Breaking Bad Saul Goodman

Weekend Roundtable: Bad Lawyers

This weekend brings us a bio-pic about Thurgood Marshall, one of the greatest legal minds in American history. Unfortunately, we’ve already done a Roundable about Favorite Lawyer Movies. I guess that means it’s time to look instead at some of the sleaziest, most incompetent, or even downright evil lawyers from movies and TV. You know, for balance.

Shannon Nutt

You won’t find a movie lawyer more evil than the one Al Pacino plays in ‘Devil’s Advocate‘. Why? Because John Milton isn’t just another unscrupulous attorney – he’s Satan himself! Milton specializes in making sure the scum of the Earth get off scot-free. When he sees up-and-coming lawyer Kevin Lomax (Keanu Reeves) secure a not-guilty verdict for a child molester, Milton thinks he’s found a protégé, and hopes Kevin will help him defend a man who murdered his whole family. But when Lomax starts to have a conscience about the case, let’s just say there’s Hell to pay.

Brian Hoss

HBO’s ‘The Night Of‘ has multiple lawyer characters of questionable morals and abilities. Two of these lawyers come right to mind. First is the media savvy lawyer who swoops in and is gone almost as fast, and then there’s the rookie lawyer who gets left with the case. She not only fumbles in court, but her client familiarity reaches some astounding and disbarring levels.

Luke Hickman

When I think of wacky on-screen lawyers, I think of the two that appear in ‘Arrested Development‘. Played perfectly by Henry Winkler, Barry Zuckerkorn is a wonderfully incompetent lawyer whose clients probably understand the law better than he does. Although he’s completely idiotic, the shtick never gets old.

The replacement lawyer that the Bluth family hires is Bob Loblaw (Scott Baio). While he may not have as many memorable scenes as Barry, the name of his website is something that I’ve never forgotten: Bob Loblaw’s Law Blog. (Be sure to read that out loud.)

Adam Tyner (DVDTalk)

Let’s talk for a moment about Lionel Hutz: renaissance man and attorney-at-law. He’s attended Harvard, Yale, MIT, Oxford, the Sorbonne, and the Loove-rah. Tired of twiddling your thumbs in some uncomfortable waiting room chair, listlessly whiling
away the hours until your lawyer’s assistant calls you in? Rather than limit himself to just good-law-talking-thingies, Hutz’ expertise extends to shoe repair while you wait. Two birds, one stone, and conveniently located at the Springfield Mall to boot.

Maybe you’ll even walk out of his office (“I Can’t Believe It’s Not a Law Firm!”) with a smoking monkey doll, a business card that turns into a sponge when you put it in water, or an almost full Orange Julius. Even though – or maybe because – that wildly incompetent shyster only ever won cases accidentally, Lionel Hutz was always one of my absolute favorite characters from ‘The Simpsons‘ and yet another reason I miss Phil Hartman so much.

Josh Zyber

During his time on ‘Breaking Bad‘, Bob Odenkirk’s Saul Goodman character was mostly a comic relief foil – a corrupt lawyer whose enthusiasm to bend and break every ethical standard of his profession knew no bounds. When word first came that he’d get his own spinoff series, I was a little skeptical that Saul was really leading-man material. Remarkably, ‘Better Call Saul‘ has managed to develop and enrich the character without losing that comedic edge, and is just as acclaimed as the original show.

Slimeball lawyers are a longstanding trope on movies and TV. What are some of your favorites?


  1. NJScorpio

    What, no ‘My Cousin Vinny’? I thought that’d be the obvious choice.

    For a less obvious choice, I really dug the drama ‘Find Me Guilty’. It was the first (and may last) time I saw Vin Diesel’s acting range.

      • I think Vinny is a good lawyer that ‘acts’ like a sleezeball, maybe to throw people off. Even real lawyers reference the movie because it does a good job of accurately portraying how to prepare for a case. When I think ‘bad lawyers’ for this thread, I think ones that are either incompetent or use their profession to exonerate real criminals.

  2. What about Annalise Keating (Viola Davis) in ‘How to Get Away With Murder’? I may have only seen the first season, but she was pretty striking. She’s not just a lawyer, but a force to contend with in and out of the courtroom. She essentially eats and chews up anyone that gets near her, especially her students who want nothing more than to be her. Her lack of scruples is chilling to say the least, especially when she acts to protect herself and her reputation. Hardly someone you want to emulate.

    • Csm101

      “You’re going to need plenty of legal advice before this thing is over.”
      My brother and I randomly say that to each other. Good pick!

  3. cardpetree

    Robert Duvall as Tom Hagen in The Godfather. He wasn’t particularly sleazy himself but one could argue that defending the mob is pretty sleazy.

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