Lawyers are always right

On a plane recently, I watched a film called “Bridge of Spies”, starring Tom Hanks and Mark Rylance, and based on true events.  In 1950s America, Hanks plays a lawyer assigned to the defence of a Russian accused (correctly) of spying.  He then brokers a deal to exchange the Russian for American(s) held in East Berlin.

Naturally I liked it, because it featured a heroic lawyer.

Lawyers come in many types.  There are the courtroom heroes who stand up for the innocent against prejudice (like Atticus Finch and Perry Mason); there are the ones who don masks and fight crime in their spare time (comic-book hero Daredevil); there are the cosy family solicitors who sort out people’s problems.

But some lawyers, of course, are bad.  A few of those cosy family solicitors are actually embezzling funds (see many works by Agatha Christie); some are fronts for criminal enterprises; some are ruthless sharks who destroy all in their path, but quite legally (like Peter Pan/Banning in the film “Hook”, before his reformation).

Some are inadequate people, who are out of their depth in the crime caper/superhero adventure or whatever, some alas are too busy or feeble to provide the support their children need; and some are stuffy conservatives (John Cleese’s character in “A Fish Called Wanda”) or sleazy family-neglectors (Jim Carrey’s character in “Liar Liar”) who need to be, and hopefully will be, reformed/lightened up.

Yes, lawyers come in many types.  But they all have one thing in common – they know their job.  If a lawyer tells their client that that they do or do not have grounds for divorce, or that there is a right of way over their land, or that the actions they have committed are technically fraud… their client had better believe it, because there is no such thing as an incompetent lawyer.

We are talking, of course, about fiction.

In real life (and I don’t think I am giving away state secrets here) lawyers do occasionally make mistakes.  Deadlines are overlooked, obvious questions in cross-examination are missed, documents are wrongly interpreted.  Not often, of course, but sometimes.

(IT experts, of course, beat even lawyers for their skill, and the latest James Bond film gave us a masterful example.  All that is needed to defeat the bad guys is to give Q a computer, and tell him to do his stuff.  No enemy software is ever going to stand against a computer geek, and this never needs to be justified or explained.)

And I wonder – is this true of every profession, or am I just being professionally sensitive?  Are all trades and professions represented in literature and on screen as working to a higher standard than we know is the case?  Rachel Green in “Friends” was certainly an incompetent waitress, but she may have been an exception.

One could argue that all professionals on screen have to be competent, because unless they are a detective the story is not usually about their profession, and a subplot about that missing file might get in the way, and/or be too boring to watch.

But it does detract from the realism and identifiability of all characters in film/TV/literature.  Not as much as the perfect hair styling, but still.  Maybe it even contributes to our “success-is-essential-failure-must-be-punished” culture.

I digress from the film “Bridge of Spies”.  It showed ‘50s paranoia powerfully and simply, when Tom Hanks’ children filled up a bathtub so as to have clean water permanently ready in case nuclear war broke out without warning.  It made its points about giving your enemies the benefit of due process (good lawyerly moral), and I would only raise one quibble.

All right, so it was based on a true story.  But they could have twisted the facts a little bit, couldn’t they, to give us one female character with a more exciting line than “remember to bring home the marmalade from your trip”?

Love from the PPI Blogger, still trying to decide whether to cut down to once a week, and if so which day, or whether just to write shorter posts, as suggested

  • Malachi Malagowther

    12th April 2016 at 6:46 pm Reply

    At least lawyers come in many types. Fictional scientists only come in two types: they are either mad and involved in a plot to destroy or control the world (see half of the Bond movies) or else they are naive and gullible so that their work can be used by bad guys for their nefarious schemes. Whoever heard of a good scientist nobly striving to solve one of the world’s problems? Doctors and engineers with a scientific training, yes but not scientists – at least until Stephen Hawking’ s life was filmed.

  • Clint Redwood

    12th April 2016 at 8:51 pm Reply

    IT geeks probably are the most completely unrealistically portrayed professionals of all. I presume that this is because if you are a screenwriter, you are fundamentally isolated from any actual IT functions by the fact is is a requirement for all creative types to use a mac. (I say this typing on a mac).

    Nobody ever does IT like they do on films. It just doesn’t make good cinema, as it’s mostly very boring, and requires so many rounds of trial and error that all audiences would be asleep before anyone ever decoded the microdot, or hacked into anything. The only Sci-fi which showed and IT geek realistically, was perhaps the Matrix, where Neo is asleep while his computer does lots of searching on his behalf. Not even the hero could be bothered to stay awake!

    • Penelope Wallace

      15th April 2016 at 12:04 pm Reply

      What is a microdot?

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