Reviewed by J Thomas Parker, Chief of Staff, Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council. Jtparker [at] ipac.in.gov
Kelly Lynn Anders’s book, Advocacy to Zealousness: Learning Lawyering Skills from Classic Films, does as its title suggests: it provides advice on lawyering skills, listed A to Z, via an examination of twenty-six classic films. Although many of the films and their characters exemplify several skills, each of the twenty-six chapters highlights one skill in particular. Each chapter starts with a short dictionary definition of the skill under consideration. The definitions are then followed by two or three pages worth of the author’s personal descriptions and thoughts on the particular skill. The discussion then goes into the plot of a film that can be used to further examine the skill. Each chapter concludes with questions about the film and with suggested “exercises for improvement.” The films are older, and chosen for the “lack of nudity, profanity, and graphic violence found in many modern films [and because they are] easier to show in a variety of classroom settings” (p.xv).
Anders’s thought is that this approach will help improve professionalism, but she has other goals in mind: “Each film [was] carefully . . . chosen for its representation of particular skills, as well as for its contributions to the promotion of increased diversity in the legal profession through depictions of diverse characters” (p.xiv). The audience Anders has in mind for the films is made up of “law students and new practitioners” (p.xiii). The book, however, is more of a guide for a teacher who might assign the films for viewing.
The book has several drawbacks. The most glaring is that it is overly ambitious. Many of the skills are awkwardly named and squeezed into their places. For example, Chapter 21 discusses the so called – and improbable – skill of “Universal Etiquette” (pp.153-9). Etiquette, in the sense of politeness or manners, is something lawyers (or anyone) should keep in mind, but it is doubtful that it can be “universal.” What is proper in one culture may be vulgar and base in another. Coming up with the skill “universal etiquette” is a contrivance meant to make certain a skill beginning with the letter “U” was included. This is off-putting and waters down whatever salient points the author might have come up with about the skill.
In fact, Anders does bring up many good points in her discussions of each skill. Her writing is clear and organized, but the essays are, at times, a bit sophomoric. Next, readers are apt to be annoyed with the discussion questions. Many of the questions seem ill-linked to the particular skill under examination and are probably better suited for a film studies class as they are aimed at the [*28] films’ themes, character motivations, and other interactions. These are worthwhile questions, but not for those seeking insight into the legal profession. On a similar note, some of the suggested exercises are questionable. Chapter 4 discusses dependability. As an exercise for improvement, Anders suggests that those who “are single, [should] consider volunteering as a Big Brother or Big Sister to a child who needs regular and consistent time with a caring adult” (p.33). The reader is advised that one should “only do this if you’re truly prepared to stick with the task,” (p.33) but if one is prepared to stick to tasks, one is already dependable. More importantly, those who would become a Big Brother or Big Sister should be drawn to that role in and for itself and not as a self-serving exercise to improve their own skills. Becoming a major contributor to a child’s life to, in part, improve one’s own skills may be fine, but doing it as the impetus is another thing.
A more serious problem with Advocacy to Zealousness is that it rarely challenges the reader to think about how many of the skills or films relate to the Model Rules of Professional Conduct or other published standards. Chapter 26 discusses the skill of zealousness through the 1949 film Adam’s Rib. This film stars Katherine Hepburn as a wife/defense counsel who tries a case against her husband/prosecutor, Spencer Tracy. The film may depict two zealous attorneys, but if Advocacy to Zealousness is truly about professionalism, there should be at least some discussion in this chapter about standards such as ABA Prosecution Standard 3-1.3(g): “A prosecutor who is related to another lawyer as parent, child, sibling, or spouse should not participate in the prosecution of a person who the prosecutor knows is represented by the other lawyer.”
Notwithstanding what may be considered its serious flaws, Advocacy to Zealousness has positive points and it deserves at least a limited audience. Satisfying the desire to accurately establish how fictive works of art can have relevance to a professional audience is a matter of academic debate (Elkins). With respect to Advocacy to Zealousness, a guttural response is that it should have included discussions or questions about published standards, particularly as its intended audience is new attorneys and law students, an audience bred in institutions generally wedded to a formalistic rhetorical tradition. Advocacy to Zealousness takes the obvious countervailing position that less formalistic discussions of professionalism have virtue. Thus, despite its problems, it should be commended for attempting such a challenging task.
Anders has also done a fine job selecting the films. Her descriptions are clear and the reader should be able to establish whether the film discussed is one that warrants attention and potential presentation to a class. One documentary, seven comedies, and 19 dramas or dark comedies are examined. Some of the films selected, such as To Kill a Mockingbird, are among those typically selected for discussions about portrayals of lawyers in popular film, but many, such as Gentleman’s Agreement, may offer refreshing material to those who teach a law and film class or who use films to animate classroom discussions. Skills and virtues along with [*29] positive and negative attributes are at stake in these classics that Anders discusses. They are not all neatly (and need not be) framed in pretentious courtrooms and fusty law offices.
Students and new professionals should not slog through Advocacy to Zealousness, but the book is one law professors may wish to consult and use as a starting point or as a supplement to established teaching plans. Those engaged in teaching a law and literature/film class should, if they have not already done so, consider viewing the films Anders has selected. Despite the quirkiness of some of the skills Anders includes in Advocacy to Zealousness, many, such as compassion, empathy, loyalty, sincerity, and tact, are skills that the profession should concentrate on. They are either skills that lawyers should hone or they are virtues that lawyers should respect. In that regard, it would be well that even long-time practitioners should reflect on the topics and ideas Anders presents.
American Bar Association. 2002. Model Rules of Professional Conduct. Washington, DC.
American Bar Association. 1993. Prosecution Functions Standards. 3rd ed. Washington, DC.
Cukor, George, dir. 1949. Adam’s Rib. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
Elkins, James. 2007. “Popular Culture, Legal Films, and Legal Film Critics.” Loyola of Los Angeles Law Review 40 (Winter): 745-91.
Kazan, Eli, dir. 1947. Gentleman’s Agreement. 20th Century Fox.
Mulligan, Robert, dir. 1962, To Kill a Mockingbird. Universal International Pictures.
Copyright 2013 by the author, J Thomas Parker.