Fictional Lawyers

Jonathan Wilk, Compulsion

Short Review: Based on Clarence Darrow’s defense of Leopold and Loeb, Orson Welles argues against the death penalty for two privileged young men who committed a horrific murder of a young boy.

Forrest Bedford, I’ll Fly Away

Short Review: Before he was Jack McCoy, Sam Waterston was a prosecutor in a small Southern town just beginning to see the racial inequities that have begun to splash through his life.

Rusty Sabich, Presumed Innocent

Short Review: Turow reinvented the lawyer novel with defendant Rusty Sabich—a lawyer pursued by lawyers, aided by lawyers and betrayed by lawyers in this character-driven novel. Harrison Ford channeled Turow’s Sabich in the top-notch film.

Jake Brigance, A Time to Kill

Short Review: Matthew McConaughey is a Southern lawyer who confronts racial realities that the law seems unable to redress. Grisham’s first—and perhaps his best—lawyer-protagonist.

Michael Clayton, Michael Clayton

Short Review: George Clooney is at his cynical best as a fixer brought in to clean up after a litigator breaks down while representing a chemical company in a billion-dollar class action.

Patty Hewes, Damages

Short Review: Glenn Close plays the wonderfully tough and complicated Patty Hewes—a living, breathing example of a woman who can be more like a man.

Sandy Stern, Presumed Innocent

Short Review: The late Raul Julia lit up the screen version of Turow’s wonderfully complicated lawyer’s lawyer, whose dexterity with other people’s problems meets its limit in his own problems.

Ally McBeal, Ally McBeal

Short Review: To a generation of young women, Calista Flockhart portrayed lawyering as a way to mete out justice, meet guys and pay for expensive shoes.

Mitchell Stephens, The Sweet Hereafter

Short Review: In Banks’ fine novel and Atom Egoyan’s subsequent film, a plaintiffs attorney (Ian Holm) journeys to a small town that has experienced an unfathomable tragedy. There he finds a compassion that forces him to rethink the bedrock reliance on revenge and compensatory damages on which his life and his practice have relied.

Hans Rolfe, Judgment at Nuremberg

Short Review: Maximilian Schell is the lawyer who must defend Nazi war criminals at Nuremberg. In doing so, he proves as determined and principled as they are evil

Arthur Kirkland, And Justice for All

Short Review: An over-the-top Al Pacino (is there any other kind?) brings a sense of camp to this bitterly cynical look at courthouse justice.

Arnie Becker, L.A. Law

Short Review: The most stylish and popular character in a stylish and popular firm—the show brought sex and savvy to television law for the first time.

Lt. Daniel Kafee, A Few Good Men

Short Review: The son of a legendary lawyer, Dan Kaffee confronts an injustice in the military and discovers a passion for the courtroom he had been trying to suppress.

Vincent “Vinny” Gambini, My Cousin Vinny

Short Review: Wildly popular with lawyers, Joe Pesci’s fish-out-of-water tour in the heart of Alabama provides one of the most memorable (and technically realistic) courtroom confrontations in film.

Alan Shore, Boston Legal

Short Review: Alan Shore is the evolutionary result of Kelley’s long string of memorable lawyers. He’s smart, unscrupulous and utterly unpredictable.

Sir Wilfrid Robarts, Witness for the Prosecution

Short Review: In Billy Wilder’s film adaptation of Christie’s popular stage play, Charles Laughton is unforgettable as an aging barrister who takes on a client accused of murder. As the case evolves, neither the seemingly naive client nor his angry, cynical wife are as they appear./span>

Chief Judge Dan Haywood, Judgment at Nuremberg

Short Review: Mann’s complicated tale of human horror and moral failure in Germany comes alive in the eyes of a visiting American judge. Spencer Tracy, as Haywood, manages to be both empathetic and just.

Horace Rumpole, Rumpole of the Bailey

Short Review: Leo McKern starred as the disheveled Perry Mason of British television. As barrister Horace Rumpole, he solves cases in stylish fashion—but loses some too.

Jack McCoy, Law & Order

Short Review: Sam Waterston’s McCoy claims to be uncomplicated, but the rule of law in his hands is anything but.

Lawrence Preston, The Defenders

Short Review: Rose, who wrote 12 Angry Men, fashioned Lawrence Preston (right) as the first TV lawyer to confront timely social issues on a weekly basis. E.G. Marshall starred.

Henry Drummond, Inherit the Wind

Short Review: The real Clarence Darrow has nothing on his doppelganger played by Spencer Tracy (left). His piercing intelligence and common touch press Bible Belt jurors to put the Almighty into perspective.

Charles W. Kingsfield Jr., The Paper Chase

Short Review: Through a well-received film version of Osborn’s novel and a long-running TV series, John Houseman became the embodiment of the sagacious, unbending law prof.

Perry Mason, Perry Mason

Short Review: While Atticus Finch is the lawyer most lawyers want to be, Raymond Burr’s Perry Mason is what nonlawyers think a lawyer is.

Paul Biegler, Anatomy of a Murder

Short Review: In Otto Preminger’s wonderfully realistic courtroom drama, Jimmy Stewart shows relentless prosecutor George C. Scott why you never, ever ask a question unless you already know the answer.

Frank Galvin, The Verdict

Short Review: Paul Newman plays a self-loathing alcoholic lawyer who finds personal redemption when he stumbles into the case of a lifetime. David Mamet’s hard-boiled screen adaptation makes all the difference.