Ineptitude is almost an endearing quality in television characters, so long as there's a hint of charm within. And while hapless goons frequent many tried tropes and formulaic sitcoms, very few of them remain as lovable as the shitty lawyer.
Bad lawyers have been a staple of television going as far back as Perry Mason's frequent foe in the courtroom, District Attorney Hamilton Burger. The trope has stuck for a reason, as the cultural zeitgeist has continuously regarded lawyers as skeezy, shady, and always nickel-and-dime-ing their clients.
Despite the awful litigation skills or the dubious ethical practices, some of these lawyers just know how to win. Here are a few shitty television lawyers we'd seek counsel from.
Dean Sanderson (Rob Lowe)
While he might have played Mitchard Grinder — the lawyer who can get anyone off — in the fictional series within a fictional series The Grinder, the retired actor-turned-wannabe lawyer relied more on luck and celebrity worship than litigation. A lot of the show's conflict occurred internally, usually when Dean's younger brother (and successful real-life attorney) Stuart undermines the Grinder in hopes of bursting his bubble.
Despite Stuart constantly reminding Dean that he's not a lawyer, that playing a lawyer on TV is not the same as going to law school, that he's not actually allowed to practice law — none of that stops the Grinder from grinding. And grind he does, with many of his successes the result of sheer luck, celebrity intimidation, or his brother's interventions.
The show did well portraying Rob Lowe as an adequate man in an inept world, with Fred Savage as his neurotic straight man serving as both friend and foe. It's a dynamic that worked well for a season before being taken from us.
Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk)
Better Call Saul/Breaking Bad
In summarizing Walter White's needs, Jesse Pinkman succinctly describes strip-mall lawyer Saul Goodman: "You don't need a criminal lawyer, you need a criminal lawyer."
Saul comes midway through the second season of Breaking Bad and has an impact throughout the series. Now, he's the subject of his own prequel series.
The crooked lawyer shows Walt and Jesse the ropes as they make their first major steps to get organized as professional crooks, including legitimizing a business front and establishing channels to launder money.
Lionel Hutz (Phil Hartman)
The best Realtor/babysitter/pizza deliverer/law-talking-guy money can buy, Lionel Hutz oversaw his one-man empire from his office in the mall food court. And while he seemed destined to lose every case from the opening gavel, he happened to end up the victor in many of his cases on the show, including an $800 billion lawsuit against Itchy and Scratchy Studios.
His previous experience in court against the makers of The NeverEnding Story for fraudulent advertising made him the perfect attorney to take Homer's case against the Flying Dutchman’s so-called All-You-Can-Eat special.
Lionel Hutz might not be the best lawyer, but at least you'll know that your money also got you a sweet smoking monkey toy. And if things in the courtroom head south, there's always one of those Bad-Court-Thingies to motion for.
Jackie Chiles (Phil Morris)
Only the most loquacious litigator in Manhattan, Chiles successfully argued cases against a large coffee chain and a tobacco company. Defending Cosmo Kramer in all instances, Chiles secured free coffee for Kramer’s lifetime from any and all of the coffee chain's locations and a spot on a Times Square billboard for his client.
In one of his losses, Kramer sues the heiress of the Oh Henry! candy company for causing pain and injury due to her only wearing a bra without a top in public. Though the case was in the bag, Chiles received the unwise order of making the defendant try on the bra in court.
It's the most famous example in American history of a piece of evidence being tried on in court, unraveling one side's case while securing victory for the other.
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Maggie Lizer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus)
In a list of unethical lawyers, Lizer is probably the most devious of the lot. She's lied both about being blind and pregnant, using both instances to win more than a few cases.
In the first season of Arrested Development, Maggie Lizer happens to meet Michael Bluth in a bar near the courthouse before his father's plea hearing. The two hit it off, without Michael realizing she's (lying about being) blind, and Michael pursues a one-night stand. When he comes to find out the next morning, he continues to see her out of guilt, and finds out later that she's the lead prosecutor against his father.
She returns in season two faking a pregnancy, again preying on Michael's guilt, who believes he could be the father. Oh, Arrested Development and those patented tangled webs, how we miss you.