By Shelby Jarman.
“What...like, it’s hard?”
With that iconic line, the story of a pink-wearing, fashion-loving young woman who chases love and ends up at Harvard Law School made its way into theaters twenty years ago. “Legally Blonde,” directed by Robert Luketic and starring Reese Witherspoon, is one of the more positive media depictions of law school seen in contemporary media. And it’s often considered the movie that has had the biggest impact on women deciding to go to law school, even to this day.
In August of 2021, Dean Elizabeth Kronk Warner decided to celebrate having students back in the building after a year and a half of remote classes by hosting a movie review. “Legally Blonde” was shown in the Moot Courtroom, with a panel discussion held afterwards. Panelists included Hilary Adkins, 3L and Student Bar Association president; Shima Baradaran Baughman, professor and associate dean of faculty and research; and Christina Jepson, partner at Parsons Bahle & Latimer and former president of the college’s Board of Trustees.
“This is by far my favorite movie,” Adkins said during the panel. “I always watch it at the beginning of every school year to get some inspiration and encouragement. This movie did have a huge impact on me pursuing my dream to go to law school.”
The panelists discussed their thoughts on the accuracies and inaccuracies in the movie, ethical dilemmas presented to the characters, and the overall theme of the movie.
“I think what this movie points out is this unique type of implicit bias,” said Professor Baughman during the panel. “I think we all have this, right? It’s not a secret. We have this bias against women, against blondes, against people of color. It comes through in many different ways. But one thing I love about this movie is that it helps us to challenge those thoughts.”
That message of overcoming implicit bias is the reason Dean Kronk Warner chose to feature “Legally Blonde” at this event.
“I liked the broader message of the movie that, regardless of your status or identity, there can be ways that people discount you or don't know your true story,” she said. “The title character, Elle Woods, comes from a very privileged background and lifestyle, but then she gets to Harvard and she's marginalized and otherized because she's feminine. People think that she's not smart and she's not capable. So it's a nice reminder that no matter who we are, these issues can affect us.”
One skeptical attendee was wondering why the S.J. Quinney College of Law was hosting an event focused on a lighthearted romantic comedy. After watching the movie all the way through and listening to the panel discussion, he had a different perspective.
He compared it to Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who decided she wanted to become a lawyer at age 11 after watching “Perry Mason,” a legal drama series from the 1960s. “If ‘Legally Blonde’ moves some women to following their career path with the same luster that Justice Sotomayor has provided in her career, then that is a success,” he said.
“It's kind of a like Elle Woods’s own journey,” Dean Kronk Warner added. “Her original interest in Harvard Law School was perhaps not for the most intellectually deep reasons. But she eventually finds herself on this great path and makes a difference in so many people's lives. So it's kind of a nice analogy.”
With women representing 53 percent of College of Law students today, Elle Woods is still serving as inspiration for aspiring attorneys–and will likely continue to do so for many years to come.