The legal dramas that lawyers and those educated in the law love to watch


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Everyone loves a good courtroom or legal drama.

From Jimmy Stewart in Anatomy of a Murder and Gregory Peck in To Kill a Mockingbird, through the John Grisham adaptations of the 1990s to TV series like Perry Mason, LA Law, Damages, Goliath, The Good Fight and Your Honor, viewers have been captivated by cross-examinations, summations and the inner-workings of the American or other countries’ systems of establishing guilt or innocence and dispensing justice.

To celebrate the 25th anniversary of one of the best shows on the subject, The Practice, and its arrival on Disney+, Stuff to Watch canvassed the opinion of a select group of Kiwi law graduates and asked them to nominate the programme or movie about the profession that most inspired and entertained them.

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From a cinematic classic to Stanley Tucci with hair and, well, Denny Crane, these are the courtroom-based shows and flicks that inspire and entertain.

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Daniel Benzali played Murder One’s Teddy Hoffman.

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Daniel Benzali played Murder One’s Teddy Hoffman.

Murder One (Available on DVD from AroVideo)

This show aired back in 1995-96. Season one (23 episodes) covered a single murder case run by a prominent Los Angeles legal firm (with parts from other cases involving the legal firm worked in during the season).

The show is high drama; there are plenty of plot twists to keep you guessing as to where the story is heading. The main character is imposing criminal defence attorney Theodore (Teddy) Hoffman, played by Daniel Benzali.

Stanley Tucci also needs an honourable mention as a main character in the show, playing Richard Cross (one of Hoffman’s clients, first arrested for the murder). Both of those actors are brilliant to watch. Overall, an excellent series.

– Josh Orton (a Partner at Christchurch law film Saunders Robinson Brown)

This Life centred on the lives of a group of 20-something law graduates embarking upon their careers, while sharing a house in south London.

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This Life centred on the lives of a group of 20-something law graduates embarking upon their careers, while sharing a house in south London.

This Life (Available on DVD from AroVideo)

1998 was my penultimate year as a law student and I flatted with three other law students and a long- suffering marine biologist.

It was a noisy flat, with a lot of opinions and laughs. Every week, we would sit in front of our small TV, a shared dinner on our laps and watch this London-set series. The young lawyer flatmates depicted were just a few years ahead of us and having exciting work opportunities (and life dramas).

Two years later, I was working in a large London law firm, but not for long. So, while perhaps not inspirational, it was compelling viewing and caused us flatties to think about career paths, travel and earning an income!

– Rachel Brooking (A resource management and local government lawyer turned Labour List MP)

Julianna Margulies’ Alicia Florrick was The Good Wife.

JUSTIN STEPHENS

Julianna Margulies’ Alicia Florrick was The Good Wife.

The Good Wife (Available on DVD from AroVideo and Alice’s)

For seven seasons between 2009 and 2016, my wife and I were entranced by the cases, catastrophes and general chaos that seemed to follow Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies) her fractured family and her fellow Chicago-based lawyers around.

We watched characters grow, laugh, cry, love and scheme, as political and legal careers blew up and were smashed apart and marriages and relationships blossomed and disintegrated.

Aside from its brilliant ensemble, one of its great strengths was its ability to balance the procedural with the long-term storytelling. So many long-running American dramas become formulaic, but this managed to keep the wider storylines constantly on the boil, while also addressing hot button issues, often ahead of them becoming headline news.

– James Croot (Stuff to Watch editor and Otago University law graduate)

The relationship between James Spader’s Alan Shore and William Shatner’s Denny Crane was the hilarious heart and soul of Boston Legal.

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The relationship between James Spader’s Alan Shore and William Shatner’s Denny Crane was the hilarious heart and soul of Boston Legal.

Boston Legal (Disney+)

This was always my favourite.

I loved the dry humour, silliness and eclectic variety of lawyers and judges, but in particular the closing arguments of James Spader, who is one of my favourite actors.

As an opera singer, the spoken word, creativity, persuasion and cinematic language, often almost poetic to create an atmosphere and empathy with the listener(s) is what I do for a living (though, if I don’t do a good job, people don’t tend to go to jail), so there are lots of translatable skills that resonate and with which I have huge admiration.

I have to admit I often wonder what it would have been like to have been a lawyer, having graduated more than 20 years ago.

– Jonathan Lemalu (Otago University law graduate, opera singer and Professor of Vocal Studies at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama).

Its simple focus is the great strength of Sidney Lumet’s 12 Angry Men.

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Its simple focus is the great strength of Sidney Lumet’s 12 Angry Men.

12 Angry Men (Available to rent from iTunes, GooglePlay, YouTube)

Without too much difficulty, I would nominate the black-and-white 1957 edition of this brilliant movie, directed by Sidney Lumet and starring Henry Fonda.

The film stands out because of its focus on the central event, avoiding any unnecessary additions or diversions The 12 jurors are not identified until the last few minutes.

It is about the struggle and debate between the jurors and their changing perspectives of the case.

Although there have been wonderful films in the last 55 years this stands out for its power and simplicity. It has a story to tell – and it does it simply and well

– Sir J. Bruce Robertson (a retired judge of New Zealand’s Court of Appeal)



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