Law School,  Legal Practice

An Ode to Vincent Gambini

An ABA Journal post has been making the rounds about Elle Woods and how it inspired so many women to go to law school. I love Legally Blonde and think it’s a cute movie, but if I’m also a little worried that so much love is being poured on Elle Woods and not enough attention is being given to the true patron saint of low-income/first-gen law students, one Vincent “Vinny” LaGuardia Gambini aka John Callo aka John Gallo.

First, if you’ve never seen My Cousin Vinny please use whatever million and one streaming apps you have and watch it right meow! Not only is it great, as I’m about to explain, but Marisa Tomei rightfully won an Oscar and she’s amazing.

If you haven’t seen it or it’s been a while My Cousin Vinny is about a brand new attorney whose cousin is caught up in a false accusation of first-degree murder in Alabama. Vinny leaves New York to defend his cousin and during the movie (which is a master class on trial advocacy), Vinny stumbles through all aspects of litigation. But while he doesn’t seem to know the rules or norms inside and out, he is a gifted litigator and uses is real-life experiences and grit to win the day. It is sooooo good and I have no shame to say it’s a major reason why I knew law school was for me.

So I’m going to go out on a limb and explain how Vinny, rather than a wealthy white woman attending the Ivies, can be your motivator to earn a JD:

  •  Vinny is a first-gen student and the first in his family to go to law school. He went through night school and law school only because one older judge saw talent in him and encouraged him to try. No one in his family had become an attorney but based on his talents and the mentorship of one person, he decides to go for it.
  • He has to take the New York Bar SIX times! before finally passing. This is supposed to be a little joke that makes his clients uneasy. But we already know the bar doesn’t predict your ability to be a lawyer and Vinny proves that in his mastery of the case.
  • Vinny struggles to adapt to the conservative cultural/professional norms expected of attorneys. He doesn’t get the need to wear a suit to court and struggles mightily in adapting to expectations that feel unnatural to him.
  • As he gets further into the case, Vinny realizes that it’ll take more than his natural talent and intelligence. Instead, he realizes he needs to put in the work to win his case. He investigates and researches and preps to a point that he can’t be out lawyered.
  • But my favorite is that Vinny is doing all of this not to make himself feel good, or to make a lot of money, or to even win a romantic partner over–Vinny is putting it all on the line to save his family member from an unjust application of the law. I mean, how many of us have seen our families and friends be mistreated by those in power only to feel helpless? Vinny flips that on its head and uses his street smarts and legal degree to right what’s wrong.

So I think you can see what I stan Vincent Gambini!

Though the biggest takeaway is that Vinny shows that you won’t always see yourself in the work you’re aiming to do. But you have to trust yourself, your intelligence, your talents, and then put in the work to prepare and plan to make it all go right. And yes, I know My Cousin Vinny isn’t as cute as Legally Blonde (though Marisa Tomei is bae forever) but it’s ok if it’s not cute–our struggle isn’t cute either but it gets us to where we need to be.

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