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Embodiment of Evil: Law Firms in the Movies

65 Pages Posted: 16 May 2001  

Michael Asimow

Stanford Law School


Most American lawyers now practice in law firms, ranging from small partnerships to immense multi-national megafirms. In the movies, lawyers in solo practice have often been presented favorably, but when lawyers band together into law firms, the firms are almost always portrayed unfavorably. Recent films involving larger law firms, such as "The Firm," "The Devil's Advocate," or "Philadelphia" been venomously negative. Professor Asimow traces the history of law firms in film, concentrating particularly on Orson Welles' noir masterpiece "The Lady from Shanghai," which he believes invented the idea that law firms are an embodiment of evil. Asimow believes that the explanation for the rash of harshly negative big-firm movies lies both in the public's evident distaste for lawyers in general and law firms in particular and in the traditional anti-business theme in film narrative. He sketches the history of the big law firm and contends that the world of big firm law practice has swung sharply in the direction of a business model rather than the traditional professionalism model. Finally, Asimow contends that in several respects the depiction in contemporary films of large firm life and law practice is fundamentally on target. In particular, the treatment in the movies of lawyer life style, billing improprieties, and hardball litigation tactics appears to be essentially correct.

JEL Classification: K49, K41

Suggested Citation

Asimow, Michael, Embodiment of Evil: Law Firms in the Movies. UCLA Law Review, Vol. 48, Forthcoming. 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
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650-725-0253 (Fax)

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