When a nice old man who claims to be Santa Claus is institutionalized as insane, a young lawyer decides to defend him by arguing in court that he is the real thing. Only the lawyers can save the day in this Christmas classic. Just like in real life!
Stay until the end for my Legal Realism Grade!
Miracle on 34th Street (the 1947 version) is probably my favorite holiday movie. Where else are you able to get a great courtroom drama and a holiday message of good cheer in the same movie? I was really worried to review this movie looking for legal accuracy, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that it holds up!
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Summary of the movie (from IMDB) if you’ve never seen it:
At the Macy's Department Store Thanksgiving Day parade, the actor playing Santa is discovered to be drunk by a whiskered old man. Doris Walker, the no nonsense special events director, persuades the old man to take his place. The old man proves to be a sensation and is quickly recruited to be the store Santa at the main Macy's outlet. While he is successful, Ms. Walker learns that he calls himself Kris Kringle and he claims to be the actual Santa Claus. Despite reassurances by Kringle's doctor that he is harmless, Doris still has misgivings, especially when she has cynically trained herself, and especially her daughter, Susan, to reject all notions of belief and fantasy. And yet, people, especially Susan, begin to notice there is something special about Kris and his determination to advance the true spirit of Christmas amidst the rampant commercialism around him and succeeding in improbable ways. When a raucous conflict with the store's cruelly incompetent psychologist erupts, Kris finds himself held at Bellevue where, in despair, he deliberately fails a mental examination to ensure his commitment. All seems lost until Doris' friend, Fred Gaily, reassures Kris of his worth and agrees to represent him in the fight to secure his release. To achieve that, Fred arranges a formal hearing in which he argues that Kris is sane because he is in fact Santa Claus. What ensues is a bizarre hearing in which people's beliefs are reexamined and put to the test, but even so, it's going to take a miracle for Kris to win.
I get asked a lot about whether being a practicing attorney is like being a lawyer on TV. I love watching legal movies and courtroom dramas. It's one of the reasons I decided to become a lawyer. But sometimes they make me want to pull my hair out because they are ridiculous. Today I'm taking a break from teaching law students how to crush law school to take on lawyers in the movies and on TV. While all legal movies and shows take dramatic license to make things more interesting (nobody wants to see hundreds of hours of brief writing), many of them have a grain of truth.
Got a legal movie or TV show you'd like me to critique? Let me know in the comments!
All clips used for fair use commentary, criticism, and educational purposes. See Hosseinzadeh v. Klein, 276 F.Supp.3d 34 (S.D.N.Y. 2017); Equals Three, LLC v. Jukin Media, Inc., 139 F. Supp. 3d 1094 (C.D. Cal. 2015).
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