DuetsBlog Collaborations in Creativity & the Law

The Top 10 Lawyers of TV and Film: Numbers 1-5

Posted in Articles, Mixed Bag of Nuts, Television

In case you missed yesterday’s post, my colleague Derek Allen and I finally answered the age-old question: What’s better than a post by a DuetsBlog writer? Obviously, a DuetsBlog post by 2 DuetsBlog writers, especially these guys (you can’t tell but we’re pointing our thumbs at ourselves).

We’re sure you’d love to hear us both eloquently debate and disparage each other’s opinions on just about any topic, but we decided to start with our top 10 fictional lawyers from television and film.  Yesterday was 6-10 and today, we make the big reveal: numbers 1-5. Who will be out on the town celebrating tonight? Who will be considered the biggest snub? Dear readers, you won’t know unless you join us below the jump . . .

#5 Ben Matlock (Matlock, 1986-1995)

Derek: My dad watched so much Matlock when I was a kid that I’m genuinely surprised that his silhouette wasn’t burned into our TV.  That being said, I will forever be ashamed that he made this list over Perry Mason.  (Sobs uncontrollably like the true killer after a Perry Mason cross-examination.)

Tim: So why does Matlock make the list and Perry Mason, Denny Crane, and (insert name of whomever you can’t believe didn’t make the list) not? Good question, tell us why we’re wrong, because we probably are (at least with Matlock). Going back and refreshing my memory about Matlock, I don’t know either. I felt like I needed to include him on the list, and so did Derek. I guess its a testament the power of marketing and pop culture. Wikipedia describes him as “folksy” and “cantankerous,” which doesn’t help shake the perception that it is a show mostly for old people. Matlock keeps the innocent from going to jail (usually for murder), he likes hot dogs, and, as far as I can tell, is the only person on this list to successfully defend a man accused of murder in both the United States and in England. And he isn’t a peeper.

There, I think I’ve successfully tricked myself into thinking this was an acceptable choice.

#4 Saul Goodman (Breaking Bad, 2008-2013)

Derek:  I know you told me that you haven’t seen Breaking Bad (BTW, this revelation made my face feel like I had just opened the Ark of the Covenant), so you’re not in the best position to judge Saul Goodman.  I’m just going to spit some facts at you and I’m pretty sure you’re going to agree that he is a top-fiver.  Fact 1: His real last name is McGill, but he changed it to Goodman because of the belief that people like to have a Jewish lawyer. (From the man himself: “My real name’s McGill. The Jew thing I just do for the homeboys. They all want a pipe-hitting member of the tribe, so to speak.”).  Fact 2: Like our friend Lionel Hutz, his law degree comes from a tropical U.S. Territory, in this case American Samoa.  Fact 3: The inside of his office has Roman-style columns and the walls consist solely of a giant reproduction of the U.S. Constitution.  Fact 4:  He is honest with his clients: “Look, let’s start with some tough love, alright? Ready for this? Here it goes: you two suck at peddling meth. Period.”  Fact 5: He somehow got through the show without dying.  Add in the fact that he’s getting his own spinoff, and he might end up even closer to the top when all is said and done.

Tim: I may not have seen Breaking Bad (while we’re at it, I haven’t seen House of Cards, either), but I do love all things Bob Odenkirk. If you like sketch comedy and haven’t seen Mr. Show with Bob and David, do yourself a favor and change that fact. I don’t have to see Breaking Bad though to appreciate the simplicity and effectiveness of his slogan, “Better Call Saul.” I think Pinkman sets the character up perfectly in, what I assume is one of the first episodes, stating that “when the going gets tough, you don’t want a criminal lawyer, you want a criminal lawyer.”

#3 Maurice Levy (The Wire, 2002-2008)

Derek: Although he’s been described as “the most repulsive piece of garbage in the city of Baltimore” by one of The Wire’s reviewers and the character pretty much single-handedly caused people to question whether The Wire was anti-Semitic, Maury Levy is undoubtedly one of TV’s great lawyers.  And unlike the other lawyers on this list, The Wire’s realism made sure that Levy played by the rules that govern real life lawyers like the Rules of Criminal Procedure and the Rules of Professional Responsibility (sort of).  This alone merits his inclusion on the list.

Tim: I haven’t made it through all of The Wire yet, but I always assumed that Levy would find redemption somehow. Your comment above doesn’t completely foreclose that option so I’ll continue to have hope. No spoilers, please.

#2 Jackie Chiles (Seinfeld, 1989-1998)

Tim: When you have nine full seasons on NBC, your show will eventually need to add a lawyer character. Seinfeld hit the jackpot with Jackie Chiles, a fictional lawyer whose initials, mannerisms, and delivery are not-so-subtly based on well-known defense attorney, Johnnie Cochran. He is willing to assist his clients in all situations, be they injurious, erroneous, or felonious. Jackie represents Kramer in a handful of civil suits, as well as representing the whole Seinfeld crew in their criminal trial for violation of the Good Samaritan law. Jackie is the rare breed of fictional lawyer who is actually a good lawyer, but unfortunately, Kramer continually snatches defeat from the jaws of victory. Jackie’s initial consultation with Kramer regarding his hot coffee claim is the sitcom equivalent of an issue spotting a torts exam, of course, Kramer later settles with the company for “free coffee,” before the company mentions the second part of the offer ($50,000). Chiles eventually wises up and tries to keep Kramer away, but a chance to sue Big Tobacco is his downfall.

Derek: Don’t tell anyone, but I stole his best line and tell every single client I meet with, “Your face is my case!”  Non-competes, breach of warranty, stockholder disputes, doesn’t matter.  If you hire me, your face will be my case.  All seriousness aside, his two-minute opening argument in the Good Samaritan case taught me more about lawyering than three years of law school and three years at Winthrop & Weinstine combined.

#1 Atticus Finch -(To Kill A Mockingbird, 1962)

Tim: Well, I guess we’re not breaking any new ground here. We never explained what we meant by “best,” but whatever it is, I’m pretty sure Atticus Finch is it. Not to mention, it seems to fit well with Tiffany’s post this week. There are a lot of stories from lawyers, professors, and judges who cite Atticus Finch and his defense of Tom Robinson as one of their inspirations in becoming a lawyer. There are also some who think it is time to take Atticus off this pedestal.  What isn’t debatable though, is that the character has had, and continues to have, a profound effect on law students and lawyers of many generations. Given the other cultural portrayals of lawyers cited above, we certainly could use a few more Atticus Finches.

Derek: Atticus Finch is surely the Michael Jordan of fictional lawyers and, like you, I never had any doubt that he should top this list.  Like Mike, however, he isn’t infallible and I’m here to computer-scream his biggest misstep.  HOW DO YOU NOT MOVE FOR A CHANGE OF VENUE IN THE TOM ROBINSON CASE?  Here’s a protip for you aspiring trial attorneys out there: anytime you know that members of the jury were also part of the mob that tried to lynch your client, GO AHEAD AND BRING THAT TO THE COURT’S ATTENTION!  In any event, this character has almost certainly inspired more lawyers than any other lawyer in history (real or fictional) and for that reason he rightly sits atop almost every list like this.

Epilogue

Well friends, there you have it. The top 10 fictional lawyers. On a final note, Derek and I were discussing our list today and noticed that the only female attorneys that made the list were Maggie as part of the Arrested Development crew and Ally McBeal’s honorable mention. We came to the conclusion that this says more about Hollywood than it does us. We desperately hope you agree.