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After a long day at the office, there is nothing like relaxing with a TV show that helps you forget the stressful day. For many, television is the perfect company for fun and entertainment, even when the programs may relate to your chosen profession.
While the idea for television and TV programs may have been in the works for over 100 years, the technology experienced explosive growth beginning in the 1940s and 1950s. Since appearing in people’s lives, TV has become a major part of our society.
Millions of families across the globe gather around the television to watch sports, seek entertainment, gather information, or simply hang out. Additionally, many major television moments make major waves across communities, perhaps even bringing some activities to a standstill, while people watch the final chapter of a beloved series or observe major moments like the moon landing.
Over time, the types of networks and the content of programs have also increased. People can watch news, comedy shows, reality shows, game shows, documentaries, dramas, and more. In addition, the ways to consume shows originally developed for TV have increased: satellite, traditional cable programming, streaming platforms, etc.
Even as television has grown and continued to expand, lawyers and the law have been consistent features in various programs. Beginning in the era of Perry Mason, audiences have been captivated by the administration of justice, the prosecution of crime, and the legal profession as a whole.
We invite you to take a moment to relax by checking out this list of 20 television shows about lawyers and the law. Then, take a look at what our clients, colleagues, and friends had to say about legal TV, their favorite shows, and their least favorite programs.
Remembering Norm Macdonald
Before getting into our list, we send sincere condolences to the friends, family, and loved ones of Norm Macdonald, who recently passed away due to cancer at the age of 61. While Norm was a great comic, talk show guest, and newsman, he also was the original actor portraying no-nonsense attorney Roger Edwards on the television series NewsRadio. Norm will be greatly missed.
20 Iconic Television Shows
Plot: Ally McBeal is a young, single lawyer in search of love and fulfillment. She works for the fictitious Boston law firm Cage & Fish, where her ex-boyfriend and his new wife also work, as well as a money-obsessed boss and annoying receptionist.
Cast: Calista Flockhart, Courtney Thorne-Smith, Greg Germann, and Jane Krakowski.
Better Call Saul
Plot: In this spin-off of the hit television show Breaking Bad, James McGill is a New Mexico con man turned lawyer/public defender who eventually leaves behind his former identity and reinvents himself as the high-powered, flamboyant attorney Saul Goodman.
Cast: Bob Odenkirk, Rhea Seehorn, Jonathan Banks, Patrick Fabian, and Michael Mando.
Seasons: 5 (6th season expected in 2022)
Plot: Boston Legal follows Alan Shore and his colleagues at the law firm Crane, Poole & Schmidt. Alan is often considered the best attorney in the firm and builds his reputation by winning tough cases others would not accept, though perhaps by ethically dubious methods.
Cast: James Spader, Julie Bowen, Mark Valley, Candice Bergen, and William Shatner.
Plot: Dr. Jason Bull is a psychologist and scientific evidence expert who uses his skills to select the ideal jurors for his clients’ cases, while also helping attorneys decide which arguments will be most persuasive to the jurors at trial.
Cast: Michael Weatherly, Freddy Rodriguez, Geneva Carr, Christopher Jackson, Jaime Lee Kirchner
Seasons: 5 (6th season expected in late 2021)
Plot: Patty Hewes, a brilliant but ruthless attorney, and her protégé Ellen Parsons are the faces of the Hewes & Associates law firm. Both attorneys work to fight corruption, but Hewes more closely adheres to a peculiar values system that benefits her own interests, while Parsons seeks a way to balance ethics and ambition.
Cast: Glen Close, Rose Byrne, Tate Donovan, and Ted Danson.
Plot: Matt Murdock is a blind attorney living in Hell’s Kitchen. Murdock’s day job is working with his colleague Foggy Nelson to restore order and protect others by fighting crime in the courts. After hours, Murdock turns to his crime-fighting, superhero alter ego: Daredevil.
Cast: Charlie Cox, Vincent D’onofrio, Elden Henson, Deborah Ann Woll, and Rosario Dawson.
Plot: Andy Barber, is a respected Massachusetts assistant district attorney with a strong footing in the community and a beloved family. Everything changes when his son, Jacob, is accused of murdering his classmate, and Barber and his family are forced to reckon with the situation.
Cast: Chris Evans, Michelle Dockery, Jaeden Martell, and Pablo Schreiber.
Network: Apple TV
Drop Dead Diva
Plot: Jane is a smart lawyer fighting for the common good but battling low self-esteem. Deb is an aspiring model who is hyper-fixated on her appearance. Following an accident, Deb’s soul lodges in Jane’s body, forcing the separate two worlds to collide and teaching Deb that there is more to life than physical beauty and worrying about others’ opinions.
Cast: Brooke Elliott, April Bowlby, Jackson Hurst, Ben Feldman, and Kate Levering.
Plot: Billy McBride was a successful attorney with a promising career who hit rock bottom after being fired from the law firm he helped build. Now, Billy has the opportunity to revive his career and get revenge against his former firm.
Cast: Billy Bob Thorton, Tania Raymonde, Nina Arianda, and Julie Brister.
Network: Amazon Prime
Seasons: 3 (4th Season Expected This Month)
The Good Wife
Plot: After 13 years of retirement, Alicia Florrick returns to practicing law after her husband is imprisoned for his role in a corruption scandal. She must decide whether to continue supporting her husband, in addition to battling envy, intrigue, and scandal to protect her family.
Cast: Julianna Marguiles, Matt Czuchry, Christine Baranski, and Makenzie Vega.
Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law
Plot: Harvey Birdman abandoned his life as a superhero to begin anew as a lawyer fighting crime and seeking justice with Sebben and Sebben. In this cartoon series, superhero villains are rival lawyers and the clients are famous cartoon characters, such as Top Cat, The Flintstones, Scooby-Doo, The Jetsons, Yogi Bear, and more.
Cast: Gary Cole, Stephen Colbert, Paget Brewster, and Peter MacNicol.
Genre: Cartoon Sitcom/Parody
Network: Cartoon Network/Adult Swim
How to Get Away With Murder
Plot: Annalise Keating is a brilliant criminal lawyer and renowned professor at Middleton University. Each year, Keating selects four of her students to become interns in her firm where they are forced to apply their classroom learning, while also uncovering the dark truths of a murder case.
Cast: Viola Davis, Billy Brown, Jack Falahee, Karla Souza, and Aja Naomi King.
Plot: Judge Judy Sheindlin is a former prosecutor and family court judge who now presides over the “courtroom” in her arbitration-based television series where real people come seeking resolution and justice for their small claims.
Cast: Judge Judy Sheindlin.
Genre: Arbitration-based Reality-TV
Plot: After separating from her husband, Harvard-educated lawyer Amy Gray, returns to Hartford, Connecticut to become a judge for family law cases at the Connecticut Supreme Court. The series was inspired by the story of Superior Court Judge Frederica Brenneman, Amy Brenneman’s mother.
Cast: Amy Brenneman, Ellen Tyne Daly, Marcus Giamatti, Jessica Tuck, and Karle Warren.
Plot: Once referred to as “television’s most serious attempt to date to portray American law and the people who practice it” by the New York Times, this series centers on the fictitious law firm Mckenzie, Brackman, Chaney & Kuzak and its controversial cases dealing hot topic issues, such as the death penalty, racism, sexual harassment, homophobia, and domestic violence.
Cast: Richard Dysart, Alan Rachis, Corbin Bernsen, Jill Eikenberry, Susan Dey and Michael Tucker.
Law & Order (and Law & Order SVU)
Plot: Law & Order is perhaps one of the most prolific franchises in television history. The original series Law & Order spawned several spin-offs, such as SVU (Special Victims Unit), Criminal Intent, Trial by Jury, and Organized crime. Arguably the most successful of these spin-offs have been Law & Order SVU. Each episode in the franchise generally follows the same format where viewers follow the investigation and prosecution of a crime, followed by the trial and resolution. The original Law & Order focused on general crime, while Law & Order SVU is focused on sexually-based offenses.
Cast: Jerry Orbach, Jesse L. Martin, Sam Waterson, Mariska Hargitay, Ice-T, Christopher Meloni, and Dann Florek.
Seasons: 20 (Law & Order), 23 (Law & Order SVU, 24th Season Expected This Month)
Plot: Ben Matlock is a renowned Atlanta criminal defense attorney with one goal: demonstrate sufficient reasonable doubt to win the case for his client. After a thorough investigation, Matlock often confronts the real culprit in court and exposes him on the stand, resulting in an acquittal for his clients.
Cast: Andy Griffith, Linda Purl, Nancy Stafford, and Julie Sommars.
Perry Mason (1957)
Plot: Perry Mason is a distinguished criminal defense attorney from Los Angeles, typically tasked with defending those wrongfully accused of murder. Throughout each chapter, Mason introduces his team, his clients, and the facts of the investigation. He then proceeds to trial where new evidence and moral questions often arise.
Cast: Raymond Burr, Barbara Hale, William Hopper, and Ray Collins.
Plot: Bobby Donnell leads the Boston law firm Donnell, Young, Dole & Frutt. The firm handles high-profile criminal and civil cases that often test the lawyers’ balance between their chosen profession and their personal moral and ethical codes.
Cast: Dylan McDermott, Kelli Williams, Steve Harris, Camryn Manheim, and LisaGay Hamilton.
Plot: Mike Ross is a brilliant college dropout that, through a series of interesting events, finds himself working as an associate attorney for Harvey Specter, despite not having ever graduated law school. Ross and Specter find great success in many cases but are forced to go to great lengths to hide the truth about Ross.
Cast: Gabriel Macht, Patrick J. Adams, Meghan Markle, Sarah Rafferty, and Rick Hoffman.
Network: USA Network
What Do People Think About Legal TV Shows?
We also asked our readers for their opinions on the shows in this list, as well as the legal genre in television. More than 97% of participants indicated they had watched a lawyer or legal television show and just over 95% of people indicated that they liked or enjoyed these legal tv programs. Here are their opinions on the best shows, as well as some of the least popular options:
Most Popular Lawyer Television Shows
Law and Order wins the competition and is undoubtedly the most popular legal television series amongst our readers with 61% of respondents rating it in their top three favorite shows. Suits came in second place with just over 46% of participants ranking it in their top three, followed by How to Get Away With Murder being ranked in the top three by 36.6% of respondents.
Least Popular Lawyer Television Shows
The American icon Judge Judy has one of the least popular television shows, at least amongst our Justia Onward readers: 41.9% ranked the show in their bottom three. Despite being amongst the most popular television programs chosen by the participants in our poll, How to Get Away With Murder was also ranked as the second least favorite show amongst readers with 25.8% placing it in their three least favorite lawyer television series. Drop Dead Diva, Daredevil, and Law and Order tied for the final shows ranked among our readers’ least favorite legal tv series, with 19.4% of respondents placing these programs in their bottom three choices.
Quick Takes From Our Readers
We also offered survey participants the opportunity to anonymously share the reasons why they do or do not enjoy legal television shows. Here are a sampling of their responses:
- “Drama in the cases combined with drama in characters’ personal lives — always a fun and interesting watch.”
- “It is interesting! Brings the procedural “reality” many outside the legal field don’t get to see to the masses.”
- “It’s like Sherlock Holmes. You have to observe and deduce.”
- “I like the drama and shouting at the TV when it’s unrealistic.”
- “Everyone looks good; lots of snappy dialogue.”
Less Favorable Opinions
- “Reminds me of work too much. Wildly inaccurate.”
- “They’re relatable, but only when they get stuff right. If they don’t get it right, then it’s annoying and I won’t watch.”
Final Thoughts: Why Do You Care?
As discussed in our previous posts about lawyers in film and songs about law, movies, music, and television shows may not help your legal marketing strategies. Nonetheless, they remain great tools to help you take a break from the daily work of your practice. Perhaps, during these moments of resting and recharging, you will find a new perspective on your own firm. However, you will almost certainly discover that taking these moments of R&R can help you better focus on the work of the coming day.