Which legal character are you?
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Many job advertisements feature questions that aim to demonstrate the candidate’s creative thinking and to reveal an insight into their personality. This method frequently takes the form of a question that asks the applicant, 'which film or tv character would you be and why?'
With this quirky query in mind, I have chosen four legal characters that I believe are worthy of consideration. Each one possesses skills that lawyers typically value. Of course, there are many cinematic courtroom legends that fail to make the cut. Therefore, to clarify, my selection is based on the fact that these four resonated with me.
Consequently, I encourage you all to decide on your own nominees. Personally, compiling this list proved a thought-provoking exercise. It actively revealed what I considered to be important traits in legal practice, as well as encouraging an enjoyable trip down memory lane.
These individuals are definitely not perfect. Aspiring to be their mirror image would be ill-advised. Yet, for their obvious flaws, they also possess valuable traits that are to be admired. Mimicking those particular characteristics will serve you well for a strong future career (potential spoilers below).
I have started with Erin Brockovich, as I have recently been reminded that she was not actually a lawyer. In fact, her character is defined by her antipathy to the high-cost, ambulance-chaser stereotype of some US attorneys. Erin is intentionally unpolished. Despite her legal employment, she does not dress, talk or act like a solicitor. Nonetheless, she plays a central role in the lawsuit’s success.
Ultimately, what distinguishes Erin from her more professional colleagues is that she cares deeply about her clients. Her storyline highlights how an ability to empathise with people can make the biggest difference. For instance, she does not possess an unparalleled knowledge of tort. However, through listening to her client’s stories, she becomes their trusted adviser. This relationship is crucial to helping her vulnerable witnesses navigate through the opaque world of arbitration.
Additionally, anyone who has ever been a paralegal or legal assistant will know how much admin work occurs in law – often even before a lawyer sees any documents. Therefore, her ability to go the extra mile, her close attention to detail and her resilience to explore any evidential inconsistencies, are all useful skills for applicants to adopt.
Uncle Phil from The Fresh Prince of Bel Air is not an obvious choice. Despite being a judge, the sitcom's focus is away from his courtroom obligations. Nonetheless, he has many desirable characteristics that lawyers should aim to emulate.
Put simply, when he does move into lawyer mode, it is very impressive. Uncle Phil shows a mastery of legislation and a complete understanding of the law’s social context. Moreover, he has unwavering confidence in himself and his argument. Crucially, he also uses his authority as a judge to help others who have been denied their rights unlawfully.
He is also hardworking. Uncle Phil was a man that was denied opportunities when he was younger. Therefore, only through years of study could he reach a level of success that many would never have believed possible. Additionally, despite his disciplinary ways, Uncle Phil has a palpable paternalistic sense of duty. For instance, he is clearly a family man that actively mentors his troubled nephew.
Any law student who has ever done pro bono knows what a privilege it is to have even a basic understanding of fundamental legal rights. Therefore, it is worth considering how characters with a successful legal career, such as Uncle Phil, undertake the responsibilities that emerge with their fortuitous position.
Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird may bring back nightmare memories of GCSE English. Nonetheless, Mr Finch has always appealed to me. Despite the plot being set more than 80 years ago, lessons can be drawn today from this character’s choices.
For instance, Atticus’s mind is open to understanding another person’s perspective, which is an undeniably valuable asset when communicating with others. Elsewhere, the man’s refrain from ever mentioning his skill at shooting displays admirable humility.
For many applicants hoping to get an entry-level position, it can sometimes feel like you need to be in constant salesperson mode – stressing every possible personal attribute. Therefore, a character showing their potential by performing a task well, rather than repeatedly stating their talent, is an impressive approach to consider.
Further, Atticus’s representation of Tom Robinson, to the wrath of many in the county, emphasises the importance of maintaining your integrity over everything else. This was definitely not the easy option, but it was the right choice. To prioritise integrity is incredibly difficult, but it is a trait that is essential to building the trust of your team and your clients.
In contrast, Billy Flynn from the musical Chicago is definitely not a character to aspire to. Echoing his prioritisation for money, apathy for his less lucrative clients and unashamed satisfaction at fabricating evidence is not an applauded interview technique. Nor would I recommend perceiving trials merely as a form of show business – unless, of course, you want to work for Netflix.
That being said, a little razzle dazzle is important in legal practice. When communicating as a lawyer, there are multiple ways to make the same point. Therefore, a stylish persuasion technique that really connects with your intended audience is vital.
Business development also relies on attracting clients to events with interesting proposals that are relevant to their business. In addition, poor appearance, inconsistent presentation branding and use of the passive voice, are small stylistic elements that slowly undermine a lawyer’s authority.
After all, there is a reason why barristers tend to improve their advocacy over time. They memorise effective reposts, gain confidence in court etiquette and discover nuanced strategies to cross-examining reluctant witnesses. They also customise their styles for different judges, targeting what that particular individual prefers.
Style alone cannot replace substance. Nonetheless, the little things matter in law and help to show your gratitude, dedication to client care and, eventually, your competency.
The ‘which character would you be?’ question is ultimately subjective. My chosen four may not be anywhere close to making your list. The individuals that you select need not be law-related at all. In fact, it will probably be a far more interesting to explain why you have chosen Tony Soprano, Sheldon Cooper or Daenerys Targaryen.
However, I would urge you to go out and compile a legal character list. It can be a useful exercise to reflect on where you see your strengths. Perhaps too, the act of choosing people will inspire you to consciously address the personality traits that you aim to improve or emphasise in your applications.
Most importantly though, completing this list will allow you to appreciate the remarkable use of jargon in most legal films. Not to mention the amazing disregard for disclosure requirements. Therefore, if you will now please excuse me, I fully intend to object to my local double jeopardy Supreme Court trial and find out where I left that mens rea.