Reality Check: Elle Woods goes to court in Legally Blonde

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In Legally Blonde, first-year law student Elle Woods cites Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Ruling 3.03 to replace the case’s senior attorney and her professor in Brooke Taylor-Windham’s murder defense.

There are a lot of scenes in Legally Blonde that could be fact checked, but I selected this one because “Do law students get to go to court like in Legally Blonde?” was one of the most common questions I answered during law school.

The answer to that question is yes, under the right circumstances. However, those circumstances are not present in Elle’s case.

Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Ruling 3.03 is an actual ruling and it does in fact cover what in Idaho is known as a limited-license.

Under the Massachusetts ruling, a senior law student may appear in court if they have completed or enrolled in evidence or trial practice courses and have the written approval by the dean of their law school under the following circumstances: 1) on behalf of the Commonwealth in certain cases; 2) on behalf of indigent defendants in certain criminal proceedings; and 3) on behalf of indigent parties in certain civil proceedings.

There are a number of problems that would prevent the judge from allowing Elle to represent her sorority sister under the rule described above.

First, Elle is a first-year law student. The rule defines a “senior law student” as one who has completed two years of law school. Elle is in her first year of law school during the movie.

As a result, she likely hasn’t taken evidence or trial skills. Both are second- or third-year courses.

Second, Brooke Taylor-Windham ran a successful multi-million-dollar fitness corporation. There are no circumstances where she’d be declared an indigent party in her current case.

Third, while her boyfriend-to-be Emmett Richmond offers to volunteer to supervise her, she did not receive the dean’s written permission to appear in court.

Not only does Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Ruling 3.03 not give Elle the authority to serve as counsel in Brooke’s murder defense case, it’s highly unlikely it would matter in the first place from a practical standpoint.

Law students in general have very limited exposure to actual courtrooms. It’s one of the many and major flaws of the legal education system in the United States. While there are programs that allow law students to serve as attorneys, it takes a few weeks after applying for a limited license to be approved by a state’s supreme court. It isn’t something a judge can just do from the bench.

Furthermore, first-year law students have very little value to practicing attorneys because they haven’t been taught anything of value yet. And there’s probably not an attorney alive that teaches any first-year law courses that would select any first-year student to go to court with them in a major case. Or a minor case. Or any case at all.

Idaho has a rule to allow third-year students to serve as limited-license interns that may represent clients in court. That rule is Idaho Bar Commission Rule 226.

Under the rule, a third-year law student, with the dean’s approval, may appear in court for certain proceedings under the supervision of a licensed attorney. The license is limited to a specific supervising attorney who has practiced law for at least five years. It is not a generic license good for any supervising attorney. A limited-license attorney may do the following things in Idaho:
      (1) Advise or negotiate on behalf of a person referred to the legal intern by the supervising attorney with the client’s informed consent, confirmed in writing;
      (2) Prepare pleadings, motions, briefs or other documents;
      (3) Participate in any civil and criminal proceedings if the supervising attorney is present;
      (4) Participate in proceedings before a court of general jurisdiction, without the presence of the supervising attorney, if:
            a. The proceedings are ex parte; or

  1. The facts and the resulting order are based upon a stipulation between the parties to the proceeding; and
    (5) Participate in proceedings before a court of limited jurisdiction, without the presence of the supervising attorney, if:
                 a. The proceedings involve an infraction or misdemeanor, proceedings tried without a jury, juvenile proceedings, ex parte proceedings or civil proceedings; and
                 b. The supervising attorney has filed a certificate in each case with the presiding judge or magistrate, certifying that the legal intern:
                       i. Has participated in at least three similar actions under the direct supervision and control of the supervising attorney;
                       ii. Is fully prepared to present the matter; and
                      iii. Has the informed consent of the client, confirmed in writing, to appear on behalf of that client.

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