Fictional Attorney of the Month: Vinny Gambini


My Cousin Vinny is one the most delightful trial films of all time. Much of that is attributable to the Oscar-winning performance of Marisa Tomei as Mona Lisa Vito, Vinny's longtime fiancée.

But Joe Pesci plays the titular role, a novice attorney freshly admitted to the New York bar after successfully passing the bar exam on the sixth attempt. Vinny Gambini's first trial? Defending his cousin and friend wrongly accused of murder in Alabama.

What Vinny lacks in legal acumen, he makes up for in two major areas. First, he has a tenacity and relentlessness, despite his struggles. Years ago, he'd fought a traffic ticket in Brooklyn, and won. The judge was so impressed he went to lunch with him and encouraged him to become a litigator. Vinny's response? "I didn't know what the hell he was talking about, I don't know what a litigator is. I never thought of becoming a lawyer. But this Judge Malloy, who's from Brooklyn, too? He did it, so all of a sudden, it seemed possible. So I went to law school." (Note: this is probably not a good basis for deciding to go to law school. But it's Hollywood.) And Malloy serves a valuable mentor to Vinny.

Second, Vinny has the ability to see through the facts of the case and draw out the problems. He presents a beautiful analogy in evidence: "Building a case is like building a house. Each piece of evidence is just another building block. He wants to make a brick bunker of a building. He wants to use serious, solid-looking bricks, like, like these, right? He's going to show you the bricks. He'll show you they got straight sides. He'll show you how they got the right shape. He'll show them to you in a very special way, so that they appear to have everything a brick should have. But there's one thing he's not gonna show you. When you look at the bricks from the right angle, they're as thin as this playing card. His whole case is an illusion, a magic trick."

The scene is filled with wonderful courtroom humor highlighting trial tactics and occasional actual rules of evidence. And Vinny is this month's Fictional Attorney of the Month.