Bad Lawyers in the Movies

Nova Law Review, Vol. 24, P. 533, 2000

79 Pages Posted: 14 May 1999


A survey of about 300 films involving significant lawyer roles reveals that from 1930 to 1970, more than two-third of the lawyers were good human beings and competent, ethical professionals. Since 1970, however, just the reverse is true: about two-thirds of the lawyers in film have been bad human beings and/or bad professionals. This article links the phenomenon of negative lawyer portrayals in film with the sharply declining public perception of the ethics of lawyers. The films accurately reflect the stunning drop in the public's image of the profession. The article speculates on the causes for this abrupt decline and suggests that negative film portrayals may be cause as well as effect. It draws on insights from cognitive psychology (the cultivation effect) to establish that the public may be learning that lawyers are bad from watching them in the movies.

Suggested Citation

Asimow, Michael R., Bad Lawyers in the Movies. Nova Law Review, Vol. 24, P. 533, 2000. Available at SSRN: or

Michael R. Asimow (Contact Author)

Stanford Law School ( email )

559 Nathan Abbott Way
Room 241
Stanford, CA 94305-8610
United States
650-723-2431 (Phone)
650-725-0253 (Fax)

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