UC Santa Barbara’s Legal Resource Center for Associated Students launched the Aspiring Attorneys Movie Club at the end of the Winter Quarter, where students interested in a legal career can watch popular law films and discuss them with practicing lawyers.
Robin Unander, a lawyer specializing in criminal defense, commercial law and civil procedural law and student legal advisor at UCSB, together with Sabina Menzhausen, a fifth year biopsychologist, founded the club with the intention of promoting student engagement in a remote environment for the spring quarter and beyond .
While considering ways to increase student engagement during distance learning, Unander and Menzhausen were inspired by the idea of a discussion club for legal films.
“We hope that students who are interested in law can enter into a communal dialogue with other people who are similarly interested even in times of COVID,” said Menzhausen.
At weekly meetings, members of the Aspiring Attorneys Movie Club (AAMC) watch a preselected film about a particular legal case and then discuss the semantics of that legal maneuver in the film during their weekly meeting. The AAMC has met four times so far. Some films that Unander and Menzhausen discussed are “The Trial of the Chicago 7”, “Loving”, “The People vs. Larry Flynt” and “A Civil Action”.
“As a lawyer and with a legal background, I have some idea of what I want you to get noticed about the film,” said Unander. “I’m trying to highlight the legal components, be it legal maneuvers or legal strategies, something that has to do with the legal profession.”
Jake Winsor, a third year sociology major and a member of the AAMC club, said Unander’s legal background was critical to the legal discussion. Winsor also said he appreciated having a point of sale at UCSB for his legal interests.
“Since I was in my sophomore year, I was proclaimed a pre-law. Until a few months ago, I didn’t make a mental note of going to law school, ”said Winsor. “There really aren’t many ways to speak to practicing lawyers and people with legal experience. This club was a good opportunity to get involved in this world. ”
Unander and Menzhausen begin their meetings by addressing a scene from the film and bringing a real perspective on the legal practices shown during the scene. The guests included the multidisciplinary lawyer Alan Isaacman and the environmental lawyer Jan Schlichtmann.
Schlichtmann, the personal injury attorney who adopted the real life case that inspired the 1998 film A Civil Action – a 1998 legal drama about the true story of environmental toxins contaminating water supplies in the city of Woburn, Massachusetts – joined the group for a film discussion.
Schlichtmann, who took the case against two companies after they realized they could be responsible for local child deaths from leukemia. said the lawsuit changed its legal philosophy and shifted its perspective towards mediation rather than litigation.
“Honestly, at the end of the day, when you have a toxic system that you can indulge in your views to the exclusion of anyone else, that is the process system, it still becomes an attraction and a reason not to do the hard things “Sit down and try it out with the right side,” Schlichtmann said during the meeting.
Schlichtmann lost this landmark case, his company went bankrupt and the residents of Woburn, who complained about the suspected cancer cluster in their area, were left with no answers. He said his nearly 40 years as a lawyer forced him to define his personal morals and suggested would-be lawyers do the same.
“If my basic theory is correct that our legal system is toxic and not conducive to problem-solving, if it captivates you it will test your character. I tell everyone who will get into this practice, at the end of the day, what are your values? You have to start with the truth, ”said Schlichtmann.
Overall, Menzhausen welcomes the opportunity to hear from the lawyers who inspired their discussions, but hopes that greater student participation will be possible next year.
“I just wish we could have had more participants, a lot of people signed up, but not that many actually showed up [up] to the [the] Discussions. I hope this is something that can be continued personally if we get the chance, ”said Menzhausen.
The AAMC currently plans to continue its meetings for the next year and the conference format will be determined by student interest in zoom or live discussions.
While the club’s future format is still in the works, AAMC members ended the year with advice from practicing lawyers who inspired legal films and a better understanding of a potential legal career.
“I think this club is a really great opportunity for a school that doesn’t have a lot of pre-college focus because there are a lot of pre-college students here and the more experience and people they have, the better,” said Winsor.