Legally Blonde: It's a Crime
by Paul R Joseph
I went to see Legally Blonde
as an assignment and specifically to write about it for Picturing
Justice. Currently, I am teaching torts to first-year law students.
Does this movie have any messages that I want my law students
to receive? Would I recommend it to them, I wondered?
Of course, I understand that
Legally Blonde is a comedy. Perhaps, in its clumsy, obvious
way, it aspired to parody. It isn't a documentary about the law.
I am just as willing to find serious and helpful legal messages
in an Ally McBeal as in a Law and Order. Unfortunately,
I didn't find any in this painful-to-watch movie.
a previous incarnation, Cyndi Lauper told us that "girls
just want to have fun." Legally Blonde agrees wholeheartedly
while sulkily noting that if they absolutely, positively have
to, then and only then, a girl will be smart.
For Legally Blonde to
have any credibility, we must accept the central premise that
Elle (played endearingly as always by Reese Witherspoon) is really
"smart" all along. Unfortunately, the evidence of this
is scant. A 4.0 average in fashion merchandising and a 143 practice
LSAT score do not make a strong case, but the real problem is
that it is not credible that anyone as intelligent as we are
supposed to believe Elle is would be content with the vapid,
meaningless life she has lived for so long.
Oh, I forgot, her LSAT score
was actually 179. Elle studied for a week and raised it to near-perfect
level. That's the other bogus message in this movie, and in so
much of popular culture these days, that one can slouch along
doing nothing and then, with a little intensive work and a lot
of perky attitude, succeed in anything and everything. No, this
is not a message that I want my students to get-if they do, they
are liable to do themselves irreparable harm-and to flunk out.
At one point in Legally
Blonde, Elle is told not to go to law school because law
school is for those who are "ugly, serious and boring."
The movie seems to agree. The students are stuck-up and the faculty
is nasty (and worse). What's really offensive, however, is that
they all seem so-well, dumb. In this crowd, no wonder Elle can
rise to the top.
In the real world, first-year
law students do not represent murder defendants. Students who
have never taken criminal law, evidence or trial practice are
simply not qualified to do it. But that doesn't stop Elle and
in the world of Legally Blonde neither legal knowledge
nor experience is needed, because she's "smart." Even
once she gets "serious," she doesn't study much, but
it's okay because she's really "smart" after all. Memo
to students-even if you are smart, without knowledge and effort
you are not likely to be competent.
Legally Blonde tells us that a lawyer should form a bond
of trust with her or his client. Undoubtedly true. But that bond,
without an understanding of the law and without training in the
skills of lawyering, is unlikely to lead to a successful result.
Avoid this movie like the plague.
It's the "smart" thing to do.
Posted: August 30, 2001