In the Media: How Women Lawyers are Portrayed on TV and in the News (with podcast)

Women Lawyers in the MediaToday, we’re excited to announce the second episode of Law School Transparency’s podcast mini-series about women in the law. This week’s theme is how women lawyers are portrayed on TV. For the next five weeks, we’ll be running posts related to the LST topic of the week, along with a podcast episode and roundtable discussion on the same topic. You can learn more at LSTradio.com/women. Hope you enjoy it!

This week, our guest writer is Gabriella Martin, a 2L at Quinnipiac University School of Law. Welcome, Gabriella!

In preparing to write this article I found myself searching Youtube to refresh my memory on the many different portrayals of female lawyers on television. And watching these clips, I became aware of one thing I had never noticed before.

What Female Lawyers Never Experience on TV

Unlike the numerous times in real life when a woman walks into a courtroom or boardroom and is mistaken for a secretary, paralegal or court reporter, fictional female lawyers are (for the most part) never assumed to be anyone other than an attorney. While they may not be treated as an equal, they are always treated as opponents, co-counsel, or counselors of law. Part of this may be because to do anything different, especially now, would only serve to confuse the general audience who knows that the female character is a lawyer. But why leave such a key part of most women’s experience out?

Perhaps its because in a television world where the most realistic portrayal of a lawyer and the legal profession (much less a female lawyer and her experiences) does not exist, we are not meant to take one single portrayal as the ideal from which to draw inspiration. Just as with anything else, each character touches and engages a person in a different way. I may notice a particular thing in the nuances of a character that you may not. Heck, we may not even watch the same shows.

Many of my classmates may religiously watch shows like Scandal and How to Get Away with Murder; drawing inspiration from characters like Olivia Pope and Annalise Keating. But those shows have never held any interest for me. Does that mean my “legal inspiration” is any less valid?

No, of course not.

What I Remember from TV

I grew up watching Law & Order (new episodes or old episodes, it didn’t matter to me) and while most people remember Jack McCoy, the white-haired go get’em ADA who delivered shocking cross-exams and was there to save the day, or Arthur Branch, the wise and political DA who often had the last word of an episode—often something poetic and sage, what I remember are the incredible female ADAs. What stood out to me—even at a young age–was that they had convictions; convictions they did not always have to compromise.

As I got older and began to watch Law & Order spin-offs like Special Victims Unit, I was inspired not just by the female attorneys’ convictions, but by their ability to remain even-tempered and calm in a courtroom. This characteristic was often demonstrated most by ADA Alex Cabot, who proved that a woman didn’t need to shout in order to be heard. Her soft yet powerful closing statements would seem to echo through the courtroom.

Now an adult and in law school, I find myself emulating Gina Torres’s Jessica Pierson from the TV show Suits. Her leadership prowess and her unapologetic refusal to be questioned in her authority and knowledge is something that I strive to imitate as I develop my professional persona. And while the portal of Jessica Pierson does lack some things (namely showing a realistic balance between the professional and personal, rather than the often shown “choice between the two”), her character does manage a good balance between that take no prisoners persona and a showing of empathy and compassion about those she cares deeply about.

It’s also quite powerful for me, as a Latina, to see a woman of color portray a big law firm’s managing partner on television.

My Takeaway Lesson

I suppose the takeaway lesson from all of this is that there is no right or wrong way to draw so-called legal inspiration from television. Maybe you take inspiration from male lawyers in television. Maybe you look to superheroes, detective shows or other dramas for inspiration. Maybe you strive to be like Alicia Florrick or Ally McBeal.

The point is that just as there is no ideal portrayal of lawyers on television, there is no ideal way to become an attorney (although going to law school is a good starting point). Your law school career is what you make it and sometimes it doesn’t hurt to reach out to a fictional world for a few helpful ideas.

Law School Transparency’s Women in Law Podcast and Roundtable

Here’s the second episode of Law School Transparency’s podcast mini-series about women in the law.

And the first roundtable discussion:

Learn more about the project at LSTradio.com/women.

Check out the other posts in this series:


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About Gabriella Martin

Gabriella Martin is a law student at Quinnipiac University School of Law in the Intellectual Property concentration. Gabriella graduated from Florida Atlantic University with a degree in English Literature which furthered a passion for creative writing and analysis. Gabriella is involved in several ABA committees and numerous student organizations--including a 1L mentoring program. When she is not writing for Law School Toolbox or The Girl's Guide to Law School, Gabriella can be found catching up on TV shows, discovering new music, and going on adventures, both big and small.

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