YOUR LEGAL WRITES: Playing a lawyer on TV

By Kathryn E. Brown | Dec 4, 2008

When the sitcom, "Sex and the City" geared up to go off the air after several successful seasons on HBO, marketers took action to make sure their heroines wouldn't be forgotten.

When the sitcom, "Sex and the City" geared up to go off the air after several successful seasons on HBO, marketers took action to make sure their heroines wouldn't be forgotten.

While writers prepared to put Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte, and Miranda to bed forever, women prepared to take over the cast's coveted roles by wearing tee shirts advertising the type of character they represented in real life. These "I'm a Carrie/Charlotte/Miranda/Samantha" fitted tees advertised to single (as well as married) men how they would behave if asked to go on a date.

The Carrie Bradshaw types are known for being in search of "The One" who will be as honest about his feelings as she is in her quest for the perfect man. The Charlotte York types are on the verge of becoming Stepford Wives, preferring Park Avenue apartments and all of the perfection that goes into its furnishings (including the successful husband who returns from work each evening for a gourmet meal served in the formal dining room). The Samantha Jones types are shockingly outspoken and comfortable in their own skin, showing more of it than they probably should. Finally, the Miranda Hobbes types are corporate minded and professionally driven, electing to become a law partner rather than a marriage partner.

If area attorneys practiced in Miranda Hobbes' firm, they could be asked to classify themselves by the type of role they play inside and outside of the courtroom, using the following personality choices:

The Workaholic

Defense attorney Perry Mason starred in years of televised detective fiction, which usually featured a client on trial for murder. Writer Erle Stanley Gardner, who could have boasted honors such as "the oldest and largest" or "the longest running law firm in Hollywood," created Mason's character to be one of unparalleled achievement.

Mason was known as a specialist for getting people out of terrible trouble, and as a litigator who actually enjoyed the more complex cases that ended up in his capable hands. Perhaps his success was due in part to a quiet life outside of the courtroom. Television analysts often remarked that very few episodes, if any at all, captured Mason's personal life.

As one commentator noted, "We know nothing about his education, his family, or his friends." By today's standards, Mason was married to his job, and he epitomized the term, "workaholic."

The Risk Taker

Forty-six-year-old attorney Alan Shore (played by James Spader), is described as a ruthless attorney who will do whatever is necessary to help his clients. Fearless and brazen, Shore is perhaps one of the most intelligent and skilled attorneys on the show, "Boston Legal", yet his private life is reflective of one bad decision after another.

However, these personal wounds and relationship battle scars often provide him with enough emotion to win over juries and judges in closing arguments of cases that appeared to be lost causes.

The Mighty Associate

It would be easy for an associate to have fun while practicing law if the firm was known as Cage and Fish. New lawyer Ally McBeal lived through her clients' problems, often solving her own relationship woes through the outcomes of cases.

While this particular comedy-drama followed more boy-girl matters than other legal programs, viewers were addicted to the interoffice romances between partners and associates. At the end of each long day, most of the firm would congregate in a nearby piano bar, where they would drink and dance the night away (and still look presentable in court the following morning).

The Old-School Lawyer

Based on the real life storylines of attorney Bobby Lee Cook from Georgia, "Matlock" featured a widower who was as folksy as he was cranky.

Benjamin L. "Ben" Matlock (played by Andy Griffith) charged clients well below the market price for winning legal services, he lived in a modest farmhouse, and he spent his frugal earnings in equally penny-pinching ways. Matlock's cost-cutting strategies always brought him courtroom victories, yet he never seemed to be able to update his Seersucker suits and wide striped neckties.

Matlock's image as a country lawyer with an Ivy League education served him well, as he could spend a few hours of his day eating hot dogs and playing the banjo.

Life imitated art until writer Oscar Wilde reworked the familiar expression. Through the years of television, there were many other lawyers who paved the way for today's legal minds, from working mother Claire Huxtable to business lawyer Oliver Wendell Douglas, who wished he were a farmer on "Green Acres."

Lawyers may not know if they are a Perry, an Alan, an Ally or a Matlock. Yet, they may be inspired by one attorney who never lost a case and argued that he was and always would be the greatest in legal history. What does his fitted tee shirt state? "I'm Denny Crane!"

Brown is the managing member of The Write Word, a professional writing and editing agency in Charleston.

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