Jurassic Park was a genuine blockbuster, a film which knocked viewers for six with astonishing computer-generated imagery.
Held together by a fairly standard morality tale that is as old as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, albeit spiced up by Jeff Goldblum’s wonderfully acerbic Dr Ian Malcolm, the film played to rave reviews, sold countless tickets and launched a still-going franchise.
Man being undone by his arrogance in the face of nature wasn’t the only old trope that the film indulged, however; another reliable stereotype got a big run as well.
Indeed, there is only one truly evil being in the whole film. Not the billionaire behind it all, who merely let his desire to entertain overcome his caution; nor the scientists who create the dinosaurs, caught up in the thrill of new technology and certain they have everything under control; nor the traitor who tries to sell the science to competitors, who is simply stupid and greedy; and certainly not the dinosaurs themselves, who after all are only doing what comes naturally.
No, the only true bad guy in the whole film is, of course, the lawyer – and he is no good from go to whoa.
When we first encounter him, he is pathetic and wimpy, terrified of a short trip on a raft – and threatening to shut Jurassic Park down for fear of being sued for safety breaches. Naturally, however – he is a lawyer, after all – his safety concerns evaporate at the prospect of making heaps of money, and he is described (with no real objection from him) as ‘bloodsucking’.
It gets worse, because when faced with the danger of the dinosaurs running amok, he immediately abandons two young children to a tyrannosaurus rex (don’t worry, they are saved by sensitive new-aged scientist Sam Neil, playing – as ever – Sam Neil) and hides in the toilet.
The lawyer meets his demise sitting on the toilet seat, pants around his ankles, devoured by the T-rex – apparently a fitting end for a typical scumbag lawyer, at least going by the cheers in the cinema when I saw the film.
Almost every portrayal of lawyers in film or media follows a pretty similar path, with the general conclusion that lawyers are basically oxygen thieves. Indeed, think of every lawyer joke you have heard – the vast majority of them involve death or violence to lawyers, not just a comeuppance; and people wonder why we have poor mental health?
That negative portrayal of our profession may explain the strange contradiction in the latest Ethics Index from the Australian Governance Institute – that while people consider lawyers in general to be unethical, they think of their own personal lawyer as largely ethical.
In other words, people think the lawyers they know are ethical, but the ones they don’t are in the ‘should-be-eaten-by-a-T-Rex-while-they (the lawyer, not the T-rex) are-on-the-toilet’ basket.
So what do we do about this? Let’s face it, if people have a better (and in my view, more accurate) view of lawyers, they will have more confidence in the legal system in general, which can only be a good thing. What the research is telling us is that, the more people actually meet real lawyers, the more ethical they’ll think lawyers are; and that means that the solution is obvious.
In short, we need to be visible in the community, and to own what we bring to society. We stand between order and chaos, making sure society plays by the rules and gives everyone a fair go; that is something of which to be proud.
That can be hard, because of the way in which we are perceived – indeed, one of my lawyer mates used to tell people at parties that he was a plumber – but we need to get past that. When people know who we are and what we are like, they hold better opinions of us and our profession.
It is time for us to be proud of being lawyers, to out ourselves as members of the legal profession, and explain what we do and why, so let’s get to it. The cowardly, bloodsucking killjoy caricature of a lawyer is the only genuine dinosaur in Jurassic Park; it’s time it became extinct.
Shane Budden is a Special Counsel, Ethics, with the Queensland Law Society Ethics and Practice Centre.