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Lawyers Journal

Fantasy, Facts, Craft and Professionalism

I recently had occasion to watch the Wes Anderson film, "Moonrise 
Kingdom." I am a fan of movies generally, even bad ones. "Moonrise Kingdom" is a very good one. I am fascinated by the craft involved and always interested in what motivates writers and directors of films to create what they create. The late idionsyncratic New Yorker film critic, Pauline Kael, was a fan of Wes Anderson -- and vice versa -- and she was an even bigger fan of Bill Murray. Those of you familiar with Wes Anderson's work know that a Wes Anderson film without Bill Murray is like an ice cream truck without ice cream.

"Moonrise Kingdom" is a fantasy revolving around two twelve year olds who plot an "escape" from their current environs to elsewhere. Part of the problem for them, as well as part of the charm of the film, is that their escape is to another part of a rather small island, where they set up camp and ultimately are discovered, indeed rather quickly. The film being a fantasy, to describe it further would not do it justice, and I do not want to spoil it for those of you who have not seen it.

As a fan of films I watch them first, without having read any reviews. Having drawn my own conclusions, I then read critics I have found credible. In that regard, I commend to your attention Roger Ebert's review of the film.

As fantasy, "Moonrise Kingdom" is, nevertheless, instructive. First, it is a very well-crafted, well-cast and well-acted film. You do not want to miss any part of it, and you do not want it to end.

Bill Murray plays the father of the female escapee. He and his wife, the female escapee's mother, played by Frances McDormand, are both lawyers (you do wonder what there is for lawyers to do on this small island where the only people you see are the characters in the film). There are a few "lawyer" scenes, which you will enjoy.

Edward Norton plays a scoutmaster, who observes, when the youngsters are found, that the young male scout escapee has set up a camp that is first-rate. Bruce Willis plays the local law enforcement officer, and Tilda Swinton plays an unnamed character simply called "Social Services." Harvey Keitel, in a cameo role, plays a higher ranking scout officer. Some of the casting is against type, which adds to the overall craft of the film.

I have talked about craft before. Craft is essential to our professionalism. For example, trial lawyers with good instincts regarding when to object and when not to still have to have a good command of the rules of evidence. (I recall the actor, Arthur Hill, as television's Owen Marshall, attorney, who rose to object in one episode, and the judge inquired as to the basis for his objection. Marshall's reply, in substance: "It hurts my client's case.")

Craft also includes, I believe, the right attitude. In some recent meetings with some of our judges, I was told that lack of civility in our courts is still a problem. In particular, the lack of civility and lack of respect includes not just lawyers' behavior toward each other but also behavior toward the court. Such behavior is bad attitude, bad craft, unprofessional and unacceptable. Equally important, it is unpersuasive to a tribunal and thus counter to the interests of the client.

All of us need to promote craft. Fundamentally, that means proper preparation and proper behavior. It means always treating each other with dignity and respect. By doing so, we enhance public respect for our profession. Our behavior drives perceptions, and perceptions drive reality.

Craft and civility were on display at a recent meeting of the bar, court leaders and local legislators at the Salem District Court. This informal meeting was part of the MBA's ongoing court funding advocacy efforts. A productive group discussion centered on the needs of the court system, with specific examples provided by a number of court people, from their particular vantage points. Trial Court Administrator Harry Spence gave an informative and realistic overview of the court system and status of court funding. Offering the bar's perspective, Boston Bar Association President J.D. Smeallie and I had the privilege of addressing the group. The takeaway from this meeting was that we all have to be educators regarding the importance of our court system and need for adequate funding to ensure the third branch of government's effective operation. See related article, cover.

All of us need to promote the importance of craft and professionalism. All of us need to advocate, to all who will listen, for our court system. The MBA promotes professionalism and advocates for the court system. Join us in that effort and get others to do so. I encourage all of us to demonstrate the same kind of commitment to our profession that is evident in the craft of filmmaker Wes Anderson in his delightful fantasy, "Moonrise Kingdom."

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