Every lawyer – litigator or transactional attorney – believes he or she has a bit of superhero inside. We want to believe that we can help our clients, protect them, defend them, and keep them on the right path. Personally, we have become obsessed with a superhero that is also a lawyer, She-Hulk.
Who is She-Hulk?
Jennifer Walters was a shy attorney, good at her job and quiet in her life when she found herself gunned down by a crime boss. With her life on the line, only one person was close enough to her to donate the blood she needed for a vital transfusion: her cousin, Dr. Bruce Banner, who was secretly the gamma-irradiated monster known as the Incredible Hulk. Bruce’s blood saved Jennifer’s life, but gave her the power to turn into a super strong, green-skinned bombshell. Unlike her cousin, Jennifer has managed to maintain her sanity and control over her superhuman form and has even continued her career as an attorney, while also doubling as a member of the Avengers, the Fantastic Four, and a super hero known the world over.
Last year’s She-Hulk comic-book series starts with a familiar scene – the Big Law partner meeting – where Jennifer is informed that she will not receive a bonus this year. Jennifer responds in utter disbelief, “I billed almost three thousand hours for you this year. At the rate you bill me out, you must have made a million bucks off me.” To which the firm head responds, “To be frank, you were hired because of your connections… We assumed that you would bring us business from your associations in your, ah, your other line of work… While we appreciate your diligence, Ms. Walters, you were not hired to bill hours and work cases. We have lawyers for that.” While we may not be out saving the world after work, I bet that sentiment rings true for more than a few readers.
She-Hulk, the Solo Attorney
What is a superhero lawyer to do? Hang her own shingle, of course! What does her practice consist of? Anything that walks through the door, and for Jennifer’s solo practice, it’s a myriad of different kinds of cases: patent infringement, political asylum, a contract dispute, and a wrongful death matter.
The beauty of this series, and what makes it so utterly enjoyable, is that it is written by a lawyer, Charles Soule. This superhero is not a lawyer in name only; she is a solo practitioner. It’s not just about the cases she handles, but how she handles the practice of law: the difficulties of getting referrals (the “don’t call me, I’ll call you” response familiar to so many lawyers), foraging for clients, getting stiffed on fees (Jennifer is paid in a currency that the government has confiscated), hiring staff (a paralegal and an investigator), figuring out how to pay the overhead that increases when her office is trashed (no spoiler alert here), in other words, the normal headaches of practice, well, maybe not the office trashing, but pretty much everything else.
There’s one story arc in which Jennifer comes to Los Angeles to defend Captain America in a wrongful death case (remember, this is a comic book). Her opposing counsel is Matt Murdock, aka Daredevil. Captain America’s trial is accurate in its detail: there’s Daredevil’s opening statement, a page long explanation of the dying declaration hearsay exception, and the rules of evidence, all spot on.
Since the author is a lawyer, he minces no words. Soule is clear about his disdain for Big Law and tactics they employ; he doesn’t think judges will stay past 5 pm; he knows that digging through court files is why “God made paralegals.” He understands the lofty airs that lawyers sometimes assume when they think they’re the only one who can do things: Jennifer says to her investigator that she’s the only one who can do things right, and her paralegal is properly incensed.
Toward the end of the series, another character enters into a diatribe about lawyers. She says, “Most people work themselves half to death, all day long, just to get by. Scrub dishes, work in a factory, stand at a griddle. Take home the stink of whatever they have to do to stay alive, feed their kids. Never get clean. That’s what I did… But lawyers… go to some school, get a piece of paper, then they get paid two hundred bucks an hour for what? What do lawyers make? What do they build? Nothing. They’re all so smug. Don’t help nobody, and they get rich for it. Lawyers are takers. Just like to hear themselves talk.” To which, She-Hulk appropriately responds, “Yeah, I’m a lawyer. Yeah, I’m proud of it. Being a lawyer is like being strong. It’s a superpower. You can do what you want with it.”
She-Hulk is a real aspirational character. She is someone we can all identify with, sympathize with, and if we are truly being honest, haven’t we all wished for superhuman strength?