By Tom Jarvis
In last month’s issue, five past NHBA presidents were featured in this column in honor of the Bar Association’s 150th anniversary year celebration. This month, six more past presidents gave their answers regarding their favorite fictional lawyers in continued commemoration.
As an aside, while I was recently looking for a new show to watch, I discovered that two classic legal shows have been revived. The first is NBC’s Night Court, a legal sitcom that aired from 1984 to 1992, centering around a second-shift court presided over by the unconventional Judge Harry Stone. The Night Court reboot features Stone’s daughter, Judge Abby Stone, and includes John Larroquette reprising his role as Dan Fielding (who made the switch from assistant district attorney to public defender). You may also remember Larroquette from another classic, Boston Legal.
The second legal reboot, Perry Mason, starring Matthew Rhys, John Lithgow, and Tatiana Maslany (who also stars in her own legal show, Marvel’s She-Hulk: Attorney at Law), focuses on the origins of Perry Mason in the 1930s. Just when I thought my watchlist was shrinking!
Back on point, here’s what six past NHBA presidents had to say about their favorite fictional lawyers:
Jack Crisp, The Crisp Law Firm
NHBA President from 1994 to 1995
“While there are many fictional attorneys I consider favorites, at the top of the list is Paul Newman’s portrayal of Frank Galvin in the movie The Verdict. Galvin was at one time a leading Boston trial lawyer who was spiraling down into alcoholism. Galvin had been going to the funerals of strangers, looking for potential cases, usually after fortifying himself with whiskey.
A friend and mentor, Mickey Morrissey, portrayed by Jack Warden, brought him a medical malpractice case against the local diocese with a low six-figure offer on the table. It was the only case Galvin had. Galvin did not believe the offer was adequate or just. Throughout the trial, the diocese’s attorney, portrayed by James Mason, found ways to block Galvin from having the evidence he needed. His Harvard expert suddenly disappeared and a photocopy of a medical record establishing negligence was rejected by the court because it was not an original.
What most impressed me about Newman’s portrayal was Galvin’s impassioned summation to the jury in which he talked about faith in the justice system while seeming to reclaim faith in himself. He told the jury how so often we feel lost and like victims, how the poor feel powerless and become tired of hearing so many lies, but on that day, they were the law. He said, ‘If we are to have faith in justice, we need only to believe in ourselves and act with justice. I believe there is justice in our hearts.’ The verdict was greater than what had been requested.
I believe such an argument, if made in the context of the right facts and expressed with sincerity, would be effective today as it was for Galvin in 1982.”
Patrick Hayes, Baker & Hayes
NHBA President from 1997 to 1998
“An interesting attorney from fiction is Mr. Tulkinghorn of [the novel] Bleak House. [He’s]an extremely capable attorney caught in the clutches of the interminable chancery court processes that seem to envelope us all from time to time. The patience shown by all involved in Jarndyce v. Jarndyce would not be countenance or rewarded in today’s high-tech, e-filed court system, where brevity and more expeditious results are favored.”
George Moore, New Hampshire Bar Association
NHBA President from 1999 to 2000
“For me, it is Atticus Finch. This is a rather obvious choice, but what stands out is his moral courage and the strength of his beliefs. Many of us went to law school because we believed in certain things and felt through the use of our intellect, we could bend events to our principles. Atticus never wavers or has second doubts, even when his views are wildly unpopular. He would be just as successful in today’s courts, as his calm professionalism never goes out of style with juries.”
Greg Robbins, Hoefle, Phoenix, Gormley & Roberts, PLLC
NHBA President from 2000 to 2001
“Lawrence Preston (played by E.G. Marshall) from the old TV show The Defenders. It showed the legal profession at its best and took on serious topics. In one episode, the protagonists defended a neo-fascist hate speaker’s right to make a scheduled speech before a large audience, won, and then peacefully picketed the event. In another, they defended a serial killer with an insanity defense. If I recall correctly, they lost, and the defendant was executed. I hope [Preston would do] well [in an NH courtroom]. In fact, the show is one of the reasons I decided to become a lawyer myself (although some may question whether that was a good thing).”
Larry Vogelman, Shaheen & Gordon
NHBA President from 2012 to 2013
“Vinny Gambini from My Cousin Vinny. I have used the movie to teach techniques in trial advocacy to high-school-age students. His cross examinations, in addition to their comedic value, are also wonderful models. I may be prejudiced however, being a kid from Brooklyn myself. My guess is that despite obstacles, he would do okay in New Hampshire. When you get right down to it, his storytelling is very compelling.”
Scott Harris, McLane Middleton
NHBA President from 2017 to 2018
“The lawyers of Donnell, Young, Dole, and Frutt [from the TV show The Practice]. They represent their clients with passion, struggle with life/work balance, and tackle moral and ethical issues in an authentic manner. [In a present-day New Hampshire courtroom, they would fare] just about the same as the rest of us.”
Want to tell us your favorite? Please contact NHBA Publications Editor Tom Jarvis at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your favorite fictional lawyer, why they are your favorite, and your opinion on how they would fare in a present-day New Hampshire courtroom.