Academic journal article The University of Memphis Law Review

The Rainmaker Film: A Window to View Lawyers and Professional Responsibility

Academic journal article The University of Memphis Law Review

The Rainmaker Film: A Window to View Lawyers and Professional Responsibility

Article excerpt

"Cinema is a mirror by which we often see ourselves.'" Alejandro Iñárritu, film director1


The use of stories, narratives, and literature to explore the moral and ethical dilemmas that lawyers and others face in their professional and personal lives is not new.2 Popular culture today offers a steady supply of stories about lawyers, their work, and related ethical dilemmas in film, television, and other media. These media depictions provide excellent opportunities for students to examine the work and ethical dilemmas of lawyers in a variety of contexts.3 Teachers can use these opportunities to help students understand the complexities of the lawyer's role, including the lawyer's work and ethical obligations, while assisting students to develop constructs for resolving these dilemmas in the future.4

I began using the film To Kill a Mockingbird many years ago as a tool to help teach the basic Professional Responsibility ("PR") course.5 Near the beginning of the first class, I showed Attorney Atticus Finch's powerful closing argument in the trial of Tom Robinson, an African-American facing a rape charge.6 I also showed the scene in which African-Americans in the courthouse balcony rose to recognize Atticus Finch's passionate defense of Tom Robinson.7 The film excerpts engaged student attention, facilitated classroom discussion, and underscored the importance of learning about lawyers and their professional responsibility.8 In short, the film provided an effective and rewarding teaching experience.

I still begin my first PR class of the semester with these film excerpts from To Kill a Mockingbird. I have since added the dramatic scene where Atticus sits outside of the local jail at night to protect his client from a vigilante mob seeking to lynch his client.9 After viewing all of the excerpts, I ask students to consider what kind of lawyers they hope to be and how they would like to be remembered. Students volunteer that they would like to emulate Atticus Finch and be respected advocates for justice and the rule of law. I refer to these excerpts and our related class discussion several times throughout the semester, usually to remind students of their wish to be like Atticus Finch. Sometimes I simply ask: "How do you think Atticus Finch would act or handle this matter?" This question brings the class full circle, returning to our first class discussion about the important role lawyers play in our society and how they can promote social justice.

Given my positive experience teaching PR with To Kill a Mockingbird, I have experimented using excerpts of other films in my PR class. This Article focuses on one such film, The Rainmaker,10 based on John Grisham's popular novel with the same title published in 1995.11 The Rainmaker provides fertile ground for teachers to discuss a variety of ethical issues while simultaneously highlighting related professional responsibility doctrines for addressing those challenges.12

The film tells the story of Rudy Baylor, a recent Memphis State Law graduate,13 who is desperately seeking employment in Memphis, Tennessee.14 He finally acquires a job at the J. Lyman Stone Law Firm run by Bruiser Stone, a corrupt, yet successful, personal injury lawyer.15 Rudy meets Deck Shifflet,16 the firm's "paralawyer,"17 who teaches Rudy about ambulance-chasing and other unethical ways to practice law.18 As a new associate, Rudy's job, in part, entails finding new clients for the Stone firm to help cover his firm compensation.19 Rudy met his first client, the Black family, at a Memphis State Law workshop.20 The client's son, Donny Ray Black, is a young man dying from leukemia and denied medical insurance.21 The Black family sues Great Benefit, a large insurance company, for bad-faith denial of Donny Ray's medical insurance claim.22 Rudy must quickly take charge of the Great Benefit case when the FBI arrests Bruiser, and Bruiser subsequently disappears.23 Great Benefit's lawyers continually prey on Rudy's inexperience and introduce him to the "rough and tumble" world of big-stakes litigation, which often involves tough and unfair conduct. …

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