Let’s face it, television loves lawyers. More importantly, the lawyers (and non-lawyers) in our office love television! This week we’re bringing you our staff’s favorite fictional lawyers from novels, television and film.
Perry Mason was on the air for nine seasons from 1957 to 1966 on CBS. In every episodePerry (played by Raymond Burr) is a criminal defense attorney who by circumstance stumbles upon a body with his investigator who his client is accused of killing. In the courtroom scenes Perry dramatically exonerates his client by proving another character guilty, who almost always confesses on the witness stand. The thing that is so great about this show is how unbelievable it is. Perry Mason is the perfect attorney because he never loses a case. What is also so unbelievable is that the District Attorney, Hamilton Burger, has never lost his job even though he loses every single case to Perry Mason. He is probably the lawyer that many non-lawyers think a lawyer is.
Vincent “Vinny” Gambini
Vincent LaGuardia Gambini (Joe Pesci) is the title character in My Cousin Vinny. When Vinny’s cousin Billy and his friend Stan are wrongly accused of murder in Beecham County, Alabama he comes to the rescue. Vinny is a new personal injury lawyer with no trial experience and has tried six times in six years to pass the New York State Bar. Vinny eventually is able to get his cousin and his friend off the hook by proving their innocence but not after showing up to court in a ridiculous suit, using his girlfriend as an expert witness and confusing the judge with his heavy New York Accent.
Vinny: It is possible that the two yutes...
Judge: ...Ah, the two what? Uh... uh, what was that word?
V: Uh... what word?
J: Two what?
J: Uh... did you say 'yutes'?
V: Yeah, two yutes.
J: What is a yute?
V: Oh, excuse me, your honor... Two YOUTHS.
The fabled lawyer from Boston Legal and a minor character in The Practice (William Shatner) has apparently never lost a case. He claims that his win-loss record is 6043-0 and according to himself he is the greatest lawyer in history. The reason we love him so much is his eccentricities. He is obsessed with guns (keeping several in his desk), constantly shouts his own name to emphasize his point and he makes numerous Star Trek references.
The Verdict is Robert’s favorite legal movie; he used to watch the film before big trials. In the movie, Frank Galvin (Paul Newman) is an alcoholic lawyer down on his luck who takes on a medical malpractice case involving a woman in a vegetative state. Everyone involved in the lawsuit wants to settle and the defendant’s lawyers keep offering tiny sums of money to make the case go away. Even Galvin’s own clients are desperate and put pressure on him to settle the case, and his case gets much harder when his only witness to the case leaves the country when she is threatened, but he feels this is his last chance to do something right as a lawyer.
In the end, his witness returns and gives earth-shattering testimony. He delivers his closing statement urging the jury to seek out “truth and justice” for his clients. In the end he wins the case and the award for his clients far exceeds their expectations.
This movie is Robert’s biggest inspiration; he constantly fights to stand up for the client, the underdog, against the people who are holding all of the cards.
Rumpole of the Bailey was a British television series that ran for 7 seasons. Horace Rumpole (Leo McKern) is a criminal defense attorney who loves the courtroom. Over the years there have been multiple attempts by his friends and his wife, Hilda (whom he secretly calls: She Who Must Be Obeyed), to get him to secure a more suitable job for his age like a Circuit Judge, but he enjoys arguing far too much. Despite his love for defending the criminal classes, he has a firm set of ethics. He believes strongly in innocent until proven guilty and refuses to prosecute because he feels that it is better for him to defend the accused than to work to imprison them. Although this character is British, he is an excellent example of the American legal system and the rights that we all have to a fair trial.
Barry Zuckerkorn (Henry Winkler), from Arrested Development is one of the more comical lawyers on this list. He has been the Bluth family lawyer for years and according to Lucille Bluth, and his advertisements, “he is very good!” In reality, he sluggish and woefully unprepared for any legal action. He never researches claims and often puts his clients in a worse position. For instance when his client, George Bluth, goes to jail for defrauding investors, he is given a plea bargain written in a large binder by the prosecution. When Barry shows up the next day he tells his clients that he had not read the plea but that “you rarely ever get an offer this good!” The next day when they are supposed to respond to the plea deal he explains to the judge that he has in fact not read it because it is very long and that he will start right now. The Bluths, who are his only clients fire him in season three and he stops being a lawyer so that he can get a job in Reno.
Probably not as well known of a character but she is just as intriguing. Alesha Phillips (Freema Agyeman) is a Junior Crown Prosecutor on the show Law & Order UK, a British version of the well loved original. She grew up in a poor neighborhood in London with her single mother and was able to go to law school through hard work and acquiring scholarships. Due to her disadvantaged life she is able to empathize with the underdog in the cases that she helps prosecute and often reveals the shades of gray in the cases that she handles.
Billy Flynn is from the Broadway stage musical Chicago about several women accused of murder. He is an unscrupulous criminal defense attorney who goes to any means necessary to get his client off of the hook, so long as you have the money. He usually fabricates a sympathetic backstory for the accused and uses them to dazzle the jury and the press by turning them into celebrities. Due to these scheming tactics he has never lost a case. Unfortunately, his clients often get upstaged by his new cases that have more dazzling stories to tell. He may be a morally questionable lawyer but who could not love a singing, tap-dancing lawyer that promises to turn you into a star? Enough said.
This is the lawyer that most lawyers want to be, and if you are not a lawyer but find yourself in trouble he is the lawyer that you would want defending you. He is by far the favorite fictional lawyer of all time. Atticus Finch is the iconic lawyer from the book (later adapted into a movie): To Kill a Mockingbird written by Harper Lee in 1960. In this story (which centers mainly on his daughter, Scout) he defends Tom Robinson, a black man, who is falsely accused of raping a young white woman in 1936. He is a tireless crusader for just causes and fights for them even if they are hopeless. Throughout the book Atticus and his family are threatened by slander and physical violence by the people in his small town for defending this man. Even through all of this, he stands by Tom Robinson’s side (even by sitting outside of his cell to protect him before the trial) and teaches his children to not judge a person based on their race or status of being a social outcast.
Atticus finch is not only an excellent example of a lawyer but a good human being. He is what we strive to be.