Skip to content

Meet the Stereotype: The Southern Lawyer

August 22, 2009

Maybe we should blame Atticus Finch.

After all, the wise protagonist of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird contained more than a helping of everything we’ve seen go into the stew used to create the southern lawyer over the years from dwi lawyer in jacksonville north carolina. Since Finch defended Tom Robinson in a sweltering courtroom in the “tired old town” of Maycomb, Alabama, pop culture has gleefully overused the visage of the podunk attorney.

Truly, is there any more tired — and sweaty — caricature in Hollywood than the southern lawyer? And what do we know about them, from a film (and novel) standpoint? Let’s go over the dossier and get to know today’s guest of honor.

He dresses one of two ways — traditionally or flashy. The tricky thing about this is that you may assume that an old southern lawyer might dress traditionally, the younger more contemporary, but the stereotype is tricky on this front. Take A Time to Kill, for instance. Kevin Spacey plays D.A. Rufus Buckley with  relish and snazziness (snazz?), while Matthew McConaghey’s Jake Brigance takes on the role of the easygoing country boy barrister. Make no mistake about it; one will wear suspenders and a bow tie, but they will both sweat equally. Which brings us to our next item…

He always work in buildings with no air conditioning. Now, I’ve been around the south. A lot. And there are, of course, towns that have been a little slow on the uptake of modernization. You’ll find this in any direction of the United States. So I can buy that there may be courtrooms in this country that may not be privy to the wonders of AC. But I refuse to acknowledge that, by Hollywood characterizations, every city hall in the South is this hot, all the time. Pop culture would have us believe that Southerners do nothing but sweat profusely, which one would think might eventually spark some sort of public debate in town. But we’ll likely never see a John Grisham novel where the central plot revolves around a young maverick attorney in backwoods Louisiana fighting against hope to bring central air to his town’s municipal buildings. 

He addresses juries like they’re just “plain folks.” Hi there, Ben Matlock! What’s that? Your client couldn’t be guilty of murder because you sure do love your grandmama’s shoo-fly pie? Okay, that’s good enough for me! You have to love Andy Griffith’s classic move — sidling up to the jury box, leaning in on one shoulder, asking a couple of questions to the juror nearest, like “Say, I don’t have my glasses on, but tell me, how could Mr. Johnson kill someone when he was 200 miles away?” or “Now, I’m no scientist, but I happen to know that when water gets cold, it freezes.” No wonder those yankee buffoons on Law and Order are always watching the accused walk free; Sam Waterston refuses to bust out that tale of when Skeeter Hoyt stole that blueberry pie off Widow Henshaw’s windowsill!

He’s cocky and snarky in his own town, but lovable and endearing in others.  If you’re an out-of-towner caught speeding in Hicksville, USA, just watch as the charming drawl of the silver-tongued lawyer friend of the judge spells your doom in a tiny courtroom. But swoon with delight as that same awkward legal eagle fumbles and stammers his way cutely through his first trial in a big-city courtroom, prompting the hottest female lawyer on staff to fall in love and ditch her shitty, smarmy colleague boyfriend, who’s a shoe-in to make partner.

Bravo, Southern Lawyer! You’ve granted us endless joy through the years, from Inherit the Wind to My Cousin Vinny, always with vigor and chutzpah. Whether you’re entering the courtroom late, unorganized, with papers spilling out everywhere or craftily manipulating your jury by craftily asking Old Dwight Castor how his turnips are doing this summer, you’re always aces with us. And that’s why you’re a lasting stereotype. So take this cool, perspiring glass of iced tea and press it against your forehead, Southern Lawyer…you’ve earned it.

Advertisements

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: