Article by Makki Tahir
This article is part of a series to help students improve their advocacy skills and also bust some movie myths. The Student Lawyer aims to provide students with a number of resources to help improve their employability. We decided to do legal movie reviews to give you some tips on how to be better lawyers through an engaging medium (i.e through films and movies), that many of us enjoy quite regularly. If you haven’t seen any of the movies that we post about, please go ahead and watch them, you will not be disappointed. It also helps to have something to do during this lock-down period and the bonus is, it can play a role in helping you determine whether you enjoy the thrill of being in court as a barrister or prefer the solicitor route!
JFK is the Academy Award winning story of Orleans Parish District Attorney (equivalent of a Crown Prosecutor in England or Crown Agent in Scotland) Jim Garrison and his investigation into the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The film has an all-star cast lead by Kevin Costner as Jim Garrison and a supporting cast that includes Gary Oldman as Lee Harvey Oswald and Tommy Lee Jones, Joe Pesci and Kevin Bacon as possible co-conspirators. The film shows how the investigations were carried out and how the case was put together by Jim Garrison and his team. The film won the Academy Award for Best Cinematography and we can definitely see why; Dealey Plaza in Downtown Dallas, Texas was modified to make it look like the 1960s and the visuals that we see, show the attention to detail of the cinematographer and the production crew.
We see how the investigation was conducted by Jim Garrison (Hollywood definitely took some creative liberty there) and it should be known that when researching a case there often isn’t a “smoking gun”; it is about researching it thoroughly and presenting the best argument based on legal reasoning. When presenting a case to the court, it isn’t just about stating the facts, it is about how the law applies to the situation and why should the judge or jury rule in your favour in the matter. It is important to understand that the better your research skills are, the better your legal reasoning will be. This is because, the more you know about a topic, the more you can talk about it. Therefore, it is important for you to understand that your legal reasoning skills are key to being successful because you need to be able to convince a learned judge that the argument that you are making is not only correct but overwhelmingly better than your opposing counsel’s.
We get to see the case being presented before a jury and how the only case brought before a court in relation to the assassination of JFK was conducted. Kevin Costner’s advocacy skills leave a lot to be desired and add to the movie trope of lawyers shouting in a courtroom, any Advocate (Barrister in England) would tell you that staying calm and composed is much better to help you present your argument than screaming at the top of your lungs in one of the most important cases in American history. Advocacy is an important tradition and it is not only about showing deference to the judge, it is also about showing deference to your opposing counsel. One should understand the importance of conducting themselves in a manner that is becoming of a legal professional. Advocacy is an important part of qualifying in the Scottish and English Bar, it is one of the elements of a successful Advocate or Barrister. If you were to look at any successful legal practitioner, you would quite clearly see their advocacy skills are one of their most refined skills. In the courtroom, it isn’t just about what you say, it is how you say it. This can also be applied to life, we do it every single day and we can improve our lives and our ability to communicate by mastering advocacy.
If you haven’t watched this movie, I would recommend it because it is fascinating and although it is over-dramatised, we do get to see some legal research being conducted by Jim Garrison and his team. Also, if you haven’t watched a JFK speech, I highly recommend that you watch some of his speeches because his charisma was unmatched, and his eloquence was something to behold.
This article is the first in a series of articles that The Student Lawyer will be publishing on films about lawyers and court cases, we want to give you the content that you want, if you have any recommendations, please contact The Student Lawyer or Makki Tahir on LinkedIn.