Lawyers are considered by many to be a necessary evil in life, and since art imitates life (or is it the other way around?), you’re bound to encounter portrayals of the law on television. Some lawyers are intimidatingly good at their job in dramatic roles, but their incompetence drives a number of comedies as well. Whether you’re on the right or wrong side of the law, we decided it was high time we ranked some of our favorite lawyers on television; the good, the bad, and the downright reckless. Whether you’re trying to learn how to get away with murder, or you just fancy highbrow dialogue dressed in a snappy suit, we encourage you to stick around and enjoy the litigation!
10 Barry Zuckerkorn – Arrested Development
In the case of Barry Zuckerkorn, we are only using the term “best” in terms of entertainment value. We mean, his character in Arrested Development is so memorable, so we had to rank him, but unfortunately for the Bluth family, most of the comedy from Arrested Development comes from the fact that he’s not a very good lawyer. He thinks bail bonds are refundable; has his own trouble with the law when he mistakes undercover officers for sex workers, and often has to make his own court appearances for his own misconduct that have direct scheduling conflicts with his ability to represent the Bluths. Do you expect anything different from a character portrayed by Henry Winkler?
9 Ally McBeal – Ally McBeal
Ally McBeal was one of those legal dramas that could have been a sitcom. While Ally McBeal’s life and career were centered around the law, and the series is known for its dramatic flare, it’s the intrapersonal relationships that surround the legalese that drive the series. Ally McBeal is also chock-full of seasons-long gags that made the show recognized for its comedy despite its dramatic nature. One of the running gags in the series is the unisex bathroom at Cage, Fish & McBeal, where conversations that were thought to be held in private were overheard in full detail.
8 Jack McCoy – Law & Order
When it comes to utilizing ruthless tactics to make sure justice is served, look no further than “Hang ‘em High McCoy,” otherwise known as Jack McCoy from the television drama Law & Order. Even though he’s been in contempt of court dozens of times for his unorthodox approach to the law, he is coming from a good spot when he utilizes as many loopholes as possible to get a charge to stick to a defendant when the original charges do not. McCoy is clearly doing something right, because he appeared in 18 seasons, and even occasionally crossed over into Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, and Law & Order: Trial by Jury.
7 Rafael Barba – Law & Order: SVU
Did you think we’d mention the OG Law & Order without then quickly pivoting to Law & Order: Special Victims Unit? We had to take a quick detour to give ADA Rafael Barba a look for his ability to play the devil’s advocate, and function as a friendly foil to Olivia Benson when guiding her through the often complicated legal red tape in advocating for sexual assault victims. Though at first glance it may seem like he’s just being a jerk, Barba is intimidatingly well-read, and knows the law like the back of his hand. Sometimes his delivery is harsh while providing counsel to the precinct, but his delivery is not without good intention; we’re talking about trying to put heinous people behind bars, and that’s the common goal in Law & Order: SVU. In short, Rafael Barba is a man who uses his knowledge to move prosecution into the right direction.
6 Lionel Hutz – The Simpsons
Much like Barry Zuckerkorn, we have to talk about the late, great, and sorely missed Phil Hartman, and his portrayal of the bumbling, alcoholic, and incompetent lawyer, Lionel Hutz. Hutz operates out of the Springfield mall, is widely considered to be a sleazy discount lawyer, and unfortunately, the only lawyer the Simpson family could afford at times of trouble. If you want solid legal counsel, you might want to get the nameless Blue-Haired Lawyer from the series on your team. But if you’re just looking to get a good belt of scotch at nine in the morning, then Hutz is your guy. It’s safe to say that The Simpsons hasn’t been the same since Phil Hartman’s untimely death, but the show must go on.
5 Jackie Chiles – Seinfeld
We have one singular question in regard to Jackie Chiles from Seinfeld, and that question is “why’d you put the balm on the burn?!” Chiles is a parody of real life lawyer Johnnie Cochran, and he’s extremely animated and forward in his delivery. Like Rafael Barba, Chiles is egregiously well-read, and has an expensive vocabulary. To this day, Seinfeld fans could be heard calling anything they consider to be out of pocket “outrageous, egregious, preposterous!”
4 Donny Douglas – Frasier
If you ever find yourself in need of counsel for divorce court, you need a lawyer on your side who is absolutely unflappable, and Donny Douglas from Frasier is just that kind of lawyer. Let’s talk about his introduction to the series as a recurring character. Niles is being bled dry financially by his soon-to-be ex-wife, Maris, and Frasier urges Niles to get an appointment with Donny as a Hail Mary attempt to wrap up the divorce proceedings. Donny barges into the office, clearly coming straight from the gym, and is seemingly more into his pastrami sandwich than he is hearing Nile’s plea for help. The truth is actually that Donny is a pro, and he’s on a time crunch.
While whipping off his dirty gym socks, eating his sandwich, and getting into a towel before suiting up for trial, he quickly throws on his earpiece, calls Maris’ legal team, and does the unthinkable: he moves the trial forward in a 30-second phone call. This is exactly why other lawyers call Donny “The Piranha.” Well, he also has pointy teeth from a night grinding problem, but we’d be violating client-attorney privilege if we went any further into that.
3 Annalise Keating – How to Get Away with Murder
When Annalise Keating isn’t found chugging down bottles of expensive vodka and rambling notes into her tape recorder, she’s on the straight and narrow and switching over to vanilla ice cream and potato chips. Keating is not without vice and inner turmoil, but she is one hell of a lawyer, and an even better professor. And if you’re a fan of the series, you’d know how necessary these vices are to get through the insanity that is thrust into her life from mostly external sources.
There’s no way to talk about her character without spoiling every aspect of How to Get Away with Murder, but we will tell you this: Annalise Keating is a master of 4D chess, and is competent in her coverups, collusion, and counsel to her clients, her students, and tying up any loose end and curveball that comes her way. If you want to see an expert in action, then you have to give How to Get Away with Murder a shot.
2 Arthur Hobbs – How I Met Your Mother
Arthur Hobbs is a high ranking lawyer on retainer at Goliath National Bank, and is Marshall Eriksen’s boss in How I Met Your Mother. Arthur is ruthless, sleazy, and treats his subordinates like garbage, but it’s a source of comedy in the series. We rank him second because we believe that this role was a primer for Bob Odenkirk to become one of the greatest TV lawyers of all time, and that Lawyer is Saul Goodman.
1 Saul Goodman – Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul
When you’re running a meth syndicate, or getting thrown behind bars for all sorts of misdemeanor or felony charges, you don’t want a criminal lawyer. You want a criminal lawyer. Saul Goodman, formerly known as Jimmy McGill, and then later known as Gene Takovic, is such a lawyer. Other aliases include Slippin’ Jimmy, and that guy in the crazy colored suits. Saul Goodman is a complex character who once had an origin with good intentions. Goodman had a fair shake at corporate law, elder law, and public defense, but his inherent hatred for authority had him take a different route in his legal career.
Is there a better way to stick it to the man by maliciously complying to the law, and maybe bending a few rules as well to get some dangerous people back on the street, and also make a boatload of money? If there is, Saul doesn’t want to hear it. Who knew that an ancillary character who was only supposed to have a couple episodes worth of screen time would become such a beloved character that he’d end up in a spinoff as successful as Frasier? To put it simply, Saul Goodman is the machine that drives Breaking Bad, and that’s the brass tacks with Better Call Saul.