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!
A Time to Kill (1996) is based on the novel of the same name by John Grisham. The film follows Matthew McConaughey’s Jake Brigance and his defence of Samuel L. Jackson’s Carl Lee Hailey,as he goes on trial for the murder of two men that raped his daughter. The gripping story has drama and intrigue throughout and a subplot of racism, which is depicted in this through a resurrection of the Klu Klux Klan in Canton, Mississippi and is skillfully weaved in throughout the film by the director, Joel Schumacher. The film also stars Sandra Bullock, as a quixotic law student eager to assist Jake Brigance in his quest to get Carl Lee Hailey acquitted.
The film shows us many different aspects of being a lawyer, the most realistic is perhaps the struggle that one can sometimes face. As the film goes on, we see Brigance begin to become consumed by the case and as a result, he loses his work-life balance. We have seen the lawyer working too many hours movie trope many times and this is no exception. There is no doubt that a career in the legal profession is hard work, however, it is about how productive you are when you are working. If you work 100-hour weeks and accomplish what you could have in a normal 40-hour week, then you have wasted 60 hours. Time management is an important skill and it is important to be as productive as you can be. This means that you should take time to relax and make sure that you are getting enough rest because no one will be impressed with someone that is in the office all the time and gets no work done.
Another important part of the movie is when Brigance seeks the advice of his mentor, Lucien Willbanks (played by Donald Sutherland). The advice that he receives is crucial to his success and having a mentor can help you improve your skills significantly. It is important that you choose a mentor that has the skills that you desire, it should not matter whether they practise the area of law that you want to go into. For example, if you feel as if your legal research skills are sub-par, then you could find someone that you know to be an astute researcher. It is important that you have various mentors throughout your career because your style would then be an amalgamation of all of your mentors’ styles.
We also see Sandra Bullock’s Ellen Roark assist Brigance in his case. She quotes some obscure precedence and Brigance is impressed. She is then added to the team and we can see here that Hollywood has taken some creative liberty because getting the opportunity to work with a lawyer is not that easy. It is important to start networking as early as you can, it is something that can help you to get internships or have an experienced lawyer take a look at an application for a training contract. I have been fortunate enough to have been awarded a place on an internship because I made it known to the solicitor that I was looking for some work experience.
If you haven’t seen A Time to Kill, I would recommend that you watch it. It has an intriguing plot and it is filled with action. We also get to see how racism can sometimes be passed down through parents, it is something that will definitely make you think. Also, if you haven’t read the book, I would recommend it because it is a page-turner. Next week, we will review another film adaptation of a John Grisham novel, The Firm; starring Tom Cruise and Gene Hackman.
ICONIC QUOTE: “Yes, they deserve to die, and I hope they burn in hell!”- Carl Lee Hailey played by Samuel L. Jackson
This is the third article 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.