Lawyers may be among the world’s most-hated professionals, but they sure make for good television.
Whether you watch for the suspenseful courtroom scenes or tune in for a glimpse into the dramatic lives of high-powered lawyers, you’ve got your pick of programs to choose from.
But while TV law shows may be entertaining, they’re not necessarily accurate. In fact, some people might argue that the less realistic a show is, the more fun it is to watch.
Which begs the question: Which TV law shows reflect the truth, and which might be found guilty of misrepresentation in a court of law?
Read on for a roundup of 5 of our favorite TV shows ranked from most to least realistic.
1. Better Call Saul
If you’re not familiar with the legal profession, you may be surprised to find this Breaking Bad spinoff at the top of the list. However, insiders insist that its depiction of the legal industry is on the money thanks to storylines that are mostly accurate and believable.
Law firm partner Jordan Rothman says of Better Call Saul, “It’s hard to relate all of the instances in which the show accurately depicts the practice of law. ”
2. Law & Order
It’s not surprising that this iconic television drama has a place toward the top of this list. The original Law & Order, aired for a decade, followed by several spinoffs with varying degrees of longevity and popularity.
Set in New York City, Law & Order portrays the law from two different perspectives: the NYPD’s investigation of a crime, and the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office’s prosecution of the case.
In addition to its unique viewpoint, Law & Order is also well-known for something else: it’s “ripped from the headlines” plot lines inspired by real-world cases.
3. The Practice
While its predecessor, Ally McBeal, may have been known for its unbelievable antics (dancing baby hallucinations, anyone?), The Practice is one of the more realistic television portrayals of law life.
Following the interactions and experiences of lawyers at a Boston law firm primarily handling criminal defense cases, The Practice doesn’t just address cases from a legal standpoint that pays meticulous attention to procedure and conduct, but also from an ethical one as the lawyers often end up wrangling with their own consciences.
Furthermore, while many legal dramas take place at large prestigious firms, The Practice presents a realistic view of a smaller, struggling firm.
This USA Network show begins with the unlikely premise of a college dropout genius scamming his way to a position at an elite NYC law firm. From there, it doesn’t get much more realistic.
According to law firm Orsus Gate, Suits “presents numerous fictions about what lawyers do and how they work,” including that attorneys randomly drop into the offices of opposing counsel, the use of a few “magic words” that lead to dramatic results, and the fast-moving judicial process.
Additionally, while Suits frequently depicts attorneys pouring over case law in the firm library, the majority of legal research takes place online.
While these falsehoods may be entertaining, they can also lead to warped perceptions and unreasonable expectations about legal procedures, according to Orsus Gate.
5. Ally McBeal
And that brings us to the aforementioned Ally McBeal.
While this show was a huge hit—and made Calista Flockhart a household name—when it debuted in the late 1990s, its success had nothing to do with its realistic portrayal of the law. From the super-short hemlines to week after week of outlandish cases, Ally McBeal was sensationalism at its best.
Oddball characters like John Cage and his “wattle fetish,” fantasy sequences, insane plot lines in which lawyers go undercover, and romantic entanglements rivaling a game of musical chairs are just a few of the reasons Ally McBeal has the distinction of being the #1 least realistic law show on this list.