On-Screen Lawyers Who Never Lose Their Appeal

By Grace Morahan

Unlike my sister, I never had a particularly strong conviction to become any one thing. Most people labelled this a lack of direction, but I preferred to dress it up as an ‘intense fascination with the present.’ I was always the kid who changed who they thought they were and what they wanted to be based on their interests at any given time. In Year One, I was destined to become a teacher (having loved mine so much). In Year Three, it was an explorer (I was reading The Famous Five). And then, in Year Nine, it was a doctor (watching Grey’s Anatomy). So, I was lucky that by the time UAC was due, my obsession with Suits was in full swing. Since then, my love affair with over-scripted legal dramas has only expanded. Here is a countdown of my favourite big-screen solicitors.

 

 7. Louis Litt – Suits

It was not Harvey Spector with his intense stare and quick-witted tongue, nor the striking intelligence of Jessica Pearson, but the humble Louis Litt who really took my fancy in the beloved Suits. How could one not love a man who indulges his passion for mudding, dance, and cats on a regular basis? Watching Louis Litt develop is akin to watching a child realise the value of empathy and selflessness; he’s stubborn, egocentric and seemingly sadistic, which makes his altruistic awakening at the end of Season Six only that much more heartbreaking.

Memorable Quote: ‘Punctuality is the best aphrodisiac.’

 

6. Jackie Chiles – Seinfeld

A penchant for description using multi-syllabic words is one of the defining attributes of the quick-tongued Jackie Chiles (see: ‘vesuvius, salacious, outrageous’). As a caricature of Johnnie Cochran (famously O.J. Simpson’s counsel), Jackie is a showman, a hustler, and a gambler. Despite his best efforts at representation being thwarted time and time again by Kramer and Jerry, his entertainment value is never lost.

Memorable Quote:Your face is my case.’

 

5. Elle Woods – Legally Blonde

Dripping in hot pink, sparkles, and Valentino, it is hard to deny that Elle Woods is one of the most influential pop-culture lawyers of all time. Unapologetically pink, strong-willed and outspoken, Elle attacks law (and life) problems alike with a certain creativity that is not only endearing, but impressive.

Memorable Quote: ‘I feel comfortable using legal jargon in everyday life. (*wolf whistle*) I object!’

 

4. Clair Huxtable – The Cosby Show

Intelligent, compassionate and assertive, feminist icon Clair Huxtable is to be remembered as one of the first mainstream depictions of African American women challenging the prevailing stereotype of single-mothers, broken families, and economic hardship. Clair changed the conversation around wealth and race, demonstrating that economic advancement was not exclusive to white America.

Memorable Quote: ‘I am a woman, who is black, but I am also a human being, who is an attorney, a mother of five, and somewhat knowledgeable about history, which is why I thought I was invited here. But when you look at me, this is all you see in me, a black woman?

 

3. Atticus Finch – To Kill a Mockingbird

It was perched in the back row of my Year Eight English class that my love for Atticus Finch began. He was the articulation of what a just lawyer should be: A defender of truth and empathy, over prejudice and hate. It was Atticus who imparted on me the idealism of what the legal system should be (an ideal that won me a few brownie points in LJE). Most importantly, and perhaps most tragically, he taught me that sometimes you can’t always win, but this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try.

Photo of Gregory Peck.

Gregory Peck, Pre-Atticus

Memorable Quote: But there is one way in this country in which all men are created equal – there is one human institution that makes a pauper the equal of a Rockefeller, the stupid man the equal of an Einstein, and the ignorant man the equal of any college president. That institution gentlemen, is a court.’

 

2. Jocelyn Knight – Broadchurch

Quick-witted, self-assured and calm in the face of cruel provocation, Jocelyn Knight controls the courtroom with a composure unlike any other. Her character is multifaceted in a beautifully simple way – her backstory hinted at but never revealed, her morals paradoxical but assured. Yet what is for me most striking aspect of her character is her refreshing rejection of sexualised advocacy, a trait Hollywood producers unrepentantly impose on their female characters.

Memorable Quote: ‘Knowing truth and getting justice isn’t the same thing.

 

1. Denis Denuto – The Castle

Twelve o’clock rolls around and the Criminal Law take-home is released and ready to be attacked by second-year students waiting anxiously in study rooms across ANU. I grapple through the knowledge acquired from the two lectures I’ve attended this semester, and instead of remembering anything even slightly relevant, the voice of Denis Denuto circles in my head: ‘In summing up, it’s the Constitution, it’s Mabo, it’s justice, it’s law, it’s the vibe and aah no that’s it, it’s the vibe. I rest my case.’ An Australian icon of justice, and of struggling law students everywhere, Denis Denuto will forever remain my favourite silver-screen legal character.

Memorable Quote: The vibe.’

 

It was from Atticus that I learnt legal morality, from Jocelyn my courtroom manner, and from Denis Denuto the power of the little guy.  So, when the going gets tough, and exams are but a few sleeps away, I desperately await each study break to indulge myself in the lives of big-screen lawyers who, despite their Hollywood glamorization, feel more relatable than any top-tier solicitor could ever be.

 

Aunt Pep Strikes Again

Dear Aunt Pep,

The mid-semester exams have dawned on us. The Corps, Admin and Property clash has sent many into a spin. What’s your advice for people doing two or, God forbid, all three of these subjects?

Best,

Rightfully Frazzled

Aunt Pep

Dear Rightfully Frazzled,

This is a hairy situation for even the calmest and most preemptively prepared of law students. First of all, give yourself total license to whinge and moan endlessly to whoever is in earshot. Then get down and plan it all out: Break everything you have to do up into manageable bite-size pieces and then figure out how to space them out and when you need to get each of them done by. If it’s too late for this, you have credit for ten Aunt Pep-approved toddler tantrums . But after you’re done with those, pull yourself together and get back to the grind. Make a template or roadmap if it’s a problem question as fast as you can, and then work through practice questions. You’re allowed one big guttural scream between each one and should feel fully entitled to bug your friends for validation and encouragement (this after all, is the real point of study groups). If you’ve got an essay that you’ve left too late, crack open your lectures notes and get crlt+F-ing. Quick sticks! You’re burning daylight!

Best of luck!

Aunt Pep

Reflections on Law in Action

Cambodia is not really one of those countries you hear about when you’re younger.  Vietnam takes up a special place in the collective consciousness of all Australians but its closest neighbour, both geographically and within the context of the proxy wars of the Cold War, continues to remain on the peripheries of history.

Four years was all it took to wreak havoc over a country which could have, at one point in history, had all the potential of a thriving nation. The Cambodian genocide was carried out between the years of 1975 and 1979 by the Khmer Rouge, a Socialist Agrarian Republic. Between 1.5 and 3 million Cambodians were killed. If you visit the Killing Fields, you may be able to see the skulls of some of the victims who were killed during that time, and the ways in which the were killed, what tools were used, how old each victim was, and whether they were male or female. You pass through all this with impassivity. To let yourself feel, would feel like a betrayal of all the pain that was suffered there.

At the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, a former high school used as the s21 prison under the regime, you can see vivid photos of prisoners, and the conditions of the cells. Blood stains scar the floor.

Image of Angkor Wat.

But in another city, Siem Reap, the towering temples of Angkor Wot dot the landscape and throw shadows over red sands and small villages. The strength of a nation – which was nestled in the weeds during the regime – now stands reinvigorated for us all to see.

Walking down the streets imbued me with an overwhelming sense of familiarity. There are coffee shops and tea houses, tech stores and frozen yogurt huts, street vendors selling mango with chilli paste, a memory of my childhood from another part of the world. There are rickshaws and cars, traffic lights and temples. I moved through all this knowing that although this is another country, it is simply the home of another person, who is probably in a lot of senses, a lot like me.

When I think of these two faces of Cambodia, I feel bitter. Bitter at my own ignorance, not only of its tragic past but also of its rich history and culture. I feel resentment at the western focused education system here in Australia which had failed to honour the lives of those lost and the history that lies next door.  Without minimising the tragedies that occurred all over the world, I felt I had a certain responsibility to go beyond and learn about Cambodia, a name that emerges occasionally without the import it has for me now.

We talked to many NGOs who are currently grappling with the current political agenda of Cambodia and its future. We visited the ECCC, the international court created to try those who led the Pol Pot regime. We visited courts where we learnt about the struggle in implementing the rule of law when culturally and historically it has had very little meaning. The rule of law: Something I took for granted. We visited a lawyer training centre where we learnt how hard it was to be a lawyer, to become a lawyer, to practise post-conflict.

There were eighteen of us on the trip. And each of us took something different away. Me, I gained a new lens through which to see, new questions, and a few answers.

Alley v Gillespie: Why you can’t pay your rent by suing MPs.

By Harry Main

If you were one of the countless law students who followed the Section 44 debacle of 2017 with dismay, you might be interested to know that the next time a bunch of ineligibly elected MPs are floating around Parliament, you can take action. How, you might ask? You can simply do as any self-respecting litigious lawyer would do – sue them!

You might be familiar with Section 46 of the Constitution, which provides:

Until the Parliament otherwise provides, any person declared by this Constitution to be incapable of sitting as a senator or as a member of the House of Representatives shall, for every day on which he so sits, be liable to pay the sum of one hundred pounds to any person who sues for it in any court of competent jurisdiction.

Before you start Googling 1901 inflation levels to see what £100 per day will land you today, you ought to know that there has been an update to s 46. We now have a piece of legislation called the Common Informers (Parliamentary Disqualifications) Act 1975.

This Act exists for two reasons: Firstly, to supplement s 46, and secondly, to prevent a majority in the House or Senate from nefariously refusing to refer the matter of a Member’s eligibility to the Court of Disputed Returns.

Section 3 of the Act entitles the plaintiff to $200, plus an additional $200 for every day the ineligible member continues to sit after being served with the suit. So, the money isn’t that great. On the bright side, the Act ostensibly gives a powerful tool to ordinary people who want to take on dubiously eligible MPs. This might have been the thinking of the ALP’s Peter Alley, who brought a suit under the Act against sitting Nationals MP David Gillespie.

The question mark over Gillespie’s eligibility concerns a potential breach of s 44(v) of the Constitution. Gillespie owns a shopping centre in Port Macquarie, and inside that shopping centre is an Australia Post outlet. Given Australia Post is a government owned corporation, Gillespie may have an indirect pecuniary interest of the sort prohibited by s 44(v). So, the stage was set in Alley v Gillespie for the Common Informers Act to claim its first casualty.

Unfortunately for those looking to personally bring down MPs, the High Court unanimously found that it did not have jurisdiction to consider the substantive issue of whether the Constitution has in fact rendered Gillespie ineligible. The Court was unwilling to wade into this issue because of s 47 of the Constitution, which requires that the question of a member’s qualification be addressed by the House in which the question arises.

Section 3 of the Act requires that the sitting MP against whom the suit is brought has been “declared by the Constitution to be incapable of so sitting.” In a joint judgement, Kiefel CJ, Bell, Keane and Edelman JJ rejected that the Court is permitted to assess this element of s 3, because of the restriction imposed by s 47 of the Constitution. Moreover, the Court had not been granted authority to assess Gillespie’s eligibility by a referral under s 376 of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918.

Consequently, the Court ordered that Alley’s proceeding under the Act be stayed until the question of Gillespie’s eligibility is determined. At the date of publication, Gillespie has not been referred to the High Court.

So, what’s the rub? It seems that the Common Informers Act is impotent. If the whole point of the Act was to provide for a contingency in the event of a House that stubbornly refuses to refer ineligible members, then the Act is rather pointless. Gageler J touched on this matter by suggesting it is likely that the “Attorney-General [under whom the Act was implemented] was acting on a considered view of the constitutional structure which the High Court now unanimously rejects.”

Whatever the reason, it looks like making a few thousand bucks off the Common Informers Act is off the table.