When we think of “outsiders” in the context of law, those who often come to mind are members of disenfranchised minorities, such as the mentally challenged. But in many of Hollywood’s lawyer films, the paradigmatic and perhaps most interesting outsider is the lawyer himself. The lawyer protagonist is often an “outsider within” his community, the legal culture, or his law firm. (When the cinematic lawyer is a woman, she is often “twice removed” from the on-screen world’s “inside” sphere.) In many law films, the cinematic lawyer often transcends the boundaries of the film’s community, of its legal world, of the cinematic law firm, or even of the law itself, becoming “the insider without.” The lawyer, then, evolves from an outsider within to an insider without, at times coming full circle and returning to the outsider within status. A cinematic lawyer who is a true insider and operates strictly within the law, society, his law firm, and the legal world is often portrayed as unreliable and corrupt. Justice, Hollywood tells us, is not often upheld by “insiders within.”
The fashioning of the cinematic lawyer as an outsider within and an insider without is a predominant theme in law films from the early 1960s to this day. Yet it has undergone significant transformations. In the early 1960s, the heyday of lawyer films, the lawyer, a hero, was an outsider within an immoral community, entrenched in its old, anachronistic ways. His resistance and transcendence of his community’s values served higher principles, paving the way to progressive social change. Even his infrequent transcendence of law itself was in the service of humanity, dignity, and justice—law’s most cherished values. In later decades, Hollywood’s lawyer grew less ideological and more cynical. He became existentially estranged to the legal profession, to the legal system, and even to law and society. His transcendence became more lonely and desperate, and its social moral value questionable. The nature of his “inside” and “outside” qualities shifted. . . .