She ultimately cannot turn into the bloodless, ruthless lawyer that the male world, with the ex ception of her father and his associate, was modeling for her. Together, in an ethically questionable collaboration of adversaries, they figure out a way for her to remedy the misdeed without jeopardizing her career. Even though a less generous observer might criticize her inter pretation of ethical mandates, she manages to reclaim herself without any harmful profes sional repercussions.

Mastroantonio finally renounces the values and practices of her law firm where, again, she seems to be the only female attorney, in favor of the racial, sexual, and class diversity of her father's very different legal world. Instead of fighting against the caring side of herself, a struggle drawn in simplistic parent-child terms, she accepts it. The sacrifice of her partnership is really none at all. Ironically, however, in re pudiating the male law firm world, she is re turning to her father's embrace, a regression that may, in the end, be costly to her indepen dence and self-esteem. Again, the audience can only speculate that her denouement dance with Daddy means not only reconciliation, but also loss of independence.

These four movie heroines have much in common. In each, the female characters rely on male authority figures for either professional, psychological, or physical support. In each, the star is the only woman lawyer visible, as if no law firm, public defender, or prosecutor's office could have more than one female attorney. They appear to be both the mascot and the to ken, petted and trotted out for display and con stantly compared to the guys. If and when they fall short of their expectations, they are co erced, blackmailed, criticized, embarrassed, or scolded. None of them is simply permitted to be a practicing attorney who works with the dignity and balance of Atticus Finch. Even though all four initially seem to have broken free from the stereotypes that define images of professional women, they are not permitted to behave like real women. Their sexuality, vul nerability, and dependency are emphasized, dominating their images even when they are su perficially displayed as competent professionals. They make foolish, emotional choices at great expense. Close and Cher are almost killed. Cher and Mastroantonio commit ethical, and possibly criminal errors. Lange and Mastro antonio are dutiful daughters whose paternal relationships interfere disastrously with their professional lives. In the final analysis, these four movies may indeed be nothing more than slicker versions of the woman's movie, different only superficially from their 1930s analogues because the freer moral climate of the 1980s and 1990s allows for the introduction of more explicit sex and violence.

The Accused and The Client do not rely on sex, betrayal, violence, or professional miscon duct for their drama. Furthermore, they each tell a story of professional transformation that results from a relationship with an individual who forces them to see the law differently. While their sex is critical to the narrative, in each of these films the heroine's gender permits a special relationship to form without sacrificing her professional identity. They even acquire  [*69]  new and improved skills. For that reason, these movies have moved beyond the woman's movie genre.

Although The Accused focuses more on the difficulties experienced by Jodie Foster, a rape victim, in her effort to achieve vindication through the legal system, the prosecutor who helps her, played by Kelly McGillis, is instru mental. Played as a cool, impersonal, competi tive professional, McGillis changes profoundly as a result of her relationship with Foster, the lower class victim. Foster's Oscar winning per formance is so powerful that she overshadows the more passive, less emotional portrait of the professional who learns a lesson in empathy and compassion from her "client."

Despite Foster's brutal injuries, McGillis's reaction to Foster when they first meet in the hospital is dispassionate and detached. In order to insulate herself from the more emotional connection the situation may have required, she informs Foster that "I'm not a rape counselor. I'm a prosecutor." She retains this role-bound aloofness throughout the early phase of the prosecution, evaluating the case and the credi bility of the victim just as insensitively as her male colleagues. She relates to this rape victim from an almost adversarial posture, interrogat ing her about her sex life in the guise of educat ing her about her vulnerability under cross-ex amination. When she discusses the case with her male boss at an ice hockey game, she sees the case in terms of winning, and thus is a rec ognizable and unthreatening figure to her male colleagues.

When McGillis arranges a plea bargain that convicts Foster's assailants of assault rather than a sex offense, she does not consult with Foster. Although the defendants go to jail, they never have to admit their guilt for the rape. Foster is furious at being ignored. McGillis does not see the self-empowerment goals mani fested in Foster's need to tell her story publicly so that she might have the satisfaction of per sonally accusing and testifying against her as sailants. She also wants them to be convicted of the crime they committed: rape. McGillis never even considers that Foster might have an opin ion about this outcome.

Crossing an obvious boundary, Foster, en raged and unrestrained by social conventions, invades McGillis's home while she is preparing a civilized dinner party, to volubly criticize her handling of the case. McGillis's awakening is transparent as she realizes that Foster's accusa tion of lack of empathy is correct, and that her unquestioning acceptance of her prosecutorial role had prevented her from seeing and serving Foster's perfectly legitimate interests. More over, she discovers that she had been so con strained by the rigid definitions of their respec tive roles, as well as, their different classes, styles, and education, that she did not even think Foster really had any independent goals worth considering.

To compensate for her blindness, McGillis stakes out new legal territory in fashioning a novel theory for prosecuting the spectators of the rape, permitting Foster to tell her story with dignity. To do this, she pays a large cost in her relationship with her boss. To him her insis tence on pursuing the second prosecution is ir rational, and he threatens to fire her. Yet, with the second conviction, she emerges as a valiant, if belated, seeker of justice while the male pros ecutors are troglodytes. Although this film is not perfect in its depiction of the rape victim and her struggle for justice, n81 its female lawyer's professionalism is not undermined by her sex; on the contrary, because she is a woman she is ultimately more empathic. This change re moves her from the traditional maleness of the prosecutor's office, yet it is not depicted as a weakness, but rather an epiphany. Her more gendered instincts fuels the strength that allow her to fulfill a professional mission.

Her transformation through her increasing connection and sensitivity to Foster is visual. Her appearance loosens up, she dresses more informally, she warms in speech and manner to Foster. She fights with her boss to bring the novel charges against the spectators to the rape and threatens him in order to get her way. She has become more aggressive, but on her own terms, not as a conformist to the norms of her  [*70]  office. Her style of lawyering, particularly of prosecution, a classically old-boys' specialty, has become more compassionate and empathic. Although even after the eventual convictions, Foster and McGillis never become friends or re late as equals, from this relationship, McGillis learns to rely more on her instincts about justice and succeeds in breaking down the barriers that prevent personal and emotional connections to Foster. After the trial, she is not just happy to have won for herself and her ambitions, but also to have obtained for Foster the vindication she craved.

Unlike Jagged Edge and Suspect, which are basically murder mysteries, or The Music Box and Class Action, which are suspense films, The Accused is a movie about the relationship of lawyers to the law, and as such is a direct de scendent of Adam's Rib. A woman lawyer em braces issues that concern the treatment of wo men by the legal system. Both Hepburn and McGillis relate the stories of betrayed or victim ized women whose voices had been discounted or silenced by the system. In the process of this representation, both lawyers are transformed by the very legal theories they advance. Hep burn and Tracy's relationship is tested and sur vive in altered form; McGillis will never be the same rigid, unfeeling prosecutor again.

Of all the woman lawyer movies of this pe riod, The Client seems to be the best liked. n82 Aptly named Reggie Love, Susan Sarandon, plays an older and less glamorous woman who takes the case of a young boy who has knowl edge deemed essential to federal prosecutors. When they disingenuously try to interrogate the child, Sarandon stops them in their tracks, con fronting them with their own duplicity in her mellifluous voice. Sarandon is the least exper ienced of her celluloid sisters (only two years out of law school which she attended after a long-term failed marriage, motherhood, and a bout of alcohol dependency). She quickly es tablishes her ability to "play with the big boys," although her adversary tries continually to un dermine her confidence. From the beginning, Sarandon, who usually wears jeans, and who works in a run-down office with no luxuries, is less threatening than the careerists in the other films. Moreover, she clearly has not even tried to achieve the familiar indicia of success in the legal profession. She is still struggling to find her professional identity, remembering her own victimization at the hands of her husband's di vorce lawyers, and she visibly wears the insecu rities of her past. She may be a lawyer but her maternal side is so apparent that she does not intimidate the masculine majority. While she holds her own in each encounter with the prose cutors, they nevertheless patronize her. In ad dition, both she and the audience are aware of how fragile her confidence is.

Sarandon is a mother who turned into a lawyer later in life, so that her ambition and professional life followed an earlier existence in which other values were ascendant. Her young client's own mother is so ill-equipped to protect him that Sarandon, having lost custody of her own children, is immediately motherly and shel tering. In order to gain his trust, she confides her background and her weaknesses, crossing boundaries that few lawyers would find com fortable, and most would describe as unprofes sional.

As the narrative continues, Sarandon em boldens, racing around in her sports car, discov ering the dead body, running from the murder ers, and finally rescuing her client by making a clever deal with the prosecutors. She earns some admiration from her adversary but not so much that he refrains from offering her a job, a supposed compliment but which, in context, seems more like condescension to a good girl who has done something very clever. Despite this equivocal triumph, Sarandon succeeds on her own terms as a lawyer and as a woman, a combination that distinguishes her from the other women we have considered.

Movie buffs will have to keep searching for a woman lawyer role model that equals Atticus Finch. After a decade of mostly negative im ages, the fad of woman lawyer films seems to have died down so the quest will be even more difficult. Every so often a strong, competent woman attorney like Sarandon appears, tempt ing us to believe that finally the stereotypes, the  [*71]  flirtations, and the seductions are in the past. But those hopes die easily with the more nu merous portraits of women attorneys whose de ficiencies deny them audience respect.

modern women lawyers have made some mod est progress beyond both their shyster-mouth piece and woman's movie ancestors. They pro ject a somewhat more positive image largely because they have conceded professional skills that they know how to use in the male domi nated legal world. Moreover, they value, or learn to value, a personal morality that invades the terrain of professional conduct. At the con clusion of each film, the personal self has eroded rigid professional role definitions. To some, these transgressions are unforgivable re gardless of any benefits that might result. Others might view these changes as a positive development, allowing strong women to make mistakes and learn. These women lawyers rein terpret the obligations and regulations of attor neys and the restrictions on their behavior in order to avoid interference with the develop ment of their independent personal and profes sional credos. Almost in spite of themselves, and certainly in spite of some of their very stu pid choices, these women emerge as lawyers of conscience and courage. Some of the plots may be annoying, frustrating, or even silly, but un derneath a few hopeful signs can be seen. The ice is broken. Next stage: a woman lawyer prac tices her profession without falling prey to the trite traps laid by men (both on the screen and behind the scenes) that sabotage her accom plishments and our pride in them.

After more than a decade of cinematic wo men lawyers, we are still waiting in the darkness of the movie theatre. All of the women lawyers seeking a celluloid role model with whom they can identify will have to keep paying their money in hopes of finding their Atticus Finch. If we wait long enough, perhaps someday we will hear a character saying, "Stand up, Scout, your mother is passing by."

n1. To Kill a Mockingbird (Universal Pictures 1962).

n2. See Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird (J.P. Lip pencott 1960).

n3. The book, the movie, and the character of Atticus Finch have been the subject of many articles, see, e.g., Michael Asimov, When Lawyers Were Heroes, 30 U.S.F. L. Rev. 1131 (1996); John Jay Osborne, Jr., Atticus Finch - The End of Honor: A Discussion of To Kill a Mockingbird, 30 U.S.F. L. Rev. 1139 (1996); and even a law review symposium, see Symposium, To Kill a Mockingbird, 45 Ala. L. Rev. 389 (1994).

n4. In 1980, 8.1% of the lawyer population was female. See Barbara A. Curran et al., The Lawyer Statistical report: A Statistical Profile of the U.S. Legal Pr ofession in the 1980s 10 (1985). In 1983, 33.6% of all newly admitted attorneys were women, see id. at 58, so that by 1985, the overall number of women lawyers had risen to 13.1%. See Barbara A. Curran et al., Supplement to the La wyer Statistical Report: The U.S. Legal Profession in 1985 3 (1986).

n5. According to the 1990 U.S. Census, women accounted for 24% of the total of 799,471 lawyers and judges. See American Bar Association Commission on Women in the Profession, Women in the Law: A Look at the Numbers 3 (1995). The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 21% of employed lawyers and judges, a slightly lower total amount, were women. See id. The American Bar Foun dation reported that of the 805,872 licensed lawyers, whether or not employed, 20% were women. See id. In each of these surveys, the total number of women attorneys as of 1990 was between 157,000 and 190,145. See id. at 4.

n6. The progress and pitfalls of women in the legal profes sion have been chronicled and charted in many sources, and from many perspectives. Some recent books and articles that have focused on this era include: The Woman Advocate (Jean Maclean Snyder & Andra Barmash Greene eds., 1996); Cynthia Fuchs Epstein et al., Glass Ceilings and Open Doors: Women's Advancement in the Legal Profession, 64 For dham. L. Rev. 291 (1995); Cynthia Fuchs Epstein, Women in Law (2d ed. 1993); Mona Harrington, Women La wyers: Rewriting the Rules (1994); Stacy Caplow & Shira A. Scheindlin, "Portrait of a Lady": The Woman Lawyer in the 1980s, 35 N.Y.L. Sch. L. Rev. 391 (1990). The topic has been studied in other countries also. See, e.g., Women in Law (Shimon Shetreet ed., 1998) (commenting on the exper iences of women lawyers in U.S. and Israel); Margaret Thornton, Dissonance And Distrust: Women in the Legal Profession (1996) (discussing women lawyers in Australia); John Hagan & Fiona Kay, Gender in Pra ctice (1995) (discussing women lawyers in Canada). There are also some interesting works that provide a historical per spective on the progress of women attorneys. See, e.g., Vi rginia G. Drachman, Sisters in Law: Women Lawyers in Modern American History (1998); Women in Law: A Bio-Bibliographical Sourcebook (Rebecca Mae Salokar & Mary L. Volcansek eds., 1996).

n7. Interestingly, television shows have created much more nuanced and diverse female lawyer characters. From L.A. Law to Ally McBeal, television has taken more risks, permit ted characters to develop and change over several seasons, introduced new characters, and allowed women lawyers a greater diversity of personality, style (both professional and personal), legal specialty, and even appearance. Although this essay is limited to films, several other commentators of fer thoughtful and comprehensive insights about women law yers in television series. See, e.g., Diane Klein, Ally McBeal and Her Sisters: A Quantitative and Qualitative Analysis of Representations of Women Lawyers on Prime-Time Televi sion, 18 Loy. L.A. Ent. L.J. 259 (1998); Christine Alice Corcos, Women Lawyers, in Prime Time Law: Fictional Television as Legal Narrative 219 (Robert M. Jarvis & Paul R. Joseph eds., 1998); Ric Sheffield, On Film: A Social History of Women Lawyers in Popular Culture 1930-1990, 14 Loy. L.A. Ent. L.J. 73, 96-106 (1993); Diane M. Glass, Portia in Primetime: Women Lawyers, Television and L.A. Law, 2 Yale J.L. & Feminism 371 (1990).

n8. Jagged Edge (Columbia Pictures 1985).

n9. Legal Eagles (Universal Pictures 1986).

n10. The Big Easy (Kings Road Entertainment 1987).

n11. Physical Evidence (Columbia Pictures 1988).

n12. Defenseless (New Visions Cinema 1990).

n13. Other People's Money (Warner Brothers 1991).

n14. Love Crimes (Miramax Films 1991).

n15. A Few Good Men (Columbia Pictures 1992).

n16. Guilty As Sin (Hollywood Pictures 1993).

n17. Judicial Consent (Rysher Entertainment 1994).

n18. Fair Game (Warner Brothers 1995).

n19. See Paul Bergman & Michael Asimov, Reel Ju stice: The Courtroom Goes to the Movies 90-93 (1996).

n20. There is, of course, room to differ with my estimation of these movies! Several other authors also have identified these movies as worthy of analysis. See, e.g., Louise Everett Graham & Geraldine Maschio, A False Public Sentiment: Narrative and Visual Images of Women Lawyers in Film, 84 Ky. L.J. 1027, 1040-61 (1995-96); Carolyn Lisa Miller, "What a Waste: Beautiful, Sexy Gal, Hell of a Lawyer": Film and the Female Lawyer, 4 Colum. J. Gender & L. 203, 207-27 (1994).

n21. Jagged Edge, supra note 8.

n22. Suspect (TriStar Pictures 1987).

n23. The Music Box (Carolco Pictures 1990).

n24. Class Action (Twentieth Century Fox 1991).

n25. The Accused (Paramount Pictures 1988).

n26. The Client (Warner Brothers 1994).

n27. See, e.g., Frankie Y. Bailey et al., The Best Defense: Images of Female Attorneys in Popular Films, in Popular Culture, Crime, and Justice 180, 181-82 (Frankie Y. Bai ley & Donna C. Hale eds., 1998); Miller, supra note 20; Graham & Maschio, supra note 20; Carole Shapiro, Women Lawyers in Celluloid: Why Hollywood Skirts the Truth, 25 U. Tol. L. Rev. 955 (1995); Sheffield, supra note 7; Cynthia Lucia, Women on Trial: The Female Lawyer in the Court room, 29 Cineaste 32 (1992); Terry Kay Diggs, No Way to Treat a Lawyer, Cal. Lawyer 48 (1992). See also, Christine Corcos, Portia and Her Partners in Popular Culture: A Bibli ography, 22 Legal Stud. F. 269 (1998); Christine Corcos, Bad Girls: Women Lawyers on Film and Television: A Se lected Bibliography (Apr. 8, 1999) <http://aall.wuacc.edu/ wlegedu/bargirls.htm>. A recent addition to this list is Car ole Shapiro, Women Lawyers in Celluloid, Rewrapped, 23 Vt. L. Rev. 303 (1999) (identifying a third generation of women lawyer movies).

n28. Primal Fear (Paramount 1996).

n29. Philadelphia (TriStar Pictures 1993).

n30. A Time to Kill (Warner Brothers 1996).

n31. Reversal of Fortune (Warner Brothers 1990)

n32. Red Corner (MGM 1997).

n33. Examining images of lawyers in popular culture is an enterprise that is just beginning to achieve scholarly legiti macy. Recently, articles about the representation of law in popular culture have appeared in legal periodicals. See, e.g., Anthony Chase, Lawyers and Popular Culture: A Review of Mass Media Portrayals of American Attorneys, 1986 Am. B. Found. Res. J. 281 (1986); Anthony Chase, Toward a Legal Theory of Popular Culture, 1986 Wis. L. Rev. 527 (1986); Lawrence M. Friedman, Law, Lawyers, and Popular Culture, 98 Yale L.J. 1578 (1989); Stephen Gillers, Taking L.A. Law More Seriously, 98 Yale L.J. 1607 (1989); David A. Harris, The Appearance of Justice: Court TV, Conventional Televi sion, and Public Understanding of the Criminal Justice Sys tem, 35 Ariz. L. Rev. 785 (1993); Stewart Macaulay, Images of Law in Everyday Life: The Lessons of School, Entertain ment and Spectator Sports, 21 Law & Soc'y Rev. 185 (1987); Robert C. Post, On the Popular Image of the Lawyer: Reflec tions in a Dark Glass, 75 Cal. L. Rev. 379 (1987). Popular legal culture has also been the topic of symposia. See, e.g., The Lawyer and Popular Culture: Proceedings of a Conference, January 7-8, 1992 (David Gunn ed., 1993).

Thanks to the law and literature movement, now even the lower brows among us who admit to curling up with John Grisham or Scott Turow, instead of Billy Budd, The Merchant of Venice, Bleak House, or Antigone, have texts and a growing claim for the legitimacy of referring to popular culture to address the relationship of the law to public atti tudes and images of lawyers. Even Judge Richard Posner, has suggested that "An immensely popular contemporary novel about the law may... afford a better glimpse of how lay people regard law than any public opinion poll would do." Richard A. Posner, The Depiction of Law in The Bon fire of the Vanities, 98 Yale L.J. 1652, 1655 (1989). His re marks apply to the movies as well. There are growing num bers of examples of serious attempts to look at film as a text that enhances our understanding of law. See, e.g., Legal Reelism: Movies as Legal Text (John Denvir ed., 1996); Symposium, Picturing Justice: Images of Law and Lawyers in the Visual Media, 30 U.S.F. L. Rev. 891 (1996); Symposium, Legal Reelism: The Hollywood Film as Legal Text, 25 Legal Stud. F. 199 (1993); Rennard Strickland, The Cinematic Lawyer: The Magic Mirror and the Silver Screen, 22 Okla. City U. L. Rev. 13 (1997).

The study of the relationship of law and popular culture has even seeped into the law school curriculum. See, e.g., Anthony Chase, On Teaching Law and Popular Culture, 3 Focus on L. Stud. 1 (1988); Philip N. Meyer, Visual Literacy and the Legal Culture: Reading Film as Text in the Law School Setting, 17 Legal Stud. F. 73 (1993); Steven Green field & Guy Osborn, The Empowerment of Students: The Case for Popular Film in Legal Studies, 10 Focus on L. Stud. 6 (1995); Philip N. Meyer, Law Students Go to the Movies, 24 Conn. L. Rev. 893 (1992); Norman Rosenberg, A Word is Just a Word: Bringing Classical Hollywood Films into Legal Studies Classes, 7 Focus on L. Stud. 2 (1992).

n34. SeegenerallyFilmGenreReader(BarryGrantKeith
ed., 1986). See also Chase, Toward a Legal Theory of Popu lar Culture, supra note 33, at 563-67.

n35. See David Bordwell & Kristin Thompson, Film Art: An Introduction 108-10 (5th ed. 1996).

n36. The courtroom trial has been called an "American cul tural convention." David Ray Papke, The Courtroom Trial as American Cultural Convention, in The Lawyer and Po pular Culture: Proceedings of a Conference, supra note 33, 103, 106-107. The august, wood-paneled setting rep resents solidity and dignity. The stock characters (venerable judge, dignified and formal lawyer, anxious lay person, atten tive juror) each telegraph meaning derived from their respec tive roles. The courtroom dialogue is engaging, full of clever cross-examination, resounding objections, and theatrical mo ments. The denouement is dramatic as the verdict is read and the characters respond. The trial is a ceremony whose meaning most Americans understand.

n37. For an anthology of movies about law and lawyers, see Paul J. Mastrangelo, Lawyers and the Law: A Filmography, 3 Legal Reference Service Q. 31 (Winter 1983); Paul J. Mastrangelo, Lawyers and the Law: A Filmography II, 5 Legal Reference Service Q. 5 (Winter 1985-86).

n38. See, e.g., Roger Dooley, Around the Law in Eighty Ways:Shysters,MouthpiecesandAmbulanceChasers,inFrom Scarface to Scarlett: American Films in the 1930s 310-27 (1981). These movies are too numerous to list individ ually. For a very thorough listing of movies involving law and lawyers through the mid-1980s, see Mastrangelo, Law yers and the Law: A Filmography, supra note 37; see also Mastrangelo, Lawyers and the Law: A Filmography II, supra note 37.

n39. The Fortune Cookie (United Artists 1966).

n40. The Verdict (Twentieth Century Fox 1982).

n41. Young Mr. Lincoln (Twentieth Century Fox 1939).

n42. Anatomy of a Murder (Columbia Pictures 1958).

n43. To Kill a Mockingbird, supra note 1.

n44. Cape Fear (Universal Pictures 1962).

n45. Judgment at Nuremberg (United Artists 1961).

n46. See Jeanine Basinger, A Woman's View: How Hollywood Spoke to Women 1930-1960, 448-85 (1993).

n47. Molly Haskell, From Reverence To Rape: The Treatment of Women in the Movies (1973).

n48. See id. at 153.

n49. See id. at 163-64.

n50. Mildred Pierce (Warner Brothers 1945).

n51. Now Voyager (Warner Brothers 1942).

n52. Dark Victory (Warner Brothers 1939).

n53. All About Eve (Twentieth Century Fox 1950).

n54. See Haskell, supra note 47, at 15.

n55. See id.

n56. See id.

n57. "There were probably more women lawyers on the screen in the thirties than there were in the courtroom. And yet, the portrayal was tragically stereotypical." Rennard Strickland, Bringing Bogie Out of the Courtroom Closet: Law and Lawyers in Film, 20 Wisc. L. Sch. F. 43 (1990). See also Sheffield, supra note 7, at 74-89.

n58. There were twelve movies about women lawyers in contrast to eight about women doctors. See Dooley, supra note 38, at 317.

n59. Scarlet Pages (First National Pictures 1930).

n60. Ann Carver's Profession (Columbia Pictures 1933).

n61. The Lady Objects (Columbia Pictures 1938).

n62. Apparently on the promotional lobby card the lawyer/wife is exclaiming, "Gentlemen of the Jury, if my husband murdered this other woman, I am to blame. I have been a successful lawyer but a failure as a wife." Strickland, supra note 57, at 49.

n63. The Defense Rests (Columbia Pictures 1934).

n64. The Law in Her Hands (Warner Brothers 1936).

n65. Career Woman (Twentieth Century Fox 1936).

n66. Portia on Trial (Republic Pictures 1937).

n67. The Woman is the Judge (Columbia Pictures 1939).

n68. Design for Scandal (MGM 1941).

n69. Tell it to the Judge (Columbia Pictures 1941).

n70. The bachelor and the Bobby Soxer (RKO Pic tures 1947).

n71. Adam's Rib (MGM 1949).

n72. There were a few films before that date in which a wo man attorney was the protagonist, see, e.g., First Monday in October (Paramount Pictures 1981) (adapted from a stage play about the first woman Supreme Court Justice), or a secondary character, see The Verdict (Twentieth Century Fox 1982), but the infusion of these films began at the height of the "backlash" era when women had been in the legal work force in significant numbers for more than ten years. See Shapiro, supra note 27, at 962-68.

n73. See Code to Govern the Making of Talking, Synchro nized and Silent Motion Pictures, in Movies and Mass Cu lture 135-45 (John Belton ed., 1996).

n74. See earlier discussion at page 57.

n75. Jagged Edge, supra note 8.

n76. The Music Box, supra note 23.

n77. The Client, supra note 26.

n78. Class Action, supra note 24.

n79. Suspect, supra note 22.

n80. This development is hardly gender specific. Close fol lows in the footsteps of a pre-Atticus Finch Gregory Peck in the Hitchcock film, see The Paradine Case (Selznick Inter national Pictures 1947), and William Hurt in Body Heat (Ladd 1981).

n81. One commentator argues that because the witness whose testimony was essential for the conviction was a man, "...The guilty verdict in the end seems to be token gift to liberal feminism.... Female victims still have no real credi bility within the law." Patrice Fleck, The Silencing of Women in the Hollywood "Feminist" Film: The Accused, 9 Post Script 49, 55 (1990).

n82. See, Bailey et al., supra note 27, at 192-93; Graham & Maschio, supra note 20, at 1061-66.

Prepared: June 16, 2003 - 5:02:29 PM
Edited and Updated, June 17, 2003

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