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Which Movie Lawyer Archetype Are You?

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By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on August 08, 2016 3:56 PM

Pop culture loves lawyers. In movies and T.V., attorneys are almost inescapable, from Andy Griffith's folksy defense attorney, Ben Matlock, to Viola Davis's black widow law school professor in "How to Get Away With Murder."

But whether it's Judge Harry Stone on "Night Court," or the crusading law clerk in "Erin Brockovitch," Hollywood's many fictional legal professionals can all be boiled down into six archetypes. At least according to the ABA Journal, who dedicated their August issue to exploring the Jungian depths of America's pop culture lawyers. And of course, one of those archetypes will fit you, too.

The Six Types of Pop Culture Lawyers

Hollywood loves a formula, and when it comes to attorneys, there is only a handful to pick from. It's that fact that drew the ABA Journal to conclude that, "When it comes to films about the legal system, spoilers aren't necessary."

In the Journal's August issue, Thane Rosenbaum, a novelist and fellow at New York University School of Law, delves into some pop culture taxonomy, putting silver screen attorneys into their proper boxes -- and finds that he needs only six. They are:

1. The Crusading Lawyer -- There's no surprise here; Hollywood loves a righteous cause, especially in its movies about lawyers. These attorneys are "truth-seeking protagonists," who are often "advocating as much for [their] own redemption" as their clients, Rosenbaum writes. Atticus Finch is the epitome of this attorney trope.

2. The Heroic Lawyer -- What's the difference between a heroic lawyer and a crusading one? We're not sure. Maybe it's a question of degree. But, for whatever reason, legal heroes were set apart from legal crusaders, to be found in films such as "Anatomy of a Murder" and "Young Mr. Lincoln." In many of these films, "the cynicism and corruption of the system become the focal point and plot conceit of the film's dramatic arc."

3. The Obtuse Lawyer -- If you've mastered the law but forgotten your humanity, you might qualify as an obtuse lawyer. These attorneys, as seen in films like "A Civil Action" and "A Few Good Men," have "tragically come to believe that settlement checks and plea bargains are more important than justice," Rosenbaum writes.

4. The Disillusioned Lawyer -- And, of course, there are they attorneys who turned to the law full of idealism and hope, only to have their dreams crushed by the system. Think Tom Cruise in "The Firm" for this one.

5. The Vengeful Lawyer -- When the law fails to bring justice, these attorneys take matters into their own hands. Such lawyers can be found in films as diverse as "The Shawshank Redemption" and "The Count of Monte Cristo."

6. The Buffoon -- Lawyer as jester isn't the most common archetype, but it's own Hollywood embraces on occasion. Just think of Joe Pesci as the stammering screw-up in "My Cousin Vinny."

So where do you stand? If you haven't found your perfect match in the list above, you can tell the ABA your favorite colors and quotes, and they'll tell you what type of lawyer you are. Hopefully they don't peg you as the John Milton type.

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