DVD review: A Lawyer Walks into a Bar


California has the most difficult bar exam [Massachusetts and New York are not far behind in complexity] and also has the lowest pass rate. Makes me wonder about a high school friend who applied to 25 law schools and only got in to UC San Diego.

Eric Chaikin [Word Wars] directs this fascinating film that has two directions but works well. It highlights the humor, power, wealth, ego, audacity, competitiveness, distain and sometimes absurdity associated legal profession. From the outrageous claims [the multi-million settlement for a hot coffee spill] to the more realistic torts [death from Vioxx]. The film is peppered with insightful commentary with high-profile attorneys such as writer/attorney Scott Turow, Clinton advisor Vernon Jordan, OJ Dream team-ers Alan Dershowitz and Robert Shapiro and Court TV tiger, Vioxx uber-lawyer Mark Lanier [who is very funny and down-to-earth]. There are plenty of laughs and information to make the documentary provocative.

A Lawyer Walks into a Bar also delves into the fears, intense pressure and process of preparing for the California bar exam as it follows six very different candidates for ten weeks. There’s the older guy [a 1980 law school graduate and social worker] who has taken the exam 41 times. He’s a Vietnam veteran and you just want him to pass. There’s the blonde, part-Native American enthusiastic future lawyer/actress, who seems to get into the process too late. The film shows her partying and doing everything but study as everyone else has noses to the grindstone. There’s Megan, a hyper-sensitive, neurotic artistic, earthy girl who goes to a hypnotherapist at one point. Megan wants to help people but recognizes the realities of school loans and the need to go corporate to pay them off. There’s Sam, the affable and seemingly subdued guy who just doesn’t “test well” [he’s taking the for the second time]. There’s an annoying Duke-graduate with the four year old son and artist boyfriend/fiancé. She seems self-absorbed but by the end you understand her goals. She has already been hired by a large firm; she needs to pass the bar to keep the exam. And finally, there’s the older Mexican-American single mother who graduated from the Peoples College of Law, a school which provides an alternative approach to law (to say the least). She wants to be a tenant lawyer, representing the downtrodden.

Even if you are not a lawyer [like my step father] or law student [I bombed on the LSAT] or do not know one, A Lawyer Walks into a Bar sheds light on one of the oldest and most lucrative professions. It may make you think again before telling that lawyer joke again. Lawyers and litigation are an integral component of our society.

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  1. #1 by RACHEL on May 12, 2008 - 20:23

    As a two-time California bar taker who gets her results this Friday, this film sounds like something I need to see sooner than later. Thanks for a great review.

    And you probably should “wonder” about your high school friend who applied to 25 law schools and only got into one because UCSD (the one s/he claims to have gotten into) doesn’t even have a law school. 🙂

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