Guns, Gams & Gumshoes

A defense attorney & PI who also happen to be writers

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#BookExcerpt A Lawyer’s Primer for Writers: MY COUSIN VINNY

Posted by Writing PIs on November 7, 2015

illustration black and white gavel public domain

(Image is in the public domain)

In our nonfiction book A Lawyer’s Primer for Writers: From Crimes to Courtrooms, we dedicate a chapter to our ten favorite legal films, one being My Cousin Vinny (excerpt below).

In 1998, Joe Pesci, as Vincent LaGuardia Gambini, recorded the album Vincent LaGuardia Gambini Sings Just for You, which contains the song “Yo, Cousin Vinny.” The album cover shows Pesci in a red suit similar to the usher suit he wore in the film.

This was Fred Gwynne’s last film appearance. He died July 2, 1993.


My Cousin Vinny (1992)

Starring Joe Pesci, Marisa Tomei and Fred Gwynne. A humorous courtroom drama where rough-around-the-edges New York lawyer Vincent LaGuardia “Vinny” Gambini (played by Pesci), fresh out of law school, is asked by his nephew and his nephew’s friend to save them from wrongful murder charges in a “redneck” Alabama court system.

Earlier in the book, we discussed opening statements. Here’s Vinny’s:

Everything that guy just said is bullshit. Thank you.

Fans of Vinny: From Lawyers to a Supreme Court Judge

Although Vinny isn’t always a shining example of courtroom etiquette, the movie has been praised by lawyers for adhering to the realities of courtroom procedure and trial strategy. And although Vinny’s style isn’t what one might call polished, he exudes raw trial-lawyer talent in how he conducts interviews and gathers facts.

When the American Bar Association (ABA) journal invited lawyers to vote for their favorite fictional lawyers, Vinny Gambini ranked number twelve, with lawyers admiring Vinny’s technically correct, and at times very clever, courtroom maneuvers.

At the Beasley School of Law, Temple University, law professor JoAnne Epps has told her law students that of all the legal films they could watch, the one they had to watch was My Cousin Vinny because it best portrays the realities of trial, from tight budgets to tetchy judges.

US Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia even cited My Cousin Vinny as an example of the principle that a client can choose his own lawyer.

Courtroom No-Nos

The movie isn’t without a few legal bloopers, such as Vinny being the defense lawyer for both defendants, which is a conflict of interest.

Then, when a public defender is brought in, his nervousness causes him to stutter so much that he is nearly incoherent, making him ineffective. Doesn’t make sense that a public defenders’ office, which must be aware that one of its lawyers suffers horribly from stage fright, would assign him to a trial, thus jeopardizing the rights of the accused.

Courtroom Pluses

Nits aside, there is much to learn by watching this entertaining movie, including Vinny’s:

– Preparation of case theory

– Cross-examinations that reveal witnesses’ vulnerabilities

– “Legal thinking in the complexity of actual law practice” (quote by law professor Alberto Bernabe, The John Marshall Law School).

End of Excerpt

All rights reserved by Colleen Collins and Shaun Kaufman. Please do not copy/distribute any images noted as copyrighted or licensed. Images noted as in the public domain are copyright-free and yours to steal.


Click on image to go to Amazon page

Click on image to go to Amazon page

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