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What’s the verdict?

What’s the verdict?

As Defending The Guilty airs on BBC Two, we make a case for our favourite TV lawyers of all time

Retreat to your (bed) chambers at once for some serious barrister bingeing…

Tuesday 17 September, 10pm, BBC Two HD (CH 102). Also available as a complete series Box Set on BBC iPlayer

“How can you defend someone you know is guilty?” Well, according to new series Defending The Guilty, the job of a barrister is not to serve justice (what a concept!) but to win, and to do it with panache. Or, as real-life criminal barrister Alex McBride puts it: “If you believe that someone is innocent until proven guilty, then they’re entitled to a trial and if they’re entitled to a trial, they’re entitled to having a chance of getting off”.


McBride is the author of 2010’s Defending the Guilty: Truth and Lies in the Criminal Courtroom, the book the show is based on. From Big Talk Productions (Mum, Cold Feet, Friday Night Dinner) and writer Kieron Quirke (Cuckoo) comes this new six-part comedy that offers an irreverent and hilarious portrayal of the criminal justice system. 

Will Packham (Will Sharpe, Flowers) is a pupil barrister who keeps getting told he’s “too soft” for his line of work, including by his own pupil-master Caroline (Katherine Parkinson, The IT Crowd). Along with Will (or DJ Stupid as his colleagues call him, “because of the headphones”), three other pupils are vying for a single permanent job. And with barristers being such upstanding citizens, they’ve naturally taken odds on which one will make it in the Tenancy Deathball on their Chambers’ whiteboard.


Will is deeply unfavoured at 5/1. So could it be the Welsh 3/1 outsider and “Angry Chav” Danielle (Gwyneth Keyworth, Black Mirror), the 2/1 “Hot Robot” Pia (Emily Berrington, Humans) or Liam (Hugh Coles, The Festival), the 3/2 favourite whose nickname starts with “Lanky Poison” (we can’t repeat the last bit)? Although, he drops the “b” bomb (barrister) to pick up girls, so you can imagine what that last word might be.


DJ Stupid (see – nicknames stick!) doesn’t quite have “best barrister” bragging rights, but he’s in good company with other revered TV lawyers, who we don’t necessarily love because they’re good at their jobs…


Our favourite – and very real – lawyer is obviously Making A Murderer’s bulldog with a bone, Kathleen Zellner. But check out who we’re making a case for as the greatest fictional television lawyers of all time.

Will Truman (Will & Grace)

Eric McCormack and Debra Messing in Will & Grace

We rarely see Will (Eric McCormack) working at his job as a corporate lawyer, but we know his perfectionist personality makes him a darn good one. He’s a multilayered man with many other passions, including writing, and as he searches for meaning in his life, he starts working at a not-for-profit providing free legal advice to those in need. He also volunteers for another organisation that gives free meals to the sick and elderly.


But, let’s be honest, the main reason we love him is for his friendships with Grace Adler (Debra Messing), Karen Walker (Megan Mullally) and Jack McFarland (Sean Hayes). The advice (legal and otherwise) he gives them is always sound, level-headed and delivered with just a bit of sarcasm.

Patricia Hewes (Damages)

Glenn Close as Patricia Hewes in Damages

Good old Patty (played by the excellent Glenn Close) has been described as “ruthless”, a “master manipulator” and “brilliant”. Well, you know what they say – it’s lonely at the top. Patty manages her own law firm, Hewes & Associates, with Ellen Parsons (Rose Byrne) as her protégé.


Their relationship is the glue that holds the whole show together, with it turning into one more like that of a (highly dysfunctional) mother and daughter. Close earned two Emmy Awards and a Golden Globe for her portrayal and Byrne was nominated for two Emmys and two Golden Globes.

Saul Goodman (Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul)

Bob Odenkirk as Saul Goodman in Better Call Saul

No one is above the law… except for Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk). We were first introduced to the highly unconventional yet deeply likeable character in Breaking Bad, but in spin-off series Better Call Saul, we learnt how he became Saul. Our verdict is that Saul is always the man for the job, no matter what trouble you’ve gotten yourself into.


He might not always use the most *ahem* legal methods to achieve results, but his relentlessness and tenacity, combined with a kind heart and all the pizazz of a used car salesman, make him our number one. Why wouldn’t you trust a man whose name is a play on the phrase “It’s all good, man”? Well, probably for lots of reasons, but we’re overlooking that for now…

Lionel Hutz (The Simpsons)

We think Lionel deserves more love! Voiced by the late, great Phil Hartman, the personal injury lawyer is the definition of an ambulance chaser. He first appeared in the episode “Bart Gets Hit by a Car” and Lisa calls him a “shyster”. The Simpsons continue to hire him regardless, mainly because they can’t afford anyone else.

He has a bit of a Saul Goodman sheen to him, with his legal practice, I Can’t Believe It’s a Law Firm!, located in a shopping mall (Saul prefers the back of a nail salon). Although the incompetent and unethical lawyer doesn’t win any cases, he wins laughs every time.

Annalise Keating (How To Get Away With Murder)

Viola Davis as Annalise Keating in How To Get Away With Murder

Professor Keating teaches Criminal Law 100, or as she likes to call it, “How To Get Away With Murder”, at the fictional Middleton University in Philadelphia. As the show is made by Shonda Rhimes’ production company Shondaland (who are behind Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal and more), you should expect lots of drama and personal lives creeping into professional lives.

Annalise (played by the brilliant Viola Davis) and her law students get their hands dirty and get stuck into real-life cases to learn valuable lessons that can only be taught outside the classroom.

Jackie Chiles (Seinfeld)

Phil Morris plays Kramer’s lawyer in Seinfeld. He’s a parody of Johnnie Cochran, who was involved in the defence and criminal acquittal of OJ Simpson. Jackie, whose catchphrase is “It’s outrageous!”, played a crucial role in the series finale when he failed to acquit the gang for violating the Good Samaritan law.


So legendary is the law in Seinfeld that there’s even a fanbase and website dedicated to it. It’s described as “An outrageous, egregious, preposterous take on the legal issues of Seinfeld” and run by attorneys “with an unhealthy obsession of Seinfeld and almost no free time on our hands”. Maybe just don’t act on any of Jackie’s legal advice in real life…


Defending The Guilty

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Image Credits: Defending The Guilty © Big Talk – Photographer: Des Willie