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Forum on lawyers and pop culture examines legal ethics

On Feb. 7 Elon Law students and faculty were entertained and educated by Nancy Rapoport, a nationally known expert on legal ethics and bankruptcy. Rapoport presented “Lawyers and Pop Culture,” focusing on the portrayal of lawyers in the media and the impact of such portrayals on perceptions of legal ethics.

“If the lawyers behaved ethically, there would be really short movies,” said Rapoport, who is the Gordon Silver Professor and Interim Dean at the William S. Boyd School of Law, University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

During her presentation, Rapoport showed numerous clips from popular television shows and movies, including “The Firm,” “The Client,” “Liar Liar,” “Caddyshack II” and “My Cousin Vinny.” She used these clips to discuss the specific American Bar Association Model Rules of Professional Conduct that these fictional lawyers were violating.

“When I was growing up, the lawyer was portrayed as the community hero,” Rapoport said, citing films like, “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “Inherit the Wind.” After the involvement of numerous lawyers in the watergate scandal in the early 1970s, Rapoport said, depictions of lawyers in popular culture began to change and become more negative. Now, lawyers are often portrayed as competent but flawed.

“A show about a perfectly ethical lawyer who does everything right would be hard to write and not that interesting,” she said.

Jordan Funke L’15, attended the event and said she, having grown up in the “Law and Order” era, found it interesting that films used to portray lawyers as champions of justice.

“I think it is very important for law students to be aware of the perceptions of our profession in pop culture,” Funke said. “Most people do not know what the profession entails and they glean their knowledge from what they see in movies and on TV. What they see is often lawyers who break the rules to get ahead and don't follow the ethics and rules of our practice. We have to be careful to show people that it's not like that.”

Rapoport's specialties are bankruptcy ethics, ethics in governance and the depiction of lawyers in popular culture. Among her published works are Enron and Other Corporate Fiascos: The Corporate Scandal Reader, Second Edition (Nancy B. Rapoport, Jeffrey D. Van Niel & Bala G. Dharan, eds.).

By Courtney Roller L'13


Philip Craft,
2/17/2013 10:58 AM