Legally Blonde turns 20 and is showing no grey


Men in tweed, not women in pink. That was law school back in the day.

But things change, and one can look at a moment 20 years ago that was something of a tipping point.

Legally Blonde came out.

And the story of a blonde, pink-wearing, fashion-loving young woman who conquers law school through charm, gumption and smarts — without sacrificing her feminine qualities — resonated with a lot of women. Many were drawn to law school because of Reese Witherspoon’s classic role as Elle Woods.

From the Hollywood Reporter: “This film has inspired an entire generation of women to go for their dreams, especially women who wanted to be lawyers. Reese Witherspoon told the Wall Street Journal in 2017 that, ‘At least once a week I have a woman come up to me and say, ‘I went to law school because of Legally Blonde’...It’s incredible. You can be unapologetically feminine but also smart and driven.’”

Indeed, a 58-page thesis was written on the subject called, “The Impact of Legally Blonde on Women Entering the Legal Profession."

From the abstract: “Legally Blonde defines feminism by presenting women as both intelligent and typically feminine — challenging the typical gender role of women in society with her expression of capability and seriousness.”

Yes, a thesis...

In the movie, when we first meet Elle, she’s a lively, bubbly student at a Southern California college — called CULA — who loves to dress in pink and carry her pet Chihuahua Bruiser everywhere. She’s majoring in fashion design and, of course, belongs to a sorority. She appears to have a golden life — until she’s dumped by her snobbish boyfriend Warner Huntington III right before he heads off to Harvard Law School. He didn’t think she had the proper heft to be the wife of a future power broker.

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A post shared by Reese Witherspoon (@reesewitherspoon)

Elle figures she’ll follow him to Harvard to win him back. It doesn’t come easily. She studies furiously to get a near perfect LSAT score — a 179 out of 180. And her video admissions essay? She hires a Coppola to direct it. Lounging in a pool, wearing a bikini, she cites her qualifications. Harvard accepts her because Harvard is always seeking to diversify, the admissions board notes.

Warner is shocked when he later sees Elle in the hallway of the iconic school. “You got into Harvard Law?”

She replied famously: “What? Like, it’s hard?”

Yes, it helps the movie is witty, chock-full of memorable one-liners and positively rocked by Witherspoon. And it’s also helped that the novel which the movie is based was written by Amanda Brown, who used her experiences at Stanford Law School as inspiration. The two screenwriters were also women.

Acing Harvard is not Elle’s initial goal. She only wants to win back Warner. And, in that effort, she finds more people underestimating and discouraging her. Yet she repeatedly strides forward fearlessly. Later, she realizes that Warner is hardly the man for her, but that a law career is something that’s definitely worth pursuing. And while every legal movie has a classic courtroom scene, the one in Legally Blonde is a beauty — literally.

Elle helps free a fellow sorority sister accused of killing her husband. She’s able to nullify a witness’s testimony via her knowledge of hair care. The witness — who is the real killer — said she didn’t hear a gunshot because she was in the shower. Elle jumps on that, noting how the witness just had a perm and one does not shower for 24 hours “at the risk of deactivating the immonium thygocolate.”

Beat that Perry Mason...

Her character has had lasting impact, no question. On Twitter, many remarked how the movie affected their lives. “Ever since I was a little girl Elle has ALWAYS inspired me to be better than everyone expects me to be.”

And another: “20 years ago, my 9yo self watched #Legally Blonde and now I’m a lawyer who wears lots of pink. Thank you Elle.”

She’s one of growing number of female attorneys. There are now more women in law school today than men. They represent 54% of students. In 1971, less than 10% of students were female.

Yep, girls rule.