Top 11 Television Lawyers

As a little celebration of finishing all of my classes on the way to my paralegal certificate (except an internship), how about we look at some great lawyers.  Unfortunately, they do not make any shows about paralegals.  Obviously, I may need to change this eventually.


11 Jeff Winger (Community)
Trial Lawyer

Community has been one of my favorite shows since my brothers introduced me to it. In the first episode, we meet Jeff who is a lawyer who has just been put into a tough spot. He had lied about having a bachelor’s degree when he was hired at the law firm he was working at. So he is forced to go to Greendale Community College to get a quickie law degree. This is now somewhat familiar and relevant to my life. So a successful lawyer has to attend college just to get a piece of paper. Winger is at the bottom of the list because he is not a properly licensed lawyer through most of the series. Jeff was a defense lawyer who mainly tried DUI and other traffic cases. Jeff’s main strength comes from his excellent charisma and his ability to make a great speech with very little substance. He was very successful but it seems that he does not know a lot of actual law and falls back on convincing judges and juries with his silver tongue. Throughout the show, he does sometimes act as an advocate at disciplinary proceedings and we see both how effective he can be and also how ineffective he can be when people see through his nonsense.


10 Saul Goodman (Better Call Saul)
Public Defender/Civil Litigator

I am really only referring to Saul Goodman during the first season of Better Call Saul. In Breaking Bad, he is a piece of crap and does very little that an actual lawyer does or should do. In the early part of the show, he is a lawyer with a small general practice operating out of the back of a nail salon. Like Jeff Winger, Saul’s true strength lies in his opening and closing statements. When his money situation gets desperate, he becomes a public defender for meager checks from the State. He encounters some horrible prosecutors who seem disinterested in dealing with him in any way. As far as we see, his clients are pretty guilty but Saul does not quit. He works tirelessly for his clients, giving masterful closing arguments and going above and beyond his duties to try to get plea bargains for his clients instead of letting them get fully prosecuted. He does not lie, he does not cheat. He does what a good defense lawyer does and tries to slant the cases in favor of his clients and does his best on behalf of his clients. He falls into a dark place for a bit, trying to cheat the system to make some money but he is also scared back to a more righteous path. Later on, he gets really jazzed about representing the elderly in writing wills and then protecting their rights. He will fall to evil eventually but for the first season, he is a good lawyer.


9 Lindsey McDonald (Angel) – Defense Lawyer

For those of you were born after the nineties, Angel was a spinoff of Buffy: The Vampire Slayer and both of those shows are in the upper echelons of my favorite shows. The heroes formed a sort of detective agency that did more saving of lives than actual mystery solving. The main villains of the show came from an evil law firm known as Wolfram & Hart. While there are a lot of jokes about how evil lawyers are, this show took that to the extreme and connected lawyers to several hell dimensions. One of those lawyers was a southern boy played by the awesome Christian Kane. He was tough as nails and was eventually grizzled and buff. When he first appeared, his main strength was that he was one hell of a lawyer (pun intended). Time and again, it is proven off camera and on camera that he is a great lawyer. While he represents vampires and demons, he often did his best to prevent his clients or his firm from carrying out truly heinous acts. He was not a good guy but he had a moral code even if he did want to kill the title character on more than one occasion.


8 Rafael Barba (Law and Order: SVU)
Assistant District Attorney

Really, I could have picked almost any Assistant District Attorney from the Law and Order series to put in this spot. The Law and Order ADAs are often excellent at their jobs. They are very charismatic and they speak with great eloquence and know just how to play witnesses like they were musical instruments. Of course, this leads to overly melodramatic moments that would probably never actually happen in court but it makes for good television. What impresses me most about these ADAs is their knowledge and command of case law. Almost every lawyer on the show knows key cases at the drop of a hat which convinces the judge to see things their way. After law school, most lawyers do not memorize these things anymore because even memorizing local landmark cases is way too much information to retain. Besides, that is what research is for. The ADAs are also very good at convincing judges to make decisions without putting in motions. This is not entirely out of the realm of possibility in real courthouses as this sort of thing falls under a judge’s discretion. However, most judges like having some paper to point at when somebody asks why they made their decision. I picked Rafael Barba for this spot specifically because he seemed to me to be the most professional and least emotional lawyer of the bunch. He assigned to Special Victims Unit and has to try some very difficult cases and it feels like he really never let it get to him too much.


7 Alan Shore (Boston Legal) – Defense Lawyer

Alan Shore is unequivocally an asshole, a fact that becomes more and more clear as the series progresses. However, he usually uses that power for a good cause. He has an undying loyalty toward his client and champions for their right to a fair trial no matter what. He works for a huge multinational law firm called Crane, Poole and Schmidt which largely handles both civil and criminal cases. He is an extremely competent lawyer who is very good at reading people and finding a path to victory when defeat is certain. He specializes in what he calls pulling a rabbit out of his hat. He creates sensational stunts to win cases in the eleventh hour when things are looking dark. It is clear that he also knows how to use case law and actual lawyering to win cases. He often has to resort to his strange tactics because the firm gives him the strangest and most difficult cases. They do this because he is a very self-destructive person who delights in instigating the people around him. He also bends the rules constantly which is another reason why the firm throws him the bad cases to try and get rid of him. As the show progresses, he works at evolving as a person and a lawyer and gets better every episode. This reminds me that I need to watch more of this show.


6 Stewart Sanderson (The Grinder)
Trial Lawyer

When we meet Stew, he is a somewhat downtrodden lawyer who works at his father’s law firm. While he technically works for his father and another partner, he acts as the boss of the law firm. We see him leading meetings, deciding case strategy and assigning cases and work to lawyers and assistants at the office. The tiny firm does good work and obviously,  Stew is an extremely competent lawyer. Throughout the one and only season of this show, we see that he is very adept at doing his research and clearing cases the right way. In the pilot, he clearly remembers a lot of landmark decisions because he is able to pull just the right ones to convince the judge to make the correct decision. He knows the rules and he sticks to them because it gets results. His one weakness is that he is not very good at speaking in court. He relies too much on note cards and does not speak with any fluidity and finds it difficult to adapt his strategy. Enter Dean Sanderson, Stew’s big brother. Through exposure to Dean’s hammy acting and superior confidence, Stew begins a journey where he becomes more confident and therefore a stronger lawyer.


5 Laurel Lance (Arrow) –
Defense Lawyer/Assistant District Attorney

In a show that involves law enforcement and vigilantes, it is a little weird that there are so few lawyers that we see. Of course, most of the show hinges on action and drama and there is no time to slow down and show some courtroom drama. Laurel has worked hard all of her life to do what is right and protect the people around her. The first we see of her, she is working as a defense lawyer who largely represents poorer clients. One of the themes of the show is about class differences so this was a perfect starting point for her character. As the daughter of a cop, she was in a great position to see both sides of things and decided to defend people legally instead of physically. While the show does not focus on her that much, we see that she is a great lawyer. She eventually gets hired on as Assistant District Attorney, a position she uses to team up with her father and secretly with the vigilantes. While normally I would question a lawyer for bending or breaking the rules by working with a vigilante, she is working in an extremely corrupt system. When things are wrong, you have to do what it takes to make them right without crossing major moral boundaries. In the end, she blurs those boundaries by becoming a vigilante herself but she still operates as a lawyer.


4 Constance Griffiths (Life)
Legal Aid/Assistant District Attorney

Few people seem to know about this show but I will continue to champion it until my final breath. The whole show is put into motion by Constance who takes a wrongly accused police officer’s case pro bono. She is able to use DNA evidence to exonerate Charlie and get him the best and weirdest settlement that I have ever heard of. We know from what we see of her that Constance has a big brain and even bigger heart. She does not believe that the innocent should be left to languish in jail and fights for the rights of the falsely accused. She is a one woman Innocence Project. Throughout the show, she deals with a client that has some interesting and potentially annoying personal quirks with ease. She fights to make sure that her client keeps their end of the bargain and protects him at every turn. When it is clear that she has become romantically connected to her client, she removes herself from the position. Her hard work pays off and she is offered a position as an Assistant District Attorney and I always believed that she was probably very fair and ethical in that job.


3 Caroline Julian (Bones)
Prosecutor

At first glance, Caroline is a bit of a bulldog. She is a prosecutor who works directly with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. She seems to be assigned all of the cases that come from crimes investigated by the partnership between the Jeffersonian Museum and the FBI. She comes across as humorless and has little time for nonsense as she helps investigate cases. She works hard to get the FBI good legal standing and open up doors to allow them to investigate. She is key in getting warrants and clearing obstacles that stand between investigators and the evidence they need. As the show progresses, we see Caroline become more comfortable in being more personable. She works to make things run smoother in the FBI offices and Jeffersonian Labs in the interests of being more efficient. Through it all, she retains the ability to be very intimidating but also later becomes more of a mama bear in the cast. While we do not really get to see her in court, we know she is dead set on following the rules and is instrumental in the cast’s success rate.


2 Foggy Nelson (Daredevil)
General Private Practice

While it would have been easy to put Matt Murdock himself in this spot, we know that Matt has an unfair advantage while plying his trade. Matt can literally monitor a witness’ heartbeat during testimony and is basically a human lie detector. Also, while he is kicking butt on the streets, he often neglects his actual job. Foggy Nelson turns out to be an even better lawyer. He works day and night for his clients and it shows in the bags under his eyes and the beers that he drinks after work. When we first meet him, he is a little too eager to take shortcuts to get clients and clear cases but he has evolved quite a bit on the show. He does his research and he and Matt are able to make a name for their little law firm. One of the main reasons I gave this spot to Foggy is the moment where he was forced to deliver an opening statement on the spot without any preparation and he knocked it out of the park. He also was able to do the same kind of thing in the middle of a knife fight which saved a lot of lives. He is a good man and a good lawyer.


1 Cliff McCormack (Veronica Mars)
Public Defender

Finally, we come to one of my all-time favorite television shows. I mourn its cancellation more than Firefly’s cancellation because every single character was awesome and I wanted a billion of their stories. One of those characters was Cliff McCormack, a public defender, and a working class lawyer. He associated with the Mars family because it is wise for lawyers to use private investigators and for private investigators to have lawyers handy. They form a friendship which Cliff is loyal to a hundred percent. I really, really love Cliff as a lawyer. He always has a hundred cases on his plate but never seems to let any of them down. He has a personal code of ethics and although he may come off as slimy, he is anything but. He even tells a rich murder suspect (a client who could net him a lot of more lucrative cases) to hire a better lawyer. While he is not above using tricks to win cases, none of those tricks involve him breaking the law. He is charming, hard-working and successful.

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