10 Greatest Fictional Lawyers (Overlooked by the ABA Journal)

BL1Y Columns, Lawyer 11 Comments

This month’s issue of the ABA Journal featured The 25 Greatest Fictional Lawyers (Who are Not Atticus Finch).  Some are interesting, like Vincent “Vinny” Gambini from My Cousin Vinny, but they took the lazy road of handing out honors to pretty much every hour-long prime time legal show, including Law & Order, Boston Legal, L.A. Law and Ally McBeal.

They could have dug a little deeper and come up with a much more interesting list. So here you have it: the Ten Greatest Fictional Lawyers Overlooked by the ABA Journal (none of whom are Elle Woods).

1TOM HAGEN (Robert Duvall) – The Godfather, The Godfather II

“A lawyer with his briefcase can steal more than a hundred men with guns.”
“I have a special practice.  I handle one client.”

Think your legal practice is demanding?  Try being the sole legal counsel to a multi-million dollar national crime syndicate.  If you took a Negotiations seminar, you may have covered the Ultimatum Game, but odds are you never had to learn about offers that can’t be refused.

Good thing Tom Hagen didn’t learn how to “think like a lawyer” while in law school—or else we might never have seen Jack Woltz wake up in bed with the severed head of one of his prize horses.

2MITCH MARTIN (Luke Wilson) – Old School

“True love is hard to find.  Sometimes you think you have true love and then you catch the early flight home from San Diego and a couple of nude people jump out of your bathroom blindfolded like a goddamn magic show ready to double team your girlfriend.”

Even if you’re an avid fan of the Frat Pack films, you may have missed this minor detail from Old School: Mitch “The Godfather” Martin is, in fact, an attorney.  (Remember when he recruits two of his colleagues to read through a bunch of regulations?  Me neither—I just re-watch the KY wrestling scene instead.)

Unlike most attorneys who spend their free time billing more hours, Mitch decides to create a fraternity, throw wild parties and fool around with his boss’s daughter who is as hot as she is underage.  Tucker Max, eat your heart out.

“Mitch is a lawyer, buddy. He’ll find a way out for us.”

3SHE-HULK (Jennifer Susan Walters) – Marvel Comics

Dock Worker: Can I have your number, babe?
She-Hulk: I’m unlisted, babe. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to sow my super oats!

The Marvel and DC universes have a surprising number of lawyer characters, such as Daredevil and Robin (from Earth 2), but none is quite as compelling as Lady Green.  Daredevil has to deal with ethics committees, but She-Hulk gets summoned by the Living Tribunal to decide the fate of entire worlds.  No contest.

Not only is she the most powerful of all the superhero attorneys (who appeared before the Supreme Court, no less), but while working at Goodman, Lieber, Kurtzberg & Holliway, she forever changed the industry’s understanding of the term “law firm hot.” Green skin and all.

4LIONEL HUTZ (Voiced by Phil Hartman) – The Simpsons

“Mr. Simpson, the state bar forbids me from promising you a big cash settlement.  But just between you and me, I promise you a big cash settlement.”

A “Doctor of Lawology” recipient from the Knight School of Law, Lionel Hutz gives hope to everyone who graduated from an unaccredited law school.  You don’t need to be competent or knowledgeable of the law to win a case.  All you really need is a team of some of the best comedy writers of all time to have complete control of the outcome.

5ROMO LAMPKIN (Mark Sheppard) – Battlestar Galactica

Roslin: Well, it’s so comforting to know that you’re not afraid. You’re not afraid to represent the most hated man alive.  The question is why?
Romo Lampkin: For the fame, the glory!

Romo Lampkin fulfills two deeply rooted fantasies all lawyers share: 1) That we might do work so important that people would try to assassinate us (and fail, of course); 2) That we will someday enjoy the kind of job security that comes with being one of only two attorneys left in the galaxy.  It takes a special character to make lawyers look cool in the presence of space marines, starfighter pilots and sexy robots.  Lampkin not only pulls it off, but he does so while handicapped by a pet cat.

6HARVEY BIRDMAN, ATTORNEY AT LAW (Voiced by Gary Cole) – Adult Swim

Harvey: There are two lives that depend on me giving the performance of my life in court tomorrow.

Bartender: Scotch?
Harvey: Hell, yeah! Let’s get stinko!

When you and your crime-solving dog companion are busted for possession of marijuana (ruh-roh, Raggy!) who do you call?  Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law!  Other superhero-lawyers are superhero first, lawyer second, which makes you wonder where they find time for all those billable hours.  Harvey Birdman, however, retired from being a third-rate hero to pursue a career as a third-rate lawyer, so you know your case will get his full aTTTention.

7FRED GAILEY (John Payne) – Miracle on 34th Street

“All my life I’ve wondered something, and now’s my chance to find out.  I’m going to find the answer to a question that’s puzzled the world for centuries. Does Santa Claus sleep with his whiskers outside or in?”

Lots of young attorneys start life in BigLaw to pay off their loans and build a nest egg—all the while telling themselves that one day they’ll leave to pursue the public interest job that made them interested in law school in the first place.  But only Fred Gailey will ever hold the honor of getting to cast off the golden handcuffs to defend Santa Clause.  Kind of puts the twenty hours of pro bono work you did last year to shame, no?

8STACY WARNER (Sela Ward) – House

“You’re abrasive and annoying and come on way too strong, like… vindaloo curry.  When you’re crazy about curry, that’s fine, but no matter how much you love curry, you have too much of it, it takes the roof of your mouth off.  And then you never want to see curry for a really, really long time, but you wake up one day and you think… God I really miss curry.”

Anyone who can capture the heart of Dr. House (and not just Little Gregory) scores major points right away.  Add to that a wit that can go toe-to-toe with House—and the fact that Sela Ward still looks dead sexy in her 50s—and you’ve got yourself a winning combination.  Just don’t ever let her be your medical proxy.

9JACKIE CHILES (Phil Morris) – Seinfeld

“Jackie’s cashing in on your wretched disfigurement.

You know it’s going to be a great episode of Seinfeld when Kramer’s go-to lawyer, Jackie Chiles, is involved—even though it will likely end in one of the most public of his many humiliations.  He helped keep fresh one of the greatest sitcoms of all time.  What more do you need to say about this man?  Notable, quotable, gregarious, hilarious.

10PHILIP BANKS, AKA Uncle Phil, AKA Zeke (James Avery) – The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air

Philip Banks: Dr. Hoover, the school where you got your degree, did you find it on the back of a matchbook?
Dr. Hoover: Penn State, my brother.
Philip Banks: Really? Good school. I was thinking of going there if my scholarship to Princeton, Yale, Warton, and Talladega Tech had fallen through!

Phillip Banks’s legal career is a rags to riches story, going from civil rights activist and NAACP board member, to a Harvard Law-trained attorney at the prestigious firm of Firth, Wynn and Meyer.  And eventually, he landed a judge appointment.

Of course, we don’t actually have to witness any of the rags part of the story. Otherwise every week would have been a “very special episode.” (Yikes.) Besides, who really wants to see a Harvard Law grad living in a rundown apartment barely able to scrape together rent money?  I mean, other than everyone who didn’t go to Harvard…

Honorable Mentions

11ARI GOLD (Jeremy Piven) – Entourage

“You know what other class I took at Harvard? Business Ethics. I don’t steal other people’s motherfucking clients. But in your case, I am going to make an exception. I am going to take everyone: your B-level sitcom stars, your reality TV writers. When I’m done with you, you’re going to be repping sideshow freaks. You need Jojo, the dog-faced bitchboy? Call Josh Weinfuck, the light-weight pen-stealing fuckface.”

It’s easy to create a cunning, witty, master of the universe that we love to hate (Don Draper, looking at you), but being the master of the universe we love to love is a much harder feat.  Ari Gold may be a crude, lying son-of-a-bitch, but his undying loyalty to Vinny and Mrs. Ari makes him one of the most lovable business moguls to ever grace the small screen.

Why He Didn’t Make the List: While Ari Gold does have a JD/MBA from Michigan, he has apparently never practiced law.  Good choice.

12OSCAR ZETA ACOSTA, AKA Dr. Gonzo (Benicio Del Toro) – Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

Dr. Gonzo: Sounds like big trouble. You’re going to need plenty of legal advice before this thing is over. As your attorney, I advise you to rent a very fast car with no top. And you’ll need the cocaine. Tape recorder for special music. Acapulco shirts. Get the hell out of L.A. for at least 48 hours. Blows my weekend.
Raoul Duke: Why?
Dr. Gonzo: Because naturally I’m going to have to go with you. And we’re going to have to arm ourselves… to the teeth!”

Air Force veteran, graduate of San Francisco Law and Chicano rights activist, Acosta is best known as Hunter S. Thompson’s sidekick on his savage journey to the heart of the American dream.  The way he consumes and pushes drugs will make your average attorney feel okay with his own substance abuse problems.  And despite possibly never spending a single moment sober, his advice is always spot on.

Why He Didn’t Make the List: Questions about the accuracy of Thompson’s tale aside, Oscar Zeta Acosta is a real person.

13LTJG DANIEL KAFFEE (Tom Cruise) – A Few Good Men

Kaffee: Twelve years. I can get it knocked down to Involuntary Manslaughter. Twelve years.
JoAnne: You haven’t talked to a witness, you haven’t looked at a piece of paper.
Kaffee: Pretty impressive, huh?

Take Maverick and put him in a court room and you’ve got Daniel Kaffee.  Women want him and men want the women who want him. Aside from the brilliance of the character and the film, Kaffee gets extra points for the nostalgia factor, taking us back to a time before Tom Cruise joined a [perfectly legitimate religion].

Why He Didn’t Make the List: Kaffee is a great attorney, he’s fictitious, and he’s already on the ABA Journal list. But the ABA Journal recognized him because he “confronts an injustice in the military and discovers a passion for the courtroom he had been trying to suppress.” What? No. Daniel Kaffee is a great lawyer because of he’s an almost endless well of smart-ass quips:

JoAnne: Your father’s Lionel Kaffee, former Navy Judge Advocate and Attorney General, of the United States, died 1985. You went to Harvard Law on a Navy scholarship, probably because that’s what your father wanted you to do, and now you’re just treading water for the three years you’ve gotta serve in the JAG Corps, just kinda layin’ low til you can get out and get a real job. And if that’s the situation, that’s fine. I won’t tell anyone. But my feeling is that if this case is handled in the same fast-food, slick-ass, Persian Bazaar manner with which you seem to handle everything else, something’s gonna get missed. And I wouldn’t be doing my job if I allowed Dawson and Downey to spend any more time in prison than absolutely necessary because their attorney had pre-determined the path of least resistance.
Kaffee: Wow. I’m sexually aroused, Commander.

14BOB LOBLAW (Scott Baio) – Arrested Development

Bob Loblaw: Actually, I was going to stay in my office tonight and work on my law blog.
Tobias: Of course—the “Bob Loblaw Law Blog.” Wow. You, sir, are a mouthful!

Loblaw is the younger, more competent, more entertaining replacement to the original Bluth family attorney, Barry Zuckerkorn (Henry Winkler). Despite always traveling with his trusty stenographer sidekick, he does his own bLAWging, which we like.

Why He Didn’t Make the List: Though Loblaw’s a cult sensation, Arrested Development never got the appreciation it deserved—so why start now?

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  • Guano Dubango

    This is a very good (although long) piece of writing from this dude.  I think we can read more of this quality writing from this dude.  But whatever happened to LF10 and my man, Matthew?  LF10 was good writer and hot in the bedroom.  Matthew was able to do what I want to do with women, also.  At this time of the year, I would be pleased to be able to offer LF10 to share my apartment (and bed) with her if she wants to come to Brooklyn.

  • Ace in the Hole

    I agree on all counts Guano – best post here in a while.

  • Smurf

    Well done, BL1Y.

  • amlaw85

    Tom Cruise’s character, LTJG Kaffee, was on the original ABA list.

  • Hannah Palindrome

    I LOVE Ari Gold!!!

  • Alma Federer

    I like the person who was on TV as a lawyer, Matlock.  Why isn’t he on the list?  He was good and folksy, and never made any sleazy moves on women, even the pretty one who was his investigator.  I think he should at least get an honorable mention, BL1Y.

  • Gunners = Glorified Law Dorks

    Fantastic.  Whenever someone asks me about what made me want to be a lawyer, I always think back to Miracle on 34th Street (dead serious). 
    Ari Gold is without a doubt, the best character on television. “Congratulations, Lloyd! You’re a real Asian!”

  • Delicious Biscuit

    I heart Loblaw.

  • anon

    wtf?  What about john beckwith and jeremy grey from wedding crashers?

  • Frax

    No love for Saul Goodman? The guy who turned two people trying to kill him into two new clients through creative application of legal ethics?

  • Alex

    LH: Mrs. Simpson, your sexual harassment case is exactly what I need to revive my shattered law practice. Care to join me in a belt of scotch?
    MS: But it’s nine a.m.
    LH: Yeah, but I haven’t slept in days. [Drinks]. Last chance…