Monday, August 20, 2012

Television Lawyers

 Who inspired you?

Today the Guardian Newspaper has a feature on lawyers on the television screen.  The article lists twelve top lawyers from programmes including: Silk, North Square, Kavanagh QC, The Good Wife, Rumpole of the Bailey, Perry Mason, Ally McBeal, The West Wing, The Wire, Breaking Bad and Engrenages.  The authors argue that 'Lawyers don't only join the profession for the intellectual challenge, the chance to right wrongs, and the money. They also do it because it looks good on TV'.  

The Guardian published a similar article in 2008 - Take 10: TV lawyers - featuring mainly the same lawyers and programmes.  The list included Barry Zuckerkorn from Arrested Development, Petty Hewes (Glenn Close) from Damages and a couple of other lawyers from Boston Legal and Law and Order.  

The list contains a healthy number of lead female lawyers.  It would be nice to see more Chinese, Korean, Japanese and Asian lawyers on the list as Lucy Liu seems a little lonely as the lawyer and ferocious judge in Ally McBeal. 

Representation on screen matters since fictional legal systems and worlds often shape our notions of the law before we become law students and practionners.   According to Orit Kamir, in her book, Framed:  Women in Law and film, films (and television): 

create on-screen fictional legal systems that execute judgment, pursue justice and construct social subjects and communities both on and off-screen.  At the same time, such law films may pass cinematic judgment on these “legally constructed” individuals and communities and on the judgment and justice their fictional legal systems demonstrate and execute.  A film can be read as passing such cinematic judgment when, in addition to portraying an on-screen fictional legal system, it offers alternative cinematic constructions of subjects and societies, of justice and judgment.  In its cinematic judgment, a law film may echo the worldview encoded in its fictional legal system, allowing legal and cinematic mechanisms to reinforce each other in the creation of a community and worldview.  Alternatively, a law film may constitute a community and value system that criticizes or undercuts those supported by its fictional legal system.  Moreover, as a rich, multilayered text, a law film can perform both these functions concomitantly, through different means and on different levels, evoking complex and even contradictory responses toward social and legal issues presented on screen.

Law films and the depiction of the law on screen are therefore of import to lawyers interested in the interplay between popular culture, images and the law.  But representation on screen not only relates to fictional legal systems but also to social categories such as gender and race.  This has been a key focus of feminist film studies, and in the works of authors such as bell Hooks.  Films and televised depictions of female lawyers help to construct this category.  The absence of certain men and women from these programmes is therefore problematic, meaning young people may not be able to envision themselves in those positions. 

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