Law on TV, Video, and Film

Updated March 28, 2007.
Prepared by Mary Whisner.

Legal Research Guides


Lawyers and the law have often been the subject of TV and movies " from "Perry Mason" to "Law & Order" and from "To Kill a Mockingbird" to "Legally Blonde." Watching fictionalized legal stories can be entertaining and can also provide food for thought. In addition, some documentaries and instructional materials are available on video. This guide provides tips for locating information by and about these materials.

Note: Hein Online links are UW Restricted.


Are there lists of movies and TV shows about law and lawyers?

Yes. See:

  • Paul J. Mastrangelo
    • Lawyers and the Law: A Filmography, Legal Reference Services Quarterly, Winter 1983 (v. 3 no.4), at 31-72.
    • Lawyers and the Law: A Filmography II, Legal Reference Services Quarterly, Winter 1985/86 (v.5 no.4), at 5-42.
    • Lawyers and the Law: A Television Filmography, Legal Reference Services Quarterly, v. 8, nos. 3/4 1988, at 135-78.
  • Patric M. Verrone, The 12 Best Trial Movies, ABA Journal, Nov. 1989, at 96(4).
  • Roger C. Cramton, Audiovisual Materials on Professional Responsibility, KF277.L4 C731987 at Classified Stacks, prepared with the support and sponsorship of the Committee on Lawyer Independence and Professional Responsibility of the Section of Tort and Insurance Practice of the American Bar Association, includes descriptions of about 70 films, as well as other video materials used by Professional Responsibility professors.
  • Cynthia Lucia, Framing Female Lawyers: Women on Trial in Film. PN1995.9.J8L83 2005 at Classified Stacks
  • University of Texas Tarlton Law Library, Law in Popular Culture Collection--Feature Films describes more than 600 films featuring lawyers.
  • Stetson Law Library"s Movie Collection describes more than 400 law-related films.
  • Institute for Law School Teaching, Gonzaga University School of Law, LawClips, identifies selected movie moments "illustrating a variety of legal issues and rules" on contracts.

Where can I find searchable descriptions of all kinds of movies?

The Internet Movie Database is a wonderful resource. Sample searches:

  • Search Titles to find a plot summary of "The Firm," with a list of the cast and other information.
  • Search Titles to find all the cast members of "Law & Order."
  • Search Plots for "lawsuit" to find descriptions of many movies about lawsuits. (Also try "lawyer," "court," etc.)
  • Search Quotes for "mush" and find that "You come in here with a head full of mush and you leave thinking like a lawyer" was spoken by Prof. Kingsfield in "The Paper Chase."

Another good source is the Moving Images Collection.

top

How can I find articles and books discussing lawyers in popular culture?

Picturing Justice: The On-Line Journal of Law & Popular Culture carries essays looking at film and television"s treatment of legal issues. The archives include dozens of articles on movies ("silver screen") and TV ("small screen").

For periodical articles, search LegalTrac for particular movie titles or for the subject "Attorneys " portrayals, depictions, etc."

Law review symposia include:

  • Law and Popular Culture, UCLA Law Review, v.48 no.6, Aug. 2001. Hein Online
  • Civil Litigation and Popular Culture, Sixth Annual Clifford Symposium on Tort Law and Social Policy, DePaul Law Review, v.50 no.2, Winter 2000. Hein Online
  • Law and Popular Culture, The Legal Studies Forum, v.22 no.1-3, Winter-Summer 1998. Hein Online
  • A Symposium on Film and the Law, Oklahoma City University Law Review, v.22 no.1, Spring 1997. Hein Online
  • Picturing Justice; Images of Law and Lawyers in the Visual Media, University of San Francisco Law Review, v.30 no.4, Summer 1996. Hein Online
  • Popular Legal Culture, Yale Law Journal, v.98 no.8, June 1989. Hein Online

For books, search the Law Library catalog (MARIAN) for terms such as "Motion pictures" and "popular culture." Books in the Gallagher Law Library"s collection include (all of these books are in the Classified Stacks):

  • Anthony Chase, Movies on Trial: The Legal System on the Silver Screen. PN1995.9.J8C49 2002
  • John Denvir, ed., Legal Reelism: Movies as Legal Texts. PN1995.9.J8L45 1996
  • Paul Bergman & Michael Asimow, Reel Justice: The Courtroom Goes to the Movies. PN1995.9.J8B47 1996
  • Timothy O. Lenz, Changing Images of Law in Film & Television Crime Stories. PN1995.9.J8L46 2003
  • Michael Asimov, Law and Popular Culture: A Course Book. K487.C8A935 2004
  • Ross D. Levi, The Celluloid Courtroom: A History of Legal Cinema. PN1995.9.J8L48 2005
  • Law on Screen (Austin Sarat, Lawrence Douglas & Martha Merrill Umphrey, eds.). PN1995.9.J8L39 2005

What videos does the Gallagher Law Library collect?

The Law Library"s video collection includes in-house videotapes of Law School speakers and selected documentaries and training videos. The Law Library does not collect feature films.

To find videos in MARIAN, do a keywords search and use the "Material Type" pull-down menu to select "video record." For example, you can search for keyword=evidence and material type=video record.

top

How can I find videos that are elsewhere on the UW campus?

The University Libraries system does have many feature films, as well as documentaries and instructional videos. Use the University Libraries Catalog. Do a keywords search and use the "Publication Type" pull-down menu to select "Videos, Slides, Media." The Libraries also provide a Human Rights Film Directory of documentaries and feature films.

The UW"s Educational Media Collection is not included in the UW Libraries catalog. It includes hundreds of films and videos. Some materials are restricted to classroom use. Rental fees apply.

How does copyright affect when I can show a video to a class or a group?

top

Are there videos of Washington Supreme Court oral arguments? When are they broadcast? Can I buy tapes?

TVW ("Washington State"s Public Affairs Network") began broadcasting unedited coverage of Washington state government on cable TV in April 1995. You can search the archives and listen to legislative committee meetings, Supreme Court oral arguments, and other events free. You can also order videotapes for a fee. The program guide indicates what events will be broadcast in the coming week.

Where can I find information about legal instructional videos?

  • Legal Video Review, 1988-95. KF279.L45 at Classified Stacks. A bimonthly review of selected new videos. A directory of major legal video producers is printed on the back of each issue.
  • Law Books and Serials in Print. KF1.L39 at Reference Office. Volume 3 includes nonprint media.
  • The Video Source Book (latest edition PN1992.95.V53 at Odegaard Media, University Libraries). A more general source, but it includes a subject index.

top

Where can I order videos of news shows?

Remember to check the Educational Media Collection; many documentaries are available on campus.

What about Court TV?

Court TV has broadcast hundreds of trials. From selected trial broadcasts, it has created one-hour, condensed "trial stories," which cover highlights of the trial, with Court TV narration. The Gallagher Law Library has several:

  • A Question of Evidence: The O.J. Simpson Hearing. KF224.S485 Q47 1994 at Reference Area. Preliminary hearing in the O.J. Simpson criminal trial.
  • The Price of Harassment: A Law Firm on Trial. KFC228.W39P74 1994 at Reference Area. Trial highlights from Weeks v. Baker & McKenzie, a sexual harassment case brought by one partner against another.
  • The "Rodney King" Case: What the Jury Saw in California v. Powell. KF224.P6R6 1992 at Reference Area.
  • Florida v. William Kennedy Smith: A Trial Training Videotape. KF224.S64S64 1992 at Reference Area. Two tapes.

Court TV also produces videos of many of its other programs. To order videos from Court TV, call 1-877-871-6469 (toll-free). The Court TV Viewer Information Line is 1-800-268-7856.

top

Where can I find videos about international organizations?

Several international organizations post short videos on their websites:

Where can I search for local public media resources?

P.S.S, Public Site Search, offers one-stop searching through the online resources of the local public broadcasting stations (KCTS, KUOW, and KPLU), libraries (King County Library and the University of Washington Libraries), and other nonprofit entities in Puget Sound area.

top