Fictional Lawyers – Reel Lessons To Be Learned


Publish Date:
November 5, 2013
  • Persky, Anna Stolley
Student Lawyer
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The Student Lawyer quotes visiting Stanford Law Professor Michael Asimow on the portrayal of ethical dilemmas in pop culture.

From the enshrined-in-our-culture Perry Mason to the more contemporary Saul Goodman, fictional lawyers, and the writers behind them, provide hours of amusement as they muddle through outrageous imaginary ethical dilemmas.

After all, real-life lawyers never face the same scenarios. Or do they?

“Actually, the situtations may be exaggerated , but they are often still based in real life,” said Michael Asimow, a visiting professor at Stanford Law School, who teaches classes on pop culture and the law. “Law students can learn more watching how a great actor deals with a situation than they would listening to a dry lecture on ethics.”

“Being a lawyer means that you will confront ethical dilemmas,” said Asimow. “Sometimes the rules of conduct will guide you, but sometimes the rules are vague. Your own moral code should tell you what to do, but remember that the area of ethics is a tremendous minefield for lawyers.”

“They find a way to wiggle out of it, but this episode presented very effectively the tension between the lawyer's duty to maintain confidentiality and modern terrorism laws,” said Asimow. “There are in fact, a whole array of situations involving charges of material support of terrorism where lawyers find they can't act in the way they are accustomed to acting.”

“This movie [The Lincoln Lawyer] presents discovery abuse on one side and betrayal of the client on the other,” said Asimow. “But even when you discover that the client is hiding documents, you can't disclose it to the public. You have to withdraw from the case.”