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The Greatest Lawyer Movies of All Time: 12 Angry Men


The Greatest Lawyer Movies of All Time

As you’re studying for the LSAT, you often find yourself needing a break. But taking breaks, especially if your test date is approaching, can tear you up with guilt. There’s a simple solution: watch a lawyer movie! Courtroom dramas provide escapist entertainment but, since they technically have to do the practice of law, they also maybe sort of help you prepare for the LSAT!

This raises a question, though. What are the must-see lawyer movies that all LSAT students… must see? I’ll try to answer that question, one movie at a time, in our new series The Greatest Lawyer Movies of All Time! # G[LM]OAT #hashtag

Today, let’s take a look at the paragon of the genre, the classic…

12 Angry Men
1957 dir. Sidney Lumet

12 Angry Men is a courtroom drama that only includes a glimpse inside a courtroom. The action takes place after the trial, as the jurors huddle together to determine the fate of the accused. The twelve jurors, the angry men of the title, decide to take a preliminary vote, and all but one vote guilty. All eyes turn to the holdout, Juror 8.

That’s the set-up, and the payoff is a raging debate about the facts of the case and the meaning of “a reasonable doubt.” Juror 8, played by Henry Fonda, asks his fellow jurors to reconsider their certainties about the case. A man was stabbed, and two witnesses identified the man’s son at the scene. Their testimony seems to incriminate the son, but Juror 8 urges epistemological humility. He might be guilty. The murder may have happened in the way the prosecution described. But do we really know, for sure?

As they review the case, weighing each piece of evidence and its implications, they jurors end up confronting fundamental questions about the justice system. One dramatic standoff involves the issue of equality before the law, and another dramatizes the civic meaning of jury duty.

12 Angry Men is just a fantastic movie in every respect. The writing and acting are superb, and Sidney Lumet’s direction creates a sense of claustrophobia and panic as the deliberations drag on. The movie effectively conveys the burden that is placed on a jury, the weight of passing judgement. In this case, the jurors are under an added weight – a guilty verdict carries a mandatory death sentence.

The movie also showcases how dramatic argument can be. The jury’s arguments aren’t personal, they are just about what the truth of what happened one night in New York City. But they feel personal. Convincing another person they are wrong is a form of dominance, so 12 Angry Men sometimes feels like a brawl. The arguments land like body blows.

What should the LSAT student look for in 12 Angry Men? Well, in addition to it being a great movie, it’s also chock full of logic and rhetoric. The main dramatic question – what do we really know? – brings to mind lots of concepts that the LSAT tests, like logical force. Some logical fallacies come up, as well. Henry Fonda’s Juror 8 has to constantly remind his peers that lack of proof is not the same as disproof.

All in all, it’s just a great film that will give you a nice break from your LSAT book while also giving you lots to think about and savor.