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William Shatner of "Boston Legal"
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TV's Best and Worst Lawyers
Handing down the verdict on small-screen attorneys

By Raoul Mowatt
Special to MSN Entertainment


There's a ton of reasons why legal dramas are such a staple of the small screen. Few settings have such inherent dramatic potential as a courtroom, and few allow writers to comment on everything from race relations to government shenanigans to romance.

But most of all, I think it's because of the characters. They come in all sorts of flavors: noble and principled, relentless and Machiavellian, by-the-book sticklers and rogues. And almost always, they are a delight to watch. (Sorry, "Head Cases.")

With so many years of attorneys to choose from, it was tough to come up with TV's all-time best. Who should you most want to deliver a closing argument to keep you out of the slammer (or to put someone there)? Who are the best bets to make lost causes seem suddenly found?

But if there is a TV Dream Team, there's also a Nightmare Team. These are the guys who make lawyer jokes seem like statements of fact. The ones who would insult you, overbill you, stab you in the back. They'd get so wrapped up in themselves that they would forget about your case. Or they flat out couldn't be trusted to not fumble your defense.

So here's the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth about TV's bravest and best legal eagles...and its scariest.

TV's Ultimate Law Firm: Mason & Crane

The Partners

Perry Mason ("Perry Mason")

I believe that most real lawyers chose their field in part because they on some level dreamed of being like Perry Mason (Raymond Burr), from having the near-perfect record in court to just breaking down witnesses and forcing them to blurt out confessions on the stand. Of course, it helped that he had secretary Della Street and investigator Paul Drake backing him up. Almost as much as his uncanny ability to find clients who had motive, means and opportunity to commit murder, yet who are factually innocent. The icing on the cake about him heading up the firm: elevators that play the show's awesome theme rather than Muzak.

Denny Crane ("Boston Legal")

Denny Crane (William Shatner) is fond of saying, "Never lost. Never will." And so far, he's been able to back that up. Sure, bringing him on does mean contending with his sexism and other inappropriate behavior caused by his mad-cow disease. But any aspiring firm could use at its head a lawyer who's on a first-name basis with Alberto, who can get booked on "Larry King Live" whenever he feels like it, and who can pull the likes of Al Sharpton in to do favors if need be. And if we want to set up shop in a red state, he'd be an added plus. In conclusion: Denny. Crane. Case closed.

The Senior Associates

Lawrence Preston ("The Defenders")

As the father in a father-and-son firm, Lawrence Preston (E.G. Marshall) had an unfailing moral compass and fought relentlessly for his clients. Unlike some of the other attorneys on the list, he can't claim a near-perfect record in court. But he makes up for it in integrity.

Victor Sifuentes ("L.A. Law")

"L.A. Law" certainly featured a number of memorable attorneys who could conceivably make the cut. The idealistic Mickey Kuzak (Harry Hamlin). The sleazy Arnie Becker (Corbin Bernson). The hard-as-nails Rosalind Shays (before she took one of the most infamous elevator trips in TV history).  For my money, Victor Sifuentes (Jimmy Smits) gets the nod. He gave impassioned closing arguments like no one else on the show. He had a social consciousness that was invaluable in the show and would be for our hypothetical firm. And he was never afraid to speak truth to power, whether it was to prosecutors, judges or members of his own firm.

Jack McCoy ("Law & Order")

Played by Sam Waterston, McCoy is the very definition of reliable.

Harvey Birdman ("Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law")

Harvey has managed to obtain justice for numerous figures in the cartoon world, including Apache Chief (when he spilt hot coffee on his lap and found himself unable to grow) and Fred Flintstone (who was accused of being a Mafia figure, the Dabba Don). Surely he could take those lawyering skills and put them to use for live-action clients as well.

Sarah MacKenzie ("JAG")

The military background of MacKenzie (Catherine Bell) as well as her experience and her attention to detail are all assets that would make me want to recruit Mac to the firm.

Consultants

Charles Kingsfield ("The Paper Chase")

As a professor at a highly prestigious school, Kingsfield's (John Houseman) days of actually practicing law are relatively few. He'd far and away spend his time terrifying and testing first-year students. But a gig assisting members of our firm with complex legal research? He's eaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrned it.

Horace Rumpole ("Rumpole of the Bailey")

Rumpole's (Leo McKern) got a sense of humor, a keen eye and the ability to keep things in perspective that would serve our firm well. But seeing as how he's from across the pond, I don't see him as someone who would fit in very well as a regular associate.


TV's Worst Law Firm: Addams, Hutz & McBeal

The Partners:

Gomez Addams ("The Addams Family")

You probably remember his love of cigars, his weakness for anything in French and his being altogether ooky. But Gomez Addams (John Astin) is pleased that he's put more people behind bars than anyone else -- as a defense attorney. Fortunately, he's rich so he didn't actually have to practice much law. And you probably don't want to be around if a case involves such foreign language terms as voir dire.

Lionel Hutz ("The Simpsons")

He sued the makers of "The NeverEnding Story" for false advertising. He's gone to court pants-less and defended the concept of attorney-dumpster confidentiality.  It would be hard ripping him from "I Can't Believe It's a Law Firm" to join our all-losers squad, but well worth the effort.

Ally McBeal ("Ally McBeal")

Sure, she won more than her share of victories and she comes with a pleasingly short skirt (if that's the way you roll.) But let's face it: if you are in deep legal trouble, the last person you want representing you is a self-involved, delusional attorney still mooning over her ex.

The Senior Associates

Algonquin J. Calhoun ("Amos 'n Andy")

As part of the racial stereotyping the show was infamous for, "Amos 'n Andy" offered a lawyer who was every bit as incompetent as he was corrupt. When asked if he knew a good attorney, his reply was, "Sir, I's don't know one!" And his idea of a defense went something like this: "Your honor, you have heard the prosecution tell you that my client is dishonest. Your honor, it's easy for him to say that because my client is a crook!"

Hamilton Burger  ("Perry Mason")

Whenever Perry Mason won in court, someone had to lose. And usually, that someone was Hamilton Burger (William Talman). His name's appropriate because Mason made hamburger out of him time and time again. Why the good people of Los Angeles put up with his incredible streak of indicting innocent people, I will never know. The same goes for how he managed to restrain himself after his gazillionth loss from gunning Mason down seconds after the verdict was rendered and proudly proclaiming, "I did it! And I'd do it again!"

Lilah Morgan ("Angel")

On the one hand, this femme fatale could probably win whatever court victory you might be seeking. On the other, the price you'd have to pay would probably make that Faust guy look like a savvy shopper.

Dan Fielding ("Night Court")

Rarely does a TV lawyer manage to epitomize all the worst traits of the lawyer stereotype: arrogant yet clueless, smug with precious little to be smug about. Fortunately, the show had Harry Stone (Harry Anderson) to keep Fielding (John Larroquette) honest and Bull Shannon (Richard Moll) to knock some sense into him from time to time.

Raoul Mowatt refuses to make his mother happy and apply for law school, even though it's never too late. Instead, he is a freelance writer and one of the two bloggers for Microsoft's blog about television, TV Filter.