The Ultimate Guide to the Law in Pop Culture Part I: TV Shows

Ultimate Guide to the Law in Pop Culture Part I - TV ShowsPlease welcome back guest writer, and current 2L, Jaclyn Wishnia, with her list of top tv shows to watch as a law student – you might learn a little while unwinding and binging some tv!

Want to unwind, but feel guilty about binging more lowbrow reality shows instead of studying? No problem. We have you covered with the ultimate list of legal entertainment to mitigate that conscience-stricken feeling. [*Cue Law & Order, et. al. sound].

1. The Good Wife

Partially inspired by several real-life political sex scandals, The Good Wife focuses on the wife of an incarcerated state’s attorney who is forced to return to her former role as a litigator to provide for her children. The writing is sharp, the plots are suspenseful, and best of all, the concepts of law featured in each episode are factually accurate—running the gamut from criminal procedure to privacy law. This is due to the creators’ hiring choices; specifically writers with legal backgrounds including three attorneys, one-full time legal consultant, a prior attorney-turned-producer, and a slew of experts. As an added bonus, after the show’s 7-year run, a spin-off was created based on one of the most engaging character’s from the series and it is currently still airing.

Notable Episodes: “Pilot” (S1, E1); “Nine Hours” (S2, E9); “Another Ham Sandwich” (S3, E14); “Hitting the Fan” (S5, E5); “Hail Mary” (S6, E11).

2. Damages

The first 3 seasons of Damages are its most riveting. The plot revolves around a recent law school graduate who becomes the protégé of a brilliant litigator. Though there are minor cases interwoven throughout the series, the primary case in each season usually involves a major news-headline supported by true events, i.e., season one incorporates the Enron scandal, and season two is about the California energy crisis. While entertaining to watch because of its brilliant cast, it’s not always accurate. Instead, Damages is a compelling life lesson about the people you choose as your mentors, so choose wisely.

Notable Episodes: “Because I Know Patty” (S1, E13); “I Lied Too” (S2, E1); “You Were His Little Monkey” (S3, E12); “Next One’s On Me, Blondie” (S4, E4); “But You Don’t Do that Anymore” (S5, E10).

3. The West Wing

Best suited for law students with a penchant for Con Law and an interest in politics, The West Wing is not your traditional courtroom thriller, but it is one of the greatest shows in the history of television. The script combines Aaron Sorkin’s dynamic dialogues along with a crew of political consultants, including former press secretaries Dee Dee Myers and Ari Fleischer, making it both clever and realistic simultaneously. The series ran for 7 seasons and scrutinizes the lives of staffers in the West Wing of the White House for the fictionalized President Bartlet.

Notable Episodes: “Celestial Navigation” (S1, E15); “In the Shadow of Two Gunman: Parts I & II” (S2, E1 & 2); “Two Cathedrals” (S2, E22); “Twenty-Five” (S4, E23); “The Supremes” (S5, E17).

4. How to Get Away With Murder

One of the popular hits promoted by Shonda Rhimes’ #TGIT line-up, How to Get Away With Murder can certainly be categorized under the ‘legal drama’ label. Full of exaggerated plotlines and not-suited-for-law-school-advice, the narrative concerns an ambitious group of law students that begin interning for their highly esteemed, criminal law professor, who become entangled in a murder case. Although neither law school classes nor internships are portrayed accurately, the husband of the executive producer, Betsy Beers, does serve as one of the show’s legal consultants, making some of the courtroom scenes as well as legal concepts more exact.

Notable Episodes: “It’s All My Fault” (S1, E15); “What Did We Do?” (S2, E9); “Who’s Dead?” (S3, E9); “Live, Live, Live” (S4, E8); “Lahey v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania” (S4, E13).

5. Boston Legal

More successful than its’ predecessor, the spin-off Boston Legal follows the career of a civil litigation attorney working at a ‘Big Law’ firm in Boston. The show’s legal concepts are not entirely authentic, but it does focus on relevant social topics, such as prescription drugs and gun control in the south, as well as a credible basis for the logical reasoning behind the arguments made in courtroom scenes. The key takeaway from some of its more far-fetched scenarios is the notion of how to stretch the facts of a client’s case to represent them favorably and still be able to comport with the law.

Notable Episodes: “Hired Guns” (S1, E10); “BL: Los Angeles” (S2, E3); “The Verdict” (S3, E6); “The Court Supreme” (S4, E17); “Last Call” (S5, E13).

Honorable Mentions: Suits (Half-comedy, half-drama, about a college drop-out who fakes his way into working for one of the best lawyers in New York City); Perry Mason (Considered one of the premiere classic TV shows regarding a criminal defense attorney who handles particularly difficult cases); The Practice (The predecessor to aforementioned Boston Legal, which also follows criminal defense attorneys, but at a smaller Boston law firm); Better Call Saul: (A prequel to Breaking Bad about a criminal lawyer in Albuquerque, New Mexico); ACS: The People vs. OJ (A show based on the actual events of The O.J. Simpson trial); Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (Quirky and not always about the law, but it does capture great legal moments when the protagonist, who fled a top New York law firm, is focused on her new small, California law firm and scheming to win back her ex); The Night Of (A mini-series following a suspect charged with murder).

Looking for other forms of legal entertainment? Stay tuned for the next part of our Ultimate Guide to the Law in Pop Culture series, Part II: Movies.


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About Jaclyn Wishnia

Jaclyn Wishnia graduated from Fordham University with a double major in Journalism and the Classics. Upon graduation, she accepted a role as a paralegal. After several years of working for both criminal and entertainment law firms, she decided to pursue her passion, to become an attorney, and enrolled in law school. She is currently a 2L at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law located in New York, NY. Additionally, she serves as a staff editor for Cardozo's Arts & Entertainment Law Journal, Treasurer of Cardozo's Entertainment Law Society, and is a student liaison for the NYS Bar EASL committee.

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