OK, so we’ve covered our top 20 movie lawyers of all time. Now what about the legal dames of the small screen? There’s some seriously impressive characters of note who’ve taken their place in TV history so we’re giving the ladies of the law some screen time of their own right here.
What female TV characters do you think kick ass in the legal arena? Is your idol Patty Hewes, the ice cold, manipulative Damages queen or The Good Wife’s cool, defiant lawyer Mum, Alicia Florrick? Maybe you love sassy, single Donna Hulsen or Calista Flockhart’s neurotic 90s attorney in a mini skirt, Ally McBeal? Here’s our favourite female TV lawyers of all time.
1. Dianne Lockhart – The Good Wife
Elegant composed and ready for a fight, Dianne Lockhart from The Good Wife is one of my favourite lawyers on TV. A top litigator and firm Partner with a picture of Hilary Clinton on her desk, Lockhart has to contend with power struggles galore and manages to look calm and wise simultaneously. Passed over for a seat on the Illinois Supreme Court, Dianne still runs the firm with confidence and courage (with lawyers exiting left and right) and even mentors Florrick with that wry grin and those pointy, raised eyebrows. She’s classy and I love it.
“When the door you’ve been knocking at finally swings open, you don’t ask why. You run through.”
“I want what I’m worth.” (Editor’s note: don’t we all?! Pay equality anyone? Go YOU, Dianne.)
2. Ally McBeal – Ally McBeal
Loosely based on the personal traits of his stunning, neurotic wife, Michelle Pfeiffer (well, ‘allegedly’), David Kelley dreamed up one of the most famous and memorable lawyers of all time – the ditzy, quirky, charming, paranoid (hallucinations anyone?) wisp of a woman, Ally McBeal. With sex-fuelled dialogue, skimpy outfits, plenty of ‘isms’, awkward romance and caricature characters gracing our screens, this was legal farce at its best, with McBeal representing the opposite of the Type A, alpha female who we had come to expect from a TV attorney. As flighty and controversial as Ally was, we love her because she was a lawyer who was permitted to be a bit vague and insecure, transparent at times and above all, a romantic at heart, searching for love and her ultimate soul mate.
“I mean, with all due respect, you sort of walk around with uppity breasts, and the hair flips aren’t the most subtle. And your perfume – you could be flammable. Now what if somebody shut you down as a safety hazard, how would you feel then?”
“Law and love are the same – romantic in concept but the actual practice can give you a yeast infection.”
3. Patty Hewes – Damages
I’ll admit that I watched 3 seasons almost in one weekend, this show was that addictive. The brilliant ruthless alpha female attorney has more venom than a inland taipan and more calculated moves than Frank Underwood. She’s flawed, bitchy, arrogant, unapologetic and a complete workaholic but there’s something kind of defiant and appealing about her, especially as she takes on the big end of town and supports the little guy. Patty’s a complicated and complex anti-hero of sorts, a strong spitfire of a woman with astute legal skills, a strange sense of loyalty and a killer litigation instinct combined with a fair few ‘monster’ qualities which make her a force to contend with. In the end, it’s the mentor/mentee relationship with young Ellen Parsons (Rose Byrne) that is the most intriguing, which lives on despite Patty’s attempts to murder Ellen. Now that’s a seriously warped and destructive boss!
Patty Hewes:[to opposing counsel] “I’m not looking to destroy you. We attorneys survive: it’s the clients that come and go.”
“Everyone’s looking to play an angle.”
4. Alicia Florrick – The Good Wife
The lawyer-turned-stay-at-home Mum has captured our hearts and for good reason: Alicia’s a fighter who has been forced to overcome a politician husband sex scandal, a range of political dramas and a return to the competitive corporate ladder after a 15 year hiatus from the law, which is no small feat. Alicia struggles internally with the different aspects of her life and personality – wanting to be virtuous and alluring all at once whilst also reimagining and defining her role as a mother and a lawyer – making her multi-layered story a joy to watch.
Alicia Florrick: “Oh yes, it’s time to kick some ass.”
“I want a happy life, and I want to control my own fate.”
“OK this will make sense if I get more wine.”
5. Shirley Schmidt – Boston Legal
The founding member of Crane, Poole and Schmidt, Shirley is a formidable lawyer played by the unforgettable veteran, Candice Bergen, a woman who responded to a multitude of allegations by simply claiming “I’m Schmidt”. Shirley’s got a lot of bases covered, portrayed as dignified, sexy, savvy and successful, a woman who carefully juggles the affections of the males on the show with her own unique pizzaz.
Alan Shore: “Shirley? What about senior partners? There would be nothing wrong with me, lusting, say, after… you? Would there?”
Shirley Schmidt: “Go subscribe to National Geographic. Make a list of the places you’ll never get to visit. Add to that list, Schmidt.”
6. Jessica Pearson – Suits
The Managing Partner of big city law firm, Pearson Specter Litt, Pearson sassily sways around the office commanding respect from all who report to her – she’s a control freak whohas worked hard to build a legal life she’s proud of and she won’t let anyone stand in her way. There’s a touch of tenderness deep in the heart of Pearson but it’s certainly not an easy egg to crack. We like her because she can own Harvey if she wants to and that scores her serious street cred.
Harvey Specter: “What are you going to do?”
Jessica Pearson: “I’m going to break him down, and I’m going to crack him open.”
7. Martha Costello QC – Silk
Maxine Peake’s Costello is a relatively new entrant into the TV lawyer mob but we think it’s imperative to add a barrister into the mix, especially when she’s part of a stellar cast in a seriously watchable BBC legal drama. Silk follows a set of barristers in the wood-panelled Shoe Lane Chambers which includes Costello, an ambitious and feisty QC whose career is number one. Costello’s uncompromising in court and isn’t afraid to say what she thinks without all the stuffy legalese. Rumour has it this working class girl made good with lofty ideals is soon to become an American attorney to win over US audiences. Stay tuned.
“Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syallable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
the way to dusky death. Out, out, brief candle.”
(Ed note: The girl recites Macbeth for goodness sake – what’s not to love?)
8. Annalise Keating – How to Get Away With Murder
Don’t mess with Annalise Keating. Entering the legal genre with a bang this year was the ruthless Keating (played by charismatic Viola Davis), a ‘take no prisoners’ criminal law lecturer and law firm owner who runs a legal class called “How to Get Away with Murder”. Apparently a few bright, cocky young sparks in the defence attorney’s class take her seriously – they’re then caught up in a real life murder game and a chilling web of deceit. Bold, complex and nuanced, Keating’s got sass and she’s got secrets too. It may be a slightly unbelievable plot but the combination of toughness, passion and warmth has us sold on this TV lawyer.
“What you don’t understand, is not my concern.”
“Everything after this moment will not only define your career but your life.”
9. Miranda Hobbes – Sex and The City
Whilst the wildly popular SATC is firmly focused on sex, ‘Rabbits’, love and other bedroom dramas, who can forget one its favourite characters, Miranda Hobbes, the hard working, fiery haired lawyer who famously quits her job because of her misogynistic boss. Cynthia Nixon as Hobbes notched up an Emmy and a Screen Actors Guild Award and she regularly provided straight shooting phrases like “Remember when the economy was god and we had a table?” and “He’s just not that into you. So move on.”
“Women with candles have replaced women with cats as the new sad thing.”
“What’s the big mystery, it’s my clitoris, not the Sphinx.”
10. Alexandra Cabot – Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (SVU)
The lead character in the police crime drama, Cabot is the Assistant District Attorney, played by Stephanie March. Ballsy, bossy, clever and principled, Cabot’s striking courtroom prowess wins her serious lawyer points and her gutsy, sarcastic quips reel us in time after time. She is ‘the boss’.
Jim Steele: Do you actually believe what you’re saying or you just like to hear yourself say it?
Alexandra Cabot: Both. That’s why I’m the boss.
Capt. Donald Cragen: The law isn’t always about justice.
Alexandra Cabot: Who let you in on our dirty little secret? So there’s my wrap on the hottest TV lawyer dames around.
So there it is, folks. Perhaps lawyers are now crying out for a knockout female duo. I’m putting my money on a new show, coming to you soon. Not ‘Suits’. ‘Boots’. Two hot female lawyers kicking ass in 7-inch black suede booties, one killer case at a time. Too fluffy? Too feminine? Sexist even? Oh well. Sue me. ‘I’m a LAWYER. Don’t you know who I am?’ Hey, if Reese Witherspoon can mumble it to the LAPD, so can I.
Tell me, who’s your favourite female TV lawyer of all time?