The California Appellate Law Podcast

The Best Legal Movies Ranked, with Gary Wax

July 11, 2023 Tim Kowal & Jeff Lewis Season 1 Episode 94
The Best Legal Movies Ranked, with Gary Wax
The California Appellate Law Podcast
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The California Appellate Law Podcast
The Best Legal Movies Ranked, with Gary Wax
Jul 11, 2023 Season 1 Episode 94
Tim Kowal & Jeff Lewis

A good trial involves heroes and villains, themes of good and evil, tense conflicts, and, at the end, a difficult moral choice. All stuff that could make a few good movies.

Gary Wax is a filmmaker-turned-appellate lawyer, and he brings his insider’s eye and his top-500 list to help us analyze some of the best law movies of all time.

We discuss:

  • Why 12 Angry Men is such a great legal film—it reminds us attorneys where the process of persuasion really happens.
  • How a single famous line made A Few Good Men unforgettable.
  • Why My Cousin Vinny is unique among law films—a comedy that actually works as a legal movie.
  • In the jury’s eyes, you, the attorney, are one of the characters in the story. Act your part.
  • But oral argument is not a time for theatrics.
  • Film references in legal briefs?

Gary Wax’s biography, LinkedIn profile, and Twitter feed.

Appellate Specialist Jeff Lewis' biography, LinkedIn profile, and Twitter feed.

Appellate Specialist Tim Kowal's biography, LinkedIn profile, Twitter feed, and YouTube page.

Sign up for Not To Be Published, Tim Kowal’s weekly legal update, or view his blog of recent cases.

The California Appellate Law Podcast thanks Casetext for sponsoring the podcast. Listeners receive a discount on Casetext Basic Research at The co-hosts, Jeff and Tim, were also invited to try Casetext’s newest technology, CoCounsel, the world’s first AI legal assistant. You can discover CoCounsel for yourself with a demo and free trial at

Other items discussed in the episode:

Show Notes Transcript

A good trial involves heroes and villains, themes of good and evil, tense conflicts, and, at the end, a difficult moral choice. All stuff that could make a few good movies.

Gary Wax is a filmmaker-turned-appellate lawyer, and he brings his insider’s eye and his top-500 list to help us analyze some of the best law movies of all time.

We discuss:

  • Why 12 Angry Men is such a great legal film—it reminds us attorneys where the process of persuasion really happens.
  • How a single famous line made A Few Good Men unforgettable.
  • Why My Cousin Vinny is unique among law films—a comedy that actually works as a legal movie.
  • In the jury’s eyes, you, the attorney, are one of the characters in the story. Act your part.
  • But oral argument is not a time for theatrics.
  • Film references in legal briefs?

Gary Wax’s biography, LinkedIn profile, and Twitter feed.

Appellate Specialist Jeff Lewis' biography, LinkedIn profile, and Twitter feed.

Appellate Specialist Tim Kowal's biography, LinkedIn profile, Twitter feed, and YouTube page.

Sign up for Not To Be Published, Tim Kowal’s weekly legal update, or view his blog of recent cases.

The California Appellate Law Podcast thanks Casetext for sponsoring the podcast. Listeners receive a discount on Casetext Basic Research at The co-hosts, Jeff and Tim, were also invited to try Casetext’s newest technology, CoCounsel, the world’s first AI legal assistant. You can discover CoCounsel for yourself with a demo and free trial at

Other items discussed in the episode:

Announcer  0:03  
Welcome to the California appellate podcast, a discussion of timely trial tips and the latest cases and news coming from the California Court of Appeal, and the California Supreme Court. And now your hosts, Tim Kowal and Jeff Lewis.

Jeff Lewis  0:17  
Welcome, everyone. I am Jeff Lewis.

Gary Wax  0:19 
And I'm Tim Kowal both Jeff and I are certified appellate specialists and as uncertified podcast hosts we tried to bring our audience of trial and appellate attorneys some legal news and insights they can use in their practice. As always, we are grateful if you would refer this podcast to a colleague if you find it helpful.

Jeff Lewis  0:36  
Yeah, before we jump into this week's interview, we want to thank casetext for sponsoring our podcast. Casetextis a illegal technology company that has developed AI backed tools to help lawyers practice more efficiently since 2013. casetext relied on by 10,000 firms nationwide from solo practitioners to analog 200 firms and in house legal departments. In March 2023. Casetext launched co counsel, the world's first AI legal assistant co counsel produces results lawyers can rely on for professional use, all while maintaining security and privacy listeners of our podcast enjoy special discount on casetext basic research at That's

Gary Wax  1:16  
All right. You know, Jeff, today is a Friday and we've got kind of a Friday topic queued up today we're welcoming Gary wax to the show, Gary is and we're going to talk about some movies Gary is an appellate lawyer with grayness Martin Stein and Richland before joining gmsr as an appellate lawyer, Gary worked in the film industry as a creative executive where he acquired distribution rights for feature films such as The Oscar nominated city of God, Gary's bio on his website, Jeff, I found this interesting. It lists his top five favorite legal films of all time, which we will talk about and critique today when we talk with Gary. And Gary also says in his bio to ask Gary about the rest of his top 500 movie rankings. So that's what we're here to do today to talk a little film and the law. So welcome, Gary to the podcast. Thanks for joining us.

Gary Wax  2:08  
Thanks for having me. Really appreciate it.

Gary Wax  2:10  
Yeah, I think this is gonna be a fun conversation before we jump into the fun stuff and talk about movies and the law. Tell us a little bit about your appellate practice. Sure.

Gary Wax  2:19  
So as you said, I'm an appellate lawyer with grayness Martin Stein in Richland, and we'd handle civil appeals to represent winners and losers, defendants and plaintiffs my the cases that I work on kind of run the gamut sometimes, you know, working for kind of big business kind of people and a lot of times individuals. So I love the the ability to kind of have a new challenge each time I get on a new case. And

Jeff Lewis  2:47  
that's a fan. Fantastic bio, but he left out that he went to a top notch law school, Loyola law school.

Gary Wax  2:53  
There you go. Are you also a Loyola grad?

Jeff Lewis  2:57  
Indeed I am. Yeah.

Gary Wax  2:58  
Oh, yeah. What tipped you off?

Gary Wax  3:02
All right, nothing but great things to say about

Gary Wax  3:03
oil. Oh, it was great experience. And Gary, you went from the film industry into law. Tell us about that progression.

Gary Wax  3:11  
Sure. So let's see. I for undergrad I went to NYU film school always planned on working in the movie business never had any thoughts about being a lawyer. At that point in my life. I made a student film at NYU based on the Kurt Vonnegut book, Harrison Bergeron, which about a year after I graduated, Showtime turned it into a movie also, which of course, I think mine is better. But you know, you can be the judge. And then I moved out to Los Angeles and pretty short time after graduating, and worked at a few different distribution companies, international distribution, some kind of more like distribution companies that don't exist anymore. And then I ended up working for Miramax Films, which also doesn't exist anymore. But I worked there for six years and worked in the acquisitions department kind of getting to go to all the film festivals and scoping out, you know, movies that were financed outside the studio system looking for distribution. And then after that, you know, Miramax kind of imploded when I think Disney probably discovered what was going on with the head of the company that they owned. And they they got rid of Harvey and Bob and most of the rest of the company and just kind of absorbed the label into Disney. And I found myself looking for a new job. And I had this kind of moment of what am I doing, you know, I had the entertainment industry is so fickle in terms of you lose jobs based on things that have nothing to do with the merits of your work. And here I was kind of I had already reached the top of the industry and I felt like anywhere where I was gonna go after that was going to be a step back. And I kind of looked around Of course my dad will always tell him you should go to law school you should go to law school. And it hit me that my bosses in film acquisitions, which was what I like doing, we're always lawyers and the I was never going to be a boss doing that anyway until I had a law degree. So I decided, okay, maybe law school is for me. And maybe at the end of it, I'll find something that I like doing in the legal profession that's outside of the entertainment industry. But at worst case, at least, they'll be in a position to kind of be the boss and not have to, you know, be the little Minion running around taking orders from the boss.

Gary Wax  5:22  
Yeah, that's interesting. So was your intention when you went to law school that you would that you would segue back into entertainment?

Gary Wax  5:28  
I really hoped that I wouldn't. I mean, at that point, I really, like I kind of had enough and felt like I probably would find something that I really enjoyed doing in law school. I just wasn't sure what it was yet.

Gary Wax  5:39  
Oh, interesting. Yeah, that's, uh, I was involved a little bit in music before I went to law school. I also took a little bit of a soldier and after undergrad, and I was I was trying to find some way that well, maybe, maybe law and music will intersect. Maybe I'll be an entertainment lawyer till I realize I don't want to babysit musicians. And so it didn't didn't find a marriage there at all. Sounds like it was similar for you. But But why appellate law. So it went from entertainment to law. What took you into appellate law specifically?

Gary Wax  6:09  
It was, it was a wonderful chance of events that happened. While I was I think in my second year of law school, I was having dinner at a friend's house who is a senior partner at my firm. And I've, you know, probably for the first time really took interest in what it was that she did, and kind of asked her all about being an appellate lawyer. And as she talked about it, I thought to myself, Wow, this sounds like something I would really enjoy. Because I love writing. I mean, I, you know, started out kind of as a screenwriter, and it felt kind of like a natural progression and never really saw myself as a litigator. So it felt like, maybe this could be the thing. And I've said to her, you know, do you guys hire law students? And she said, Oh, yeah, I'll put you in touch with the person who hires our law clerks. And the rest is history, they've not been able to get rid of me ever since.

Gary Wax  6:58
Now, there's it seems like a little bit of pain and discomfort for for a lot of appellate lawyers, because there's obviously a fascination and appreciation of the litigation process. You have to you have to understand it very well and have a have an experience a lot of experiences under your belt in the trial court. But a lot of appellate attorneys don't actually like trying cases or being in court they like like writing about it and picking apart. You know, what happened? What should have happened? So how did how did you get from fresh out of law school, you know, not knowing anything except what you read out of the law books about litigation to the point where you can serve as appellate counsel, embedded appellate counsel, you know, serving with trial counsel to make sure the trial goes, right. When you like a lot of appellate juries, we kind of prefer to skip over that step and get right to the appeal.

Gary Wax  7:43
Right? Well, I mean, you know, I continued as a law clerk after graduating, and got to really learn appellate law and got to sit in on trials while I was doing that, read all sorts of wonderfully written briefs and kind of learn how it should be done and learn a little bit more about litigation, because obviously, you have to know something about litigation to be an appellate lawyer. So learn mostly about it by reading and sitting in and watching the pros do it.

Gary Wax  8:12  
Now, you mentioned reading a lot of good briefs, you must have also read for every good legal brief you read, you probably have to read about 30 or 40. Bad to terrible legal briefs. So what have you picked up about good and bad practices of legal writing, and maybe specifically about, you know, a lot of attorneys like to put little flourishes in our writing, including even film references, you must have an opinion about using pop culture and film references and legal writing?

Gary Wax  8:39  
Yeah, you know, usually the pop culture references that I might put in my briefs don't make it to the final draft, because they're kind of fun in the moment when you think about them. But when you realize like, Oh, that's such a, no one's gonna get that or who knows if the justices have even seen that movie. And, you know, you kind of begrudgingly take it out, because you realize it was more for your own enjoyment than really, you know, trying to win the case. You know, definitely I've read a lot of bad briefs, they're usually not from our firm, they're from the other side, you know, so I've gotten used to that and trying to, you know, it's almost easier to respond to an excellent grief than it is to a terrible grief. Because when you get a terrible grief, you have this moment of like, well, what is this even say, and I was planning on arguing xx, but I don't want to help make the other side's argument because they never really made that argument. And so sometimes, that's actually a really big challenge when you get a poorly written brief to figure out how much you want to take the ride with them or how much you kind of want to pull up out the brief, you know, to make sense of it so that you can respond to it and knock down their argument.

Gary Wax  9:45  
Yeah, that's right. Because you don't you don't want to engage in straw man and you want to steal man, the brief but then again, you don't want to spend your time erecting the steel man if they didn't bother doing it themselves.

Gary Wax  9:55  
Right. Exactly, exactly. I mean, I would save it It was a pop culture references, you know, they have to be used very sparingly. And it has to be a reference that you feel confident that anyone who's not living under a rock would know. Because otherwise, it's just going to be so counterproductive.

Gary Wax  10:15  
Does that get that that gets harder these days, because you don't have the amount of blockbusters you don't have, you know, friends and Seinfeld, you know, those types of shows that are watched by 10s of millions of people, a hit show gets a few 100,000, you know, or a million or two. And you cannot count on having a universal audience for making a reference to entertainment that is segmented like it is today.

Gary Wax  10:37  
True. And it's something that might be well known to people of our generation might be like, right over the heads of people of our kids generation, it probably will actually. So I tend to stay away from that stuff. Yeah. Today

Jeff Lewis  10:49  
I was trying to tell my office staff about Dr. sprinker, a Saturday morning show and they had no idea what I was talking about. I'm sure you guys remember Dr. shrinker? Right.

Gary Wax  10:57  
Yeah. I don't remember Dr. Stryker.

Jeff Lewis  11:02 
Well check it out on YouTube.

Gary Wax  11:05 
I've made a I've made a Lucy and Ethel reference in a brief once I figured that it's got that's got to be universal enough. Everyone at least knows who Lucien EPO. Right, right. Jerry, do you have any stories of litigation mistakes that either you've made, I'm sure you've made none, or that you've seen someone else make that you've that you won't soon forget.

Gary Wax  11:25  
I mean, the biggest one, and I'm sure you guys know, what I'm talking about is when you're reading a transcript, and they say, Okay, let's go off the record. That's always the biggest mistake in the appellate world, because that's where a lot of the juice is happening. And, and I never understand I'm banging my head against the table and yelling out loud, no, do not go off the record. And we're just talking about something really important. And I want to hear that objection.

Gary Wax  11:49  
That's right. That's why you need to have embedded appellate counsel so they can jump up and down every time they hear the words off the record, right.

Gary Wax  11:56  
And actually, the last, the last trial that I was monitoring, the judge was was the person who, who kept saying, let's, let's do this off the record, and he was very adamant about it. And it made it difficult, I think, for counsel to say like, well, can we have the reporter join us because he clearly felt like, it needed to be off the record. And I kept saying, No, but you know, it's obviously you don't want to upset the judge. And so that's always kind of a challenge when you're in the trenches and litigating a case, because there's always this push and pull if you want to get everything on the record. But if you see that it's upsetting the judge, or the judge is trying to move on or whatever it is, you have to do it very carefully to make sure that he understand why you're doing it or she understands, right.

Gary Wax  12:44  
And before we go to the movies here, let's just touch on oral argument as your Do you have any special take on oral argument from your background and film, you tried to infuse any theatrics or drama into your oral argument approach?

Gary Wax  12:59  
I do not, I do not, I try to just be deferential. And, you know, so I get stressed out about just trying to remember everything that I'm supposed to remember and not rely on my notes. And so for me, I just I put so much energy into lowering my stress levels, so that I can walk in there calmly and have a conversation with the panel, instead of standing up there. And, you know, trying to feel like I have to give some canned speech. Because it's it's easy to get stuck in that pattern. You know, you've written something, and this looks great on paper. But when you get in front of the panel, it's so important to have a conversation with them. So that's, that's always my my focus is to be as calm as possible.

Gary Wax  13:44
Yeah, I came across a, I think it's a screenwriting term attack and defend, you know, when you're writing dialogue, you know, there's there's attack and defend when you're talking about a colloquy between two people, and they're there, they have a conflict, and they're advancing it forward, and you're exploring each other's points of view. And I thought that that relate to that relates a bit to oral argument, you know, when you get a question from the panel on oral argument, it's, it's a little bit like an attack and defend, not necessarily stun the panel members, not necessarily antagonistic to your point of view, but they want to press on your position a little bit and see if it's relatively soft or firm position, you know, based on how you come back, if you've got a very firm response, or maybe it's an equivocal response, and you can acknowledge that there is some, some some room for disagreement there. But I thought that it's a good, good way I thought the exploring the purpose of oral argument is to have a gauge the relative strengths and weaknesses of various arguments.

Gary Wax  14:36 
I've also noticed, actually, and it took me a few years to figure this out that not every question that comes from the panel is an adverse question that you'd have to fight about. And, you know, it took me a while to realize like, sometimes they're actually giving you friendly questions, or just kind of poking around. And it's not so much that you have to be in attack mode, but that's part of the listening process of Oh, no, I can this question is helpful. And I can turn this into something positive to say back to them that will maybe get the other judges on the panel to really understand where I'm coming from.

Gary Wax  15:08  
Yeah, I think in my earlier years of litigating and doing oral argument whenever I got a question, and I knew that, that the answer had to be No, or Yes, depending on what my position was, then the first word out of my mouth had to be an emphatic no or yes. And then quickly scrambled to find the reasons why, even if it was just a kind of a soft, no or a soft, yes. And it could go the other way, you have to be unequivocal about it. Right. And I wonder if it's better, just to show the panel that, then, Your Honor, no, I think the answer to that question is no. And here's why. And I understand that there could be different opinion there, but to show a little bit of vulnerability and humility in the arguments, because it's not always black and white. And the court does have hard questions to decide.

Jeff Lewis  15:55
Yeah, I was in front of the bath yesterday. And I saw six arguments before me up in Pasadena. And I saw a couple of lawyers who really fought the judges on some questions, maybe they should have conceded. And you could just see it was like blood in the water. Once seen a lawyer fights a judge on a simple concession. They were merciless. It was a good lesson for me and surrendering in some areas where you could do so without, you know, maybe lose a battle, but still save the war in terms of the of the appeal.

Gary Wax  16:21  
And also, I think it absolutely matters whether you're in federal or state court, because as we know, you walk into state court for an oral argument. They've all made up their minds anyway. And so so much of oral argument, I think, is trying to figure out if they've decided that you want or last year it's in federal court, so much of it is educating them, because a lot of times they really don't know much about the case. And so I find that it's a very different exercise when it's state court versus federal court for that reason. And in state court, I'm really I want to know, did I win or lose, you know, give me questions, because I want to know where you guys are headed with that.

Gary Wax  16:53
Well, that was my last question. Should should state appellate courts or any court for that matter? Use focus letters or tentative opinions? Was that too much of a spoiler?

Gary Wax  17:02 
No, do it. I love it. I mean, first of all, it's for me, just selfishly, it brings my stress level down, if I know exactly where they're going, even if it's that I'm going to lose. I'm less stressed about it, because at least I know where I stand. And I know where I need to go with my argument. And I'm not playing that guessing game of am I gonna win or lose or whatever it is. And so I really appreciate those tentative opinions for sure.

Gary Wax  17:28  
Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, I agree with you. I did have an oral argument once where we've talked about what I thought were the key issues for the entire time. And then I got one parting shot at the end that talked about an issue that I thought was not worth talking about. And I thought, Oh, my God, should I have refocused my argument that I blow it by not raising that issue? Turns out it didn't. It was but it was just, I was terrorized for no reason. But right, there was just justice was curious about something and just personal curiosity about it or curiosity, that justice was not even the one writing the opinion. It turned out. Well, Gary, let's go to the movies now. Right? We talked about UVA, you watch a lot of lawyer movies, you watch a lot of movies, period. Yeah. And you must have opinions. You've ranked over 500 movies and this personal list that you shared with me on your bio, it says Ask Gary about his top 500 movies of all time. But I want to talk about your top five list of favorite lawyer movies. Yes. And but I thought before we get to that we'll you know, we're going to build up to that we're going to the de NUMA there. Let's first check in with the zeitgeist. Winter, I went to IMDb to find out what they say their top 10 legal movies are. And I thought I'd go down this list briefly. And then have you chime in on whether you agree, we'd have to quibble about whether it's about a specific ranking position. But let's see if, if you agree whether it is a must see movie for lawyers, and maybe a few few words. Why. So the top legal movie, according to IMDb is 12 Angry Man, what do you say you Gary?

Gary Wax  19:06  
That's also my number one legal movie of all time. I think that's it's such a unique movie, because it's really the only one that I can think of at least that that takes place in the jury room. And, you know, there's so much mystery that that goes on about what happens in jury rooms and how the cases get decided, and, and and, you know, just one person kind of take over the discussion, or is it kind of a team effort or how that works. And so from that standpoint, I think it's fascinating, because it is really I mean, I think, I don't know if it's the whole movie, or most of the movie takes place in the jury room. You're right. Yeah. And so I just think it's fascinating, and anyone who's going to serve on a jury should absolutely watch that movie, and then realize that when you actually sit in a jury room, none of the cases are that exciting. So

Gary Wax  19:54  
no, they're not quite that exciting, but my one experience in a jury room. I mean, certainly not, not that excite I think but there was a little bit of, of a similar experience where you watch some of the jurors change their mind. Yeah, you know, one or two jury members who are trying to persuade the others and you see the, you know, some, you know, have more open minds than others. And it's, it's interesting to, to to try watch other members of the public, your other peers, you know how they tried to reach each other. They heard the exact same arguments, exact same evidence, and yet they come to diametrically opposed views, and then they tried to persuade each other is really an interesting thing.

Gary Wax  20:32
And then if you're a lawyer and the lawyer in the jury room and they know it, then of course everyone looks to you because they figure you've got the insights back and you know, more and they want to know what you think. Which isn't always a good thing.

Gary Wax  20:45  
Yep. Okay, the number two movie on the IMDB list is Paths of Glory. That's a 1957 film with Kirk Douglas. Here we're seeing Paths of Glory. Why not? I have to confess I've never seen it. Yeah, I haven't. I haven't seen it either. It's a it's a wartime legal movie at the gumballs maybe a court martial. And number three on the IMDB list. JFK? What do you say, Gary?

Gary Wax  21:09 
I mean, I know that it's sort of a legal movie, but I would not even put it in that category. I mean, to me, it's more of like a historical thriller.

Jeff Lewis  21:17
That closing argument by Kevin Carr's costume and politics aside, that closing argument by Kevin Costner was iconic should be required watching for law students, I, I think it deserves a place on the list. But

Gary Wax  21:30  
it's definitely on my list of top 500. It's just I have, you know, there's always overlap and things like that. But I don't know that I would categorize it as a legal movie, per se. So yep,

Gary Wax  21:41  
back into the left, back into the left, right. remember nothing else about the movie? You probably remember that. Number four on the IMDB list, Gary is To Kill a Mockingbird had to see as we've seen that one come in. What do you think does that? How does that stack up?

Gary Wax  21:59  
Well, I mean, it's tough because it really is dated at this point. You know, it's a hard movie to watch and really feel like you're watching a contemporary movie. There's so many things about it that that are dated.

Gary Wax  22:09  
I hadn't thought about I mean, it's an older movie, obviously, but dated in terms of what legal procedure or social

Gary Wax  22:17  
way they talk and and things that yeah, I guess it all just feels very formal in the way that movies used to be, I guess. Yeah, it doesn't, it doesn't feel like you're watching a real legal movie. It feels like you're watching a movie, and that's scripted, and that people are reading lines and stuff like that. And I just think, you know, the book stands the test of time. So I feel like that's the way to go for that one.

Gary Wax  22:46  
Okay, yeah, that's an interesting take. Okay. All right. Let's go to number five, a few good men. What do you say, Gary, that's probably on a lot of people's lists. One of the first they think of,

Gary Wax  22:59  
well, it's a great movie. And it's, you know, so much of it is just because Nicholson is such a great kind of villain in that movie. And it's that come it's that thing, where you see a movie, where the guy who's the villain is someone who you actually really like, and so I feel like, the viewers are watching that kind of rooting for Jack. But then they see Oh, he's so dastardly. You know, and so they want him to lose, but he's so good at being so bad in that movie. And so I think that that's why the movie works so well is because of Jack

Gary Wax  23:31  
Welch. We have this this age old problem in our country, and probably democracy in general, you know, the contest between liberty and order, you know, we're the search for truth and order. And that one scene, you know, you you want the truth, you can't handle the truth. You want me on that wall? You need me on that wall. I mean, that all kind of sums up this perennial problem we have in democracy between searching for truth and pulling back and saying, oh, we can't go too crazy with it, we have to have some some standards and some order the way we do it.

Gary Wax  24:00  
Yeah, I mean, I think that's probably a theme with a lot of the legal movies is that, you know, it kind of plays along that line a little bit. Because otherwise it's too black and white. And so there's maybe something about the person who's being accused, where you, maybe you understand why they did what they did. And so there's a part of you that's kind of rooting for them to get off. And that other part of you that wants the hero to win and make sure that they find it, you know, that person goes to jail, or whatever it is. That's the other thing too, is that of course, so many of the legal movies are criminal law movies, and I don't practice criminal law at all, but it's obviously a very different kind of story when you're talking about someone's life and whether they're going to jail versus you know, it's hard to make an exciting movie about a civil case. So,

Gary Wax  24:47  
yeah. Yeah, that that is that is true. When people asked me if I do criminal work, I say no, it's only it's only disputes over money and it takes a little bit of the wind out of my sails. Right, right? Not as much drama there. Okay, number six on the IMDB list of top illegal movies A Time to Kill based on the John Grisham novel of the same name. How does I think

Gary Wax  25:12  
I never saw it? I was when I was looking through this list before we talked and I looked at it and I said, I either didn't see it, or I didn't think much of

Gary Wax  25:20  
it. Yeah, I can't recall it either. I do recall reading it.

Jeff Lewis  25:24  
I violated the rule that they talked about in Barbary for bar, studying for the bar. They said whatever you do before the days before taking the bar, don't go see a movie about the law. So getting your head wrong principles of law, and I went and saw that movie. I remember that very vividly. It was fantastic movie. Thank God there weren't any murder questions. I don't think on the bar exam that your

Gary Wax  25:45  
number seven on the IMDB list. The Rainmaker. Was that another John Grisham one? Yeah, yes. What about the Rainmaker? Gary,

Gary Wax  25:54  
I think it's a great movie. I think one of the reasons it works is because the villain, you know, the person on trial isn't a person. It's the the big bad insurance company, right. And so everyone loves to hate insurance companies, even though a lot of the clients I have are insurance companies, but I know that too well, that it's very easy to hate insurance companies, even though a lot of times they're not the ones to hate, but that's the way that's the way people think, because most people have had some sort of a run in with an insurance company. That wasn't pleasant. And so, so everyone feels like yeah, let's go after the insurance companies.

Gary Wax  26:33  
Okay, now that we're gonna get to the movie you told me you had some opinions about Philadelphia is number eight on the IMDB list of top lawyer movies of all time, what are your thoughts on Philadelphia Gary?

Gary Wax  26:45  
So I've often said that it's the most overrated movie of all time. When I saw it, I remember that it was it was highly acclaimed, and Academy Awards and all that. And, you know, now looking back on it, I really understand why it was so highly acclaimed. I mean, it was it was groundbreaking because of the subject matter. So we have to give it that because for sure, at the time, it was you know, AIDS was such a big subject that people didn't want to talk about. And it was so directly confronted. But just from a movie making standpoint, to me, it was so over the top, it was so pulling the heartstrings and the melodrama and you felt like there might as well be violence playing during every scene. And so from that standpoint, I just personally couldn't enjoy it as a movie even though I love Tom Hanks. And I really want it to like the movie, but that's always the one that I've said. Oh, that movie is so overrated.

Gary Wax  27:38  
Interesting. I somehow I've never seen Philadelphia but let's go to number nine on the IMDB list. The Lincoln Lawyer

Gary Wax  27:46  
did not see it. Sorry for cut out for me after this call.

Gary Wax  27:51  
Yeah, there you go. And then number 10 changeling. I think you said you didn't you didn't make it to that movie either. I

Gary Wax  27:56  
didn't see that one either.

Gary Wax  27:58  
I haven't seen it either.

Gary Wax  27:59  
So right there's got to be a big asterisk on my on my list of best movies of all time because of course I haven't seen every movie

Gary Wax  28:05
of the ones you've seen. But and I told you before I hit record record that I've been I've been rereading The Caine Mutiny and I wanted to see where that came up on the IMDB list wasn't on the top 10 But it made made it a 15 Have you seen The Caine Mutiny have not Humphrey Bogart that was about the mutiny on the on the steamer, the Minesweeper the cane, where there was a belief that Captain Queeg was insane. And so they deposed him as the captain and then there was a court martial scene at the end where it turned out that it was I thought it was it was a great it was a great scene about the outsider lawyer and with the reveal that it was really the the villain was really the backstabbing mutineers because they'd spend the whole the whole book and the whole novel painting what a villainous cretin. This Captain Queeg is. Anyway I thought that was that was a great movie. And number 23 on the list. My cousin Vinnie quite near the top 10 What do you what do you make of that?

Gary Wax  29:05
I love it. But you know, it's almost its own genre because it's the only legal movie that I can think of. That's also a comedy. And I think that's what makes it really unique is because usually they're so serious and so dramatic and life and death and all this kind of stuff. And it's so it's such a Goofy Movie and it works. I mean, they really they didn't make it kitschy or silly. I mean it works. Because Joe Pesci is great and Marissa Tolman is great. And they really, they pulled off those characters so well.

Gary Wax  29:34  
Yeah, they really did. They really didn't. I didn't think about that, that there really aren't that many lawyer movies that are also comedies.

Jeff Lewis  29:41  
Jeff, one big omission from our discussion that I have to bring up from the 80s There's a movie called from the hip. Oh, yes. I love that movie. The cross examination of John mills by John Nelson of John Hurt. Yeah, fantastic movie and it's a way for the most part of comedy. It's 80% of it's a comedy fantastic movie, you need to add it to your list to from the hip.

Gary Wax  30:03  
It's officially number 418 on my list of overall movies of all time. Okay, it's definitely got a very ace feel. But it's it's great. And I don't think it was all that successful. It was kind of like Yeah.

Gary Wax  30:18  
Yeah. Just two other quick questions that that were not on this IMDb list. I want to ask you about Gary anatomy of a murder. That's when when Jimmy Stewart didn't see it. Okay. That was referred during during one of the great Pincus, appellate conferences. Someone said you had to you have to see anatomy of a murderer. And the last one Inherit the Wind. I haven't even heard of that one. But the Scopes Monkey Trial? Yeah. Oh, fantastic. Yeah. And I don't know why they changed all the names. You know, there was HL Mencken was the, you know, the Boston, Boston, the Baltimore reporter who came down he was, it was in favor of, of the defendant and free speech about evolution, Tennessee passed a law that prevented the teaching of evolution in their public schools. And William Jennings Bryan came down and represented the Special Counsel for the prosecution. So it was very, you know, populous versus civil libertarian themes going on? Yeah, really, really, really great. Flashpoint and in American legal history, and a very good movie. I don't know why they changed all the names, though. They're all public figures. Jeff, where they went, was there some exposure to defamation?

Gary Wax  31:27  
Maybe not defamation, but there's another legal theory that I feel like this. Yes, light or false light and all those? Yeah,

Gary Wax  31:37
yeah. Okay, well, now we've we've covered what IMDb thinks you know those pikers. But now we get to find out what Gary wax thinks are the top five legal movies of all time. So tell us your five Gary and briefly why every lawyer ought to see them.

Gary Wax  31:52  
By the way. Before I get to that I should mention that as a teenager la law was absolutely my favorite television show and probably has some some role in turning me into a lawyer because I just I watched it religiously. I loved it. I actually posted little weekly parties in my house with my friends to watch it was kind of a big event.

Jeff Lewis  32:12  
Did you cheer when Rosalyn che fell down the elevator shot? Probably spoilers for those that are now binging it. Sorry.

Gary Wax  32:22  
I wonder if it holds up. And I wonder You know, it's not one of the you know, you see Seinfeld people stream it and watch it and friends and those kinds of shows. But I wonder if anybody streams La La now. I hear they're doing a reboot though. Oh, well, I'm sure it'll be terrible. Because usually when they do that. So as far as movies, as I mentioned, I think 12 Angry Man is is absolutely number one, just the fact that you know, the whole movie takes place in one room, and it keeps you riveted at the end of your seat. And all the characters are really so well drawn out. And it really makes them feel like you're in the jury room and no other movie really gives that perspective. So I really, and I think it stands up over time to which you know, a lot of these black and white movies don't it does. I

Gary Wax  33:06 
I watched it for the first time just a few years ago. And what I remember about it at the beginning, you know, Henry Fonda is the holdout at the beginning. He's the only one who thinks that the defendants not guilty, and you kind of think, oh, this, you know, this guy, you know, he's just some bleeding heart. You just got some problem with authority or something. But then as he persuades one by one by one, you wind up as the viewer coming to his view as well. So yeah, it's like the movie becomes 13 angry man.

Gary Wax  33:36 
Yeah, and it's funny. I mean, so much of that movie in the way that a few good men has so much to do with with having cast Jack is the villain casting Peter Fonda in that role. Sorry, Henry Fonda Henry Fonda enough Peter Fonda casting Henry Fonda in that role is you know, I mean, he, especially at that time, I mean, he was a guy that you would trust. He was always in the movies is kind of the good guy. And so I think having him in that role probably elevates that character and makes it more believable and makes the movie work even better. Just because

Gary Wax  34:10  
yeah, that is a that was a big thing. I've come to learn a little bit about you know, the importance of casting, you have to you have to believe that character, that character is going to carry the theme, the message of the story along and it has to be believed or else. It's all for naught. Right. Well, going back to my background in screenwriting, one of the first things you learn in film school is that you really, when you're writing a script, it's not as much nearly as much about story and settings it is about character. If you don't create rich characters, then whatever the plot is, and whatever the setting is, just is always going to fall flat. So you got to concentrate on writing those characters. Because Is there a carryover lesson into the law do you have to make your does that teach about having to paint your your witness your client in a good light? Does the attorney him or herself also have to Be a good character and carry that message and theme through the trial.

Gary Wax  35:02
I think so I mean, I don't know, I've sat through trials where one or the other side's lawyer is kind of a villain. And I'm not sure if that works or not, I guess it probably depends on the judge and depends on the subject matter of the case. You know, certainly there's, there's a lot of villain attorneys who make a lot of money winning a lot of really big cases. So it must work somehow. But I would think that with certain jurors, it's a turn off. For certain judges, it's probably a turn off. And there's something I always appreciate when I watch a trial involving let's you know, let's say a personal injury case, where you're more likely to kind of see a bombastic plaintiff's attorney to see them a little bit more polite and a little bit more kind of approachable and personable to me, it's, I'm more likely to kind of jump onto their bandwagon if they're like that.

Gary Wax  35:53 
Yeah. If you ever see attorneys who, who kind of play at acting, no, maybe they maybe they, they deal with the judge and opposing counsel differently. And then when the the jury comes out in the room, they they flip a switch and they become someone else?

Gary Wax  36:08  
Absolutely. Absolutely. And I think also that they have kind of, I don't want to call them tics, because it's more, they're more intentional than that. But there are certain personality traits that they keep coming back to, or themes that they use, or ways of saying things that they that they have decided that were and they found them over and over and over again. And sometimes it's really effective, actually, when I've seen lawyers do that,

Gary Wax  36:35  
yeah. Okay, Gary, let's go to your number two, top lawyer movie of all time.

Gary Wax  36:40
Well, so it's a few good men, which we've we've already talked about. But you know, it's people like, like you said, I mean, people always remember the scene with Jack saying, you can't handle the truth. And it really is one of those, you know, top 10 or top 20 Movie Moments that if you're you know, we start we talked a little bit when we started about, like, adding references in briefs and stuff like that, that are about pop culture. And that's one of those references that if you put it in a brief and it made sense to put it in a brief at least you can feel confident that your audience would know where it was from and wouldn't be scratching their head like what is this

Gary Wax  37:18  
all about? Yeah, no, that's right. Even. Yeah, there's certain lines that just get even get divorced from their context. My 11 year old daughter was running around the house the other day saying, Here's Johnny, here's Johnny, like, where do you even get that from? Did you watch the shining? What's the shining? You know? Right, right. No idea what that is. But that certain lines become so iconic.

Gary Wax  37:40 
Right? Probably not Ed McMahon saying here's Johnny was probably more from the shining from a kid. So

Gary Wax  37:46  
yeah, that's right. Yeah, speaking of nickel, said, he made a lot of famous lines. For sorry, Gary, number three on your list.

Gary Wax  37:53
Number three is the verdict with Paul Newman. And I think both number three, and number four, number four is true believer, both of these movies, I think kind of come come from the same place in terms of why they work, which is that you've got a lawyer that's kind of down and out on his luck, that he's kind of forgotten why he became a lawyer. And

Gary Wax  38:17  
in the verdict stars, what

Gary Wax  38:18
is it is Paul Newman, it's called new man. And he's an alcoholic and a total alcoholic, and he doesn't even want to go to trial because he can't handle the pressure being in trial, because he's such an alcoholic. And, and, you know, in true believer, which is the next one, it's James Woods, who's like, all he does is represent people growing weed, try and get them out of their legal trouble. And, and in both of these cases, both of these movies, it's it works, because you're cheering for the lawyer who was kind of down and out who's now found themselves and remembered why they became a lawyer in the first place and help people get there just result in their trial. And even though there's big and bad, you know, companies or whoever it is on the other side, whether it's the government or companies or whatever it is. And so it helps you kind of pull for the little guide, even though it's a lawyer, because of course, most people don't like lawyers. So it helps make the lawyer a hero, when you see them starting out kind of down and out on their luck. And so that both of those movies really worked for me for that reason.

Gary Wax  39:21  
Yeah. So it's it's character driven. It's the it's the plot or the character development of the attorney through the movie that that makes it work. Right. Yeah. Okay. Yeah. Is there a is there a lesson that resonates for you or you think that resonates, should resonate for the legal community about, you know, trying to find some sort of redemption or meaning or hope in the work that we do as lawyers?

Gary Wax  39:42  
Yeah. Well, to the extent that we can weave that theme into our cases, if it's applicable, it always helps. I mean, I'm sure you guys feel this way too. Sometimes you're representing a party that's not wearing the white hat at all. That there's a reason why they're on page one. And that someone reading the brief could say, well, I don't like this company, this company is a bad actor. Now explain, you know, now I've got to read 60 pages, and you got to tell me why I should like them, and why they should win. I have a case like that right now, in fact, where I'm representing some property owners who got hit with millions of dollars in civil penalties from a city in California, because the buildings that they had, which are, they're intended for low income, people are breaking all sorts of fire codes and building codes and all of that, and they've been working with the city to try to improve them. But then COVID happened. And so all the permitting slowed down. And so it says we're given take of property owners who clearly have properties that most of us wouldn't want to live in. But they're actually providing a service to a huge swath of the of the population who needs this kind of low income housing, and is trying really hard to work with the city. But you know, you read it, and and you could read it one way and say, Oh, these are slum lords. Why? Why should they win? And so yeah, I think it's really important in a case like that to weave in that theme of kind of trying to show why they actually do wear a little bit of a white hat not really the white hat, but kind of their their not so terrible. Maybe that's better than white hat, but

Gary Wax  41:22  
just you know, or that there are no, there are no white hats in this story, you know, just tried to make the best of a bad situation or right. Yeah, yeah, that is important. It's sometimes it's easy. If you have someone with a white hat. And other times, it's not so easy finding that angle, but you at that's our job is to find that angle, or get the get the court to realize that, look, this is not one where you're going to get to feel, you know, go home and tell your wife about the great person that you helped in a case today. This is just one of those. It's yeah, our our modern life is complicated. And sometimes they're the outcome, the right outcome. It's hard to explain why it's right. Right. And

Gary Wax  42:00  
when you're representing a defendant who gets hit with a wrongful death judgment of many millions of dollars, and you're running into court to try and argue to the appellate court that, you know, these procedural rule rules weren't followed. And that's why we need a reversal. You know, you need something more than just some rules weren't followed. Because it's really hard to get over that feeling of, hey, there was a death here and someone needs to be at fault and someone needs to pay for it. So those are always for me. Anyway, the most challenging appeals and in writing the brief to try to you know, humanize the big bad defendant.

Gary Wax  42:39
Alright, let's get to your number five top legal film of all time, Gary. Yes. Primal Fear. That's the Richard Gere movie. 1996.

Gary Wax  42:51  
Yes. And Ed Norton. And I think the reason that that one works so well, is because guilt and innocence is so hard to put your finger on. Because the, you're kind of rooting for someone you don't know if they did it. And you're it's other personality. It's this whole weird thing going back and forth. And the, you know, the Richard Gere character is kind of duped by his own client. And so it makes you it's constantly trying to figure out who you want to get behind and who you want to root for. And all the twists and turns in it, I think, really make it an exciting movie from that standpoint.

Gary Wax  43:32  
Yeah. Yeah. This primal fear was about a Chicago defense attorney believes that his altar boy client is not guilty of murdering a Catholic Archbishop. Yeah, there's, there's so much there's so much fodder in our industry, Gary, for for creating interesting stories. Obviously, there's a lot of novel novelists who have come out of legal practice and thinking of John Grisham, who's written a lot of books have been turned into movies, and there's just a lot of conflict and drama implicit in our line of work.

Gary Wax  44:03  
Have you ever worked on a case where you thought, oh, this would make a great movie?

Gary Wax  44:07  
Yeah. Yeah, I think my my partner is already starting the novel. He's already got the first and last chapters blocked out.

Jeff Lewis  44:16
And which actors can be playing you, Tim, when the movie rights come out?

Gary Wax  44:20 
I thought maybe Edward Norton. Okay. All right. Well, Gary, this has been great. Jeff, do you want to do you want to subject Gary to the discomfort of a lightning round today?

Jeff Lewis  44:33  
Sure. Yeah, we got some time for that. So right, Gary, hold on. This is the time for our patented copyrighted segment of the show that answers the most pressing questions affects appellate nerds around the world. The dreaded lightning round, short responses, one word, one sentence if you can, here we go. Thought preference for briefs century schoolbook. garmont or something else? Century schoolbook. Correct. Two spaces are one after a period two. Oh my Goodness

Gary Wax  45:01  
All right, but you gotta give the eyes way to breathe in between sentences it I don't know why i i know that it makes me an old dad or whatever to only like two spaces. I try to wrap my head around the one space, but I just need my eyes to breathe in between sentences.

Gary Wax  45:20  
You are not the worst. You're not the first who is answered two spaces, but you are the proudest?

Jeff Lewis  45:28
Yeah, yeah, I'll you know, I'm gonna jump the line here get to the end of our lightning quiz. cleaned up the signal, the parenthetical cleaned up. Do you use it or No,

Gary Wax  45:38  
I don't, but I'm not against it. Generally, I would just get rid of the quotation marks and and paraphrase without having to say cleaned up.

Jeff Lewis  45:48  
Okay. All right. And then terms of your headings and a brief your major headaches, not a statement of a case or statement of facts, but the argument headings. Yeah, all caps initial caps or sentence case.

Gary Wax  46:00  
You know, I I changed my mind every brief. I don't know why I can't stick to one way of doing it.

Jeff Lewis  46:07  
Okay. All right.

Gary Wax  46:08
I towards all caps. But I've also worked with attorneys who are small caps all throughout, and I'm fine with that. I'm not really sure which one's better? What do you what's your opinion? I'm curious. All caps

Jeff Lewis  46:20
is really hard on the eyes. If you're worried about eyes, and it seems like shouting, you know? Yeah,

Gary Wax  46:26  
I think I really don't like first caps. So usually, if I'm gonna go all caps on the big headings, it's going to be small caps throughout, even on the ABC headings, I'm not going to do first apps.

Gary Wax  46:39  
Generally do first caps then leads to that whole other can of worms, of which words you capitalize, you know, is it's such a small word, but it's a verb, right? Yes, like prepositions like, you know, do not capitalize within. It's just a preposition, but it's such a long word.

Gary Wax  46:56  
So neither one of you use all caps on your main headings. Never, never

Gary Wax  47:02
just for like for introduction, conclusion standard of review, but I'll use small caps. Okay. I want to ask, because I haven't reached consensus on this yet. I think possessives I use the example Congress. How do you make a possessive out of the word Congress? Is it Congress, apostrophe or Congress, apostrophe s?

Gary Wax  47:29  
Probably apostrophe s. I usually say it out loud and whichever sounds more natural to me, is what I'm gonna go with.

Gary Wax  47:36  
That's my benchmark as well. Yeah. You lose today, Jeff.

Jeff Lewis  47:40  
I don't think I've taken a position on Congress. Actually, I don't think so.

Gary Wax  47:44 
I just agree with me.

Jeff Lewis  47:47  
Well, Gary, you survived dreaded lightning round. Congratulations. We'll send you a souvenir mug for your trouble. And back to you, Tim.

Tim Kowal  47:54 
All right. Well, thanks again. Gary. That's gonna wrap up this episode. We're going to thank case text once more casetext is our sponsor each week, we include links to the cases that we discussed from casetext daily updated database of case law statutes, regulations, codes, and more listeners of the podcast enjoy a special discount on casetext basic research at That's

Jeff Lewis  48:20  
And if you have suggestions for future episodes, or if you know, Jed Nelson, and he wants to come on and talk about from the hip, please email us at info at Cal And in our upcoming episodes, look for tips on how to lay the groundwork for an appeal when preparing for trial.

Gary Wax  48:33  
And if you disagree with Gary wax that Philadelphia is one of the most overrated movies of all time, please contact Gary wax directly using two spaces after a period. Thanks, Gary, see you next time.

Gary Wax  48:45  
Thanks a lot. Take care.

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