Shows with lawyers at the center of the action are some of the most engaging series on TV and while they entertain millions of fans with their courtroom drama, viewers who work in the legal profession appreciate the justice-seeking stories for reasons that go beyond the initial draw. We asked real attorneys, associates and partners to rank their favorite shows about lawyers and tell us what puts each series in the top five.
1. Damages (FX, Audience Network)
Despite being off the air since 2012, Damages came in at No. 1, with entertainment attorney David Yung Ho Kim calling the show “cinematic and overly aggressive.” The award-winning series starred Glenn Close as lawyer Patty Hewes and Rose Byrne as her protégée, Ellen Parsons. While Damages won over fans with its griping drama, it was the series’ star that nabbed this show the top spot. “Glenn Close creates a compelling, complex and ruthless character,” said Connecticut lawyer David Draper.
Los Angeles attorney Melissa K. Dagodag also mentioned the word “compelling,” though she admitted that “the intrigue was over the top.” She pointed out the series’ irresistible qualities, saying, “Glenn Close and Rose Byrne were simply superb. And, let’s face it, a good villain and revenge themes keep us coming back for more.”
2. Law & Order: SVU (NBC)
Nikita Bhargava, an associate at Reavis Page Jump law firm in New York, chose Law & Order: SVU as one of her favorites, saying, “I can binge watch episodes of this without batting an eye. There is something morbid and curious about the worst types of criminals and crimes, and this show is an expert in highlighting it.”
Karen Gottlieb, a partner at Grubman Shire Meiselas & Sacks, also included the long-running series among her top five. “Featuring the impressive acting skills of [my firm’s] client Mariska Hargitay, this show places a well-deserved spotlight on fictionalized versions of real-life crimes being reported in the media,” she explained.
3. The Night Of (HBO)
“While this series is a short one, it is packed with intensity and top-notch performances across the board,” said Dagodag. HBO’s eight-episode miniseries, The Night Of, starred Riz Ahmed as a college student who wakes up to find that he’s been charged with murder. “At its heart, this show is about the pursuit of truth and how human and institutional flaws can prevent the truth from being known.”
Cassandra Spangler, Esq., a music attorney from New York, said that she feels the show is “one of the most realistic portrayals of the legal system.” She explained, “It highlights the many flaws in the criminal justice system, as well as the unique relationship between lawyer and client.”
4. The Good Wife (CBS)
The legal professionals we spoke to related to The Good Wife’s Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies) and her direct modus operandi. “For awhile I walked around quoting her where she says in one show to a room of lawyers talking over each other: ‘OK, OK, we’re in the situation we’re in, so what do we do about it,’” said former family law lawyer Janette Watt. “That’s the way a lot of lawyers approach their clients’ cases and, if they’re wise like Alicia’s character, their own lives,” she said.
Dagodag chose The Good Wife as one of her favorite legal-themed shows because “the acting on this show was superb and the stories had a genuinely human, relatable element. Plus, they showed lawyers who actually cared, which is not the case with many shows depicting lawyers.”
5. Suits (USA Network)
Suits may be based on a rocky legal premise–a seasoned lawyer, Harvey Specter (Gabriel Macht), hiring Mike Ross (Patrick J. Adams) to work as an associate despite the latter lacking a law degree–but according to Watt, the show appeals to those in the profession due to a familiar theme.
“At the beginning of our careers we want to be the brilliant student sought out by the brilliant lawyer,” she said. “And eventually along the way, we all want to be seen as the other.”
While Dagodag (who grew up with the Macht family in Beverly Hills) admitted that the show is “essentially a soap opera with attractive characters and decent location budgets,” she said that’s why it works.
And according to Gottlieb, Suits “highlights how a great legal mind can formulate daring strategies to the client’s advantage.” She also revealed, “The writing is so good that a certain celebrity client of mine (who shall be nameless) is convinced this series is not only inspiring [former star Meghan Markle], but teaching her how to be a lawyer!”