Movie Therapy for Law Students – Book Review

Movie Therapy for Law Students by Sonia Buck is, how shall I put it, one of the more niche titles that you’re likely to come across.

Its chief aim is simple: to bridge the gap between legal study and the watching of legally-themed films.

Confused? It’s simple really.

Law students, being a fastidious and conscientious bunch, tend to feel pangs of guilt when they put leisure time above studying. Well, something like that. With the help of this book, law students should be able to freely engage in some movie-watching downtime without being unduly encumbered by their consciences.

Movie Therapy for Law Students
The book considers 33 films, listed in chronological order – all of which have a legal theme running through them. The list spans a diverse spectrum, from the 1962 dramatisation of Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird right through to the comedy Liar Liar. Like I said – diverse.

For each movie listed, the book provides details of the plot, the lead actors featured, as well as a couple of key quotes from the script. It then moves on to consider the main areas of law associated with the plot, with helpful extracts of relevant sources of law alongside. Substantive areas of law are considered - such as contract law, the law of tort or criminal law - as well as ethical conundrums affecting the rules relating to professional conduct. In addition to all that, the author provides valuable tips for exam success, along with some ideas for further reading.

Inevitably, a book such as this cannot possibly provide a thorough commentary on each area of law that’s discussed. But the book never sets out to do that. Instead, it succinctly guides the reader in thinking critically about some of the legal issues going on beneath the surface in the various films it considers. Readers will be stimulated by a whole host of thought-provoking questions and ‘what ifs’, which will leave them cogitating long after the film has ended.

Admittedly, the book is focussed on US law and the extracts of source material provided reflect that. Nevertheless, that’s not to say it won’t appeal to law students based elsewhere given that many (if not most) of the thinking points apply regardless of the jurisdiction concerned (it’s just the answers that’ll be different).

To the extent that critical analysis and the practical application of law can be combined with the watching of movies, this book does it well.

As an aside, when I was studying for my A levels, I remember a classmate who seemed to honestly believe that watching previous episodes of Ally McBeal constituted valid exam revision. I think that was a stretch too far but the approach taken by the author in this book makes a damn good attempt at genuinely combining legal study and the watching of movies.

Whilst some might prefer to keep studying and film-watching entirely separate, students should never be encouraged to pass up opportunities for critical reflection on legal issues. As clichéd as it sounds, it’s all part of the process in which students learn to think like lawyers.

And if this book helps in that process, surely it’s earned its place on the bookshelf?

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