In a former life, I used to be a trial lawyer. Not a litigation lawyer (the ones who posture about “going” to trial and burying each other in paperwork in their elaborate Kabuki pre-battle ritual — kind of like those guys who never served a day in the armed forces but like to wear camo and buy lots of guns). But a trial lawyer. Would do jury trials in front of 12 strangers. And to me when I was in law school I thought it was important for me personally to do murder trials. And I did.
It’s consistent with my view that you’re really not a “real” lawyer until you’ve done a jury trial — the quintessential role of an attorney — to advocate for his or her client when they want to take away the accused person’s liberty. Yes, I’m limiting this discussion to criminal matters (the area I used to practice — on the defense side), because fighting over money doesn’t interest me. And for all those lawyers who haven’t done a trial, you’re a sad pathetic excuse for a paper shuffler who will be replaced by the incoming AI revolution. No one likes an angry lawyer, but they sure do expect it. Ha ha. It should be noted that I now do exclusively transactional work.
But before I was handling homicide cases as a criminal defense attorney, I had to start somewhere. I did a lot of misdemeanor jury trials. And when I started in my first year doing these trials — it was nerve wracking (and I’m not one to be nervous when it comes to public speaking) because it was new and I was fighting for my client to stay out of jail.
I developed this ritual where I would watch anywhere from 15-30 minutes of My Cousin Vinny the night before. It was sparked when I watched the movie before my first jury trial (which I won) and like a superstitious athlete I kept doing it (no, I didn’t in all of trials, but I had a pretty good record).
The first time I watched the movie, I was not a lawyer and thought it was HEEE-Larious. I distinctly remember falling off the sofa laughing so hard at this scene and kept laughing when I heard the drawl of “Are you mocking me?”
A suit is a suit. But still HEEEE-larious.
But as a lawyer, I remember that for a movie, it was shockingly accurate in its portrayal of trial tactics and the rules of evidence. Yes, you heard me. Ignore the theatrics, the New York fishes out of water in the South premise, and the fact that it’s highly entertaining, the movie is centered around core jury trial lessons.
I’m sure there are many law blogs that have done a fantastic job of teasing out the kernels of the Federal Rules of Evidence (I don’t read those blogs, for the same reason I’m not one of those people who gives a rat’s ass if Hamlet would have been acquitted with a modern day jury trial in the United States), so I won’t go into all of it.
One thing did stand out — the opening argument. It’s the scene after the prosecutor gives a competent opening statement and Joe Pesci’s charcter, Vinny, responds with “Everything that guy just said is bullshit.”
Hilarious, right? But here’s the lesson — any response to an opening argument is supposed to be exactly that — everything that the other side just said is _not_ true and we will show that. You can be more eloquent than Vinny, but it’s paramount to take the momentum away from the other side after an opening statement.
And that’s why it’s the best lawyer movie ever. Even better than A Few Good Men (how dare I?!?!?).
*Side note: Marissa Tomei was great and in my opinion, her Academy Award was deserved. The movie after this that she starred in was, Only You, which starred Robert Downey Jr. Romantic comedy set in Italy with two awesome actors (although this was pre-redemption Downey), what could go wrong? I remember watching Only You in the movie theater and feeling disappointed (I don’t remember much else which is surprising because I love movies/books about Americans in Italy). So I was pleasantly surprised to see the two matched up again in the most recent MCU/Spiderman movies. The brief on-screen chemistry in these new movies between is amazing. I wonder if they thought about their times on the set of Only You. *