Had a rough day at the office? Need an ego boost? A pair of recent movies are the perfect cure.
“Bridge of Spies” and “Labyrinth of Lies” have more in common than rhyming titles. Both are set in the tense years following WWII. Both are based on true events and feature main characters who are attorneys.
And most importantly, both portray the law as a powerful force for building a better world.
Watch either one – or better yet, schedule a double feature – and you will come away feeling proud to have JD after your name.
Bridge of Spies
You’ve probably represented some unpopular clients in your career. But it is unlikely you have ever been engaged by the most hated person in America.
That’s the predicament facing insurance lawyer James Donovan – played by the inimitable Tom Hanks – in “Bridge of Spies.” The year is 1957. The country is gripped by Cold War fear. People peer nervously into the sky. Schoolchildren practice atomic bomb drills.
Against this backdrop of anxiety, Donovan reluctantly agrees to defend Russian spy Rudolf Abel. He does so with skill, compassion and a high regard for ethics. In one great scene, he puts a CIA agent in his place by refusing to divulge client confidences. He argues to the Supreme Court that the best way to keep America strong is by showing the world how much we value due process and justice – even for our enemies.
And talk about a great negotiator! Litigators and mediators can learn a lot by watching how Donovan deals with people who don’t even speak his language. He is patient and honest. He keeps plugging away even when it seems hopeless.
And he winds up getting twice as much as his client wanted.
Labyrinth of Lies
You may have tackled a challenging case or two. But it’s unlikely you’ve put your entire country – including your own parents – on trial, as prosecutor Johann Radmann does in the German film “Labyrinth of Lies.”
Alexander Fehling portrays Radmann as an idealistic public servant who talks his boss into opening criminal investigations against Nazi officers who served at Auschwitz. The prosecution is complicated by the fact that Germany many of the defendants have become part of the fabric of post-war Germany. They are doctors, schoolteachers, government officials. Nobody wants to go after them. To do so would reopen old wounds.
In fact Radmann himself loses heart at one point. But he rallies by keeping his focus on the most important players in this wrenching drama: the victims.
Hold Your Head High, Lawyer
The protagonist in both films is heroic in the classical sense. They are distinguished by their courage, ability and noble deeds.
But that’s not what makes them so inspiring. Just the opposite. It’s their distinctly human qualities that we identify with. They are tired and cranky. They get head colds. They want to go home and crawl in bed.
They wonder if there is any point to what they’re doing – and if they are the right person to be doing it.
But they keep going because it is their duty, and because the ideals they are fighting for are bigger than they are. That’s a lesson that will make any lawyer proud.
Jay Reeves a/k/a The Risk Man practiced law in North Carolina and South Carolina. He is a former Legal Editor at Lawyers Weekly and Risk Manager at Lawyers Mutual. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.