With so many in-depth legal dramas on TV these days, someone might feel like they’re a lawyer after simply consuming these shows. However, some legal dramas spend less time than others on the law aspect whereas others have clearly spent months researching and working with real-life defense attorneys. There are several great legal dramas that feature a different case each week, but the very best legal dramas are the ones that go further than the procedural nature of the genre and take some major risks.
Updated on June 14th, 2022, by Shawn S. Lealos: There have been some great legal dramas over the years, and the one that IMDb fans rate as the best of the best is ending its six-season run with its final 13 episodes. When that season ends in August 2022, it will mark the end of the incredible story of Jimmy McGill/Saul Goodman.
However, once that show finally ends its run, there are still plenty of other legal dramas to go back and catch up on. This includes a strong list of classic courtroom dramas, one of the most successful franchises in television history, and a few of the best lawyer shows have them doing all they can to help bring villains to justice and keep innocent victims out of prison.
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15 Bull (2016) – 7.0
Streaming now on Paramount+
Bull came to CBS with a major star in place and he helped bring the fans that followed the show through six seasons. Michael Weatherly left NCIS to take the lead role in Bull, where he played the head of a jury consulting firm that helped his clients select the right jurors for their cases.
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He also worked to plan arguments to help the lawyers win the cases, loosely based on the early career of Dr. Phil McGraw. Bull was extremely popular in its first two seasons, the show averaging over 13 million viewers in 2018, and finally came to an end in 2022.
14 Your Honor (2020) – 7.6
Available to stream on Prime Video
With two iconic television shows under his belt, Bryan Cranston jumped back into the medium, as he plays a judge whose son kills a teenager in a hit-and-run. Your Honor is special because it’s one of the few legal dramas that is serialized, whereas others tend to be procedural case-of-the-week type shows.
On top of that, Your Honor is a limited series, too, meaning there won’t be another season, but what audiences got was something special and completely different from anything in the genre, and Michael Desiato (Cranston) isn’t much better than Walter White from Breaking Bad.
13 The Practice (1997) – 7.7
The Practice is somewhat of a first for TV, as the legal drama was created as an answer to L.A. Law, which was a show that totally romanticized the American legal system; it made it flashier and cooler than it really was.
The Practice was much more realistic and it actually treated its viewers as if they were smart. And when it came to legal proceedings, deep themes were explored; including personal morality, which was a great approach considering criminal lawyers had never really been depicted in such a light before.
12 Law & Order (1990) – 7.8
Available to stream on Hulu and Peacock
Law & Order was the most famous legal drama on television for many years. It ended up beaten by its own spinoff, Law & Order: SVU, which eventually not only outlasted it but ended up with a higher IMDb rating according to fans. It wasn’t over with either, as the show was picked up for a 21st season, 13 years after it was canceled.
The show’s heyday saw some memorable characters, from Chris Noth’s Mike Logan and Jerry Orbach’s Lennie Briscoe to the iconic district attorney Jack McCoy, played by Sam Waterston. When it comes to scripted dramas, only SVU had more seasons that the 22 of the original series.
11 Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (1999) – 8.1
Streaming now on Hulu and Peacock
The Law & Order franchise is one of the most successful on TV, but the first spin-off of the series, Special Victims Unit, is rated higher than even the original series. Situated in a fictionalized version of the NYPD, SVU often focuses on crimes that are loosely based on real events that have gained considerable media attention.
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SVU has run for a long time, as there are close to 500 episodes in the series, and it’s amazing the show has managed to remain consistent after all this time. And with the franchise getting another spin-off, there are a lot of things it could borrow from Special Victims Unit.
10 Damages (2007) – 8.1
Streaming now on Hulu and Starz
Though it was fairly short-lived compared to other legal dramas, as many of them tend to have hundreds of episodes, Damages is one of the most engaging lawyer shows there has ever been.
Each major case in the show spans a whole season, so more time and effort has gone into the research and it properly breaks down how legal proceedings go, unlike other shows that throw weeks-long proceedings into a 40-minute episode. What also makes the show great is the fact Patty (Glenn Close) will do anything to win a case, no matter how unethical it is.
9 How To Get Away With Murder (2014) – 8.1
As so many occupational shows take place where the main character acts as a mentor to a group of people, whether it’s medical shows like House or detective shows like Lie To Me, How To Get Away With Murder is the legal drama’s answer to those shows.
The series follows Annalise Keating (Viola Davis), a law professor and criminal defense attorney who takes five students under her wing. It’s a fascinating drama, as those very people become intertwined in their very own murder plot. The show is rated so high mostly due to Davis’ incredible portrayal of Keating, and it has some interesting crossovers with Scandal, too.
8 Goliath (2016) – 8.2
Streaming now on Prime Video
Goliath was a Prime Video original series starring Billu Bob Thornton. The series lasted for four seasons before it was canceled in 2021 and told the story of a down-and-out lawyer looking for redemption. The show was important in that it showed how corruption ran rampant in the legal system, which favored the wealthy.
Thornton himself was responsible for much of the Goliath’s success, giving a compelling performance as Billy McBride, a formerly brilliant lawyer who helped a man get off, and then learned he killed his family. Thornton won a Golden Globe for the show’s first season.
7 Perry Mason (1957) – 8.3
Streaming now on Paramount+
Perry Mason was the best lawyer show that started it all. It set the template for what shows like L.A. Law and Law & Order would hope to accomplish in later years. Debuting in 1957, Raymond Burr starred as defense attorney Perry Mason, based on the character of the same name by author Erle Stanley.
Each episode showed Perry Mason taking on a new case and solving it by the end., with nine seasons and 271 episodes before it ended. There was also a revival in the 1970s and some made-for-TV movies, proving this show’s popularity stretched out over four decades.
6 The Good Fight (2017) – 8.3
Streaming now on Paramount+
While it wasn’t quite as successful as the show that preceded it, The Good Fight was the Paramount+ original spinoff of The Good Wife. In this series, Christine Baranski brings her character of Diane Lockhart from The Good Wife to the new series as the lead when she loses her job and has to start anew.
In this lawyer show, she joined a new firm and then proceeded to build her name back up again and regain her prestige. The show was also important because it mostly dealt with the lives of the three female leads and touched on several political and social commentary hot buttons.
5 The Good Wife (2009) – 8.4
Streaming now on Paramount+
The Good Wife is grounded in reality almost more than any other legal show if it wasn’t for American Crime Story, which is based on real-life court cases. As the show is about a wife of a state attorney who goes back into law when her husband is caught in the middle of a sex scandal, The Good Wife is massively influenced by real-life events such as the scandal involving Bill Clinton.
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The show interestingly explores the dynamic between these women who allow their careers to take a backseat to further benefit their husbands’ ambitions, even when they are caught with their pants around their ankles.
4 American Crime Story (2016) – 8.4
Being a seasonal anthology series, there isn’t much that audiences know about the upcoming season, but the first two seasons of American Crime Story took the world by storm. Especially the first season, which was one big reenactment of the infamous trial of O.J. Simpson.
Though the second season wasn’t as phenomenally well-received, it was still enjoyed by audiences, as it followed the murder of fashion designer Gianni Versace. The third season is currently in production (though it has been halted due to the COVID-19 pandemic) and it’s based on yet another hot topic; it follows the impeachment of Bill Clinton and his sex scandal.
3 Boston Legal (2004) – 8.4
It’s fascinating that, more than any other show, it’s legal dramas that get so many spin-off shows. Law & Order has several spin-off shows, Breaking Bad received a legal drama spin-off in the form of Better Call Saul, and of course, the great Boston Legal is a spin-off of The Practice. It’s one of the rare times in which a spin-off is better than the original.
Boston Legal is slightly different than The Practice, as it’s known to break the fourth wall a lot more, but there’s just as much law mumbo-jumbo for any fan of procedural courtroom dramas to love.
2 Suits (2011) – 8.5
Streaming now on Prime Video and Peacock
Suits is most interesting because it looks more at the inner workings of the law firm than it does the actual cases that the firm takes on. As Suits follows Mike Ross (Patrick J. Adams), a law associate who never actually went to law school, Suits cleverly sees the character close the book on cases while maintaining his secret at the same time.
For the most part, the show is full of predictably angry, loud, and obnoxious lawyers yelling over one another with the densest law terminology possible, and that’s exactly what makes it so entertaining.
1 Better Call Saul (2015) – 8.8
Streaming now on Prime Video, AMC, and Netflix
It barely comes as any surprise that Better Call Saul is the highest-rated legal drama of them all. Being a descendent of Breaking Bad and taking place before the events of that show, Better Call Saul expands on the criminal underbelly of Albuquerque in ways that weren’t even imaginable. From going into greater detail about Madrigal to showing how Gustavo Fring built his meth empire, it goes into great depth about organized crime in the city.
But what the show does better than anything is its elements of courtroom drama. From multi-episode arcs about money scandals to the explosive courtroom battle between Jimmy (Bob Odenkirk) and Chuck (Michael McKean), the legal drama aspect of the show is why some seasons even rank higher than Breaking Bad.
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About The Author
(1311 Articles Published)
Currently residing in Madrid, Stephen Barker has been a staff writer at Screen Rant since 2020. Since graduating from Manchester Metropolitan University with a bachelor’s degree in Film, Television, and Cultural Studies in 2014, he has written for numerous movie and music websites. Stephen has been obsessed with movies since he first watched Jurassic Park on VHS, and with a deep interest in screenwriting, he loves 70s character-driven movies. But he’s just as much of a defender of Batman & Robin, The Fast and the Furious, and Small Soldiers.
Visit Stephen’s personal blog, Quaranste, where he writes about guilty pleasure movies, his latest musical discoveries, and how he stays creative during global pandemics, or contact him directly: Quaranstine@gmail.com.
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