For much of its onscreen life, the legal profession hasn’t exactly been gender-balanced. Great female attorneys have existed in the real world for decades, but it’s only in more recent years that they’ve become more common on screens both large and small. Even still, the world of fictional female attorneys is rich with great options. Some of the sharpest legal minds in the history of fiction are contained within this list, which also happens to hold some of the best characters ever dedicated to either TV or film.
10. JoAnne Galloway, A Few Good Men
Demi Moore’s JoAnna Galloway is not the main character in A Few Good Men, but it’s hard to argue that she isn’t instrumental to their ultimate victory. Much of the meat of the movie comes from the dynamic between Galloway and Tom Cruise’s Daniel Kaffee as the two attempt to suss out what really happened on Guantanamo Bay that led to the death of one of the soldiers there. She may be a silent participant in the film’s most famous scene, but without all the groundwork she had done beforehand, “You can’t handle the truth!” would never have been possible.
9. Claire Kincaid, Law & Order
By its nature, a huge number of lawyers and cops appeared on Law & Order over the course of its 20 seasons on the air. Claire Kincaid was a standout, though, in part because of the way her personal beliefs often came into conflict with her duties as an attorney. Claire was fierce, and fiercely intelligent, and because Law & Order was set almost entirely at the office, we didn’t get much of a chance to understand who she was outside of work. She was never scared to bring her opinions to bear on her work, though, and that’s one of the things that made her so special.
8. Alicia Florrick, The Good Wife
A great lawyer and complicated character to be sure, Alicia Florrick is also the wife of the show’s title. Julianna Margulies played Alicia beautifully over seven seasons and proved that Alicia was one of the sharpest litigators at her Chicago law firm. There was always plenty of personal drama brewing on The Good Wife, but the show was expert at balancing its time inside the courtroom with the drama outside of it. When it was at its best, few shows were better than The Good Wife, and Alicia’s sheer determination was a huge reason why.
7. Ally McBeal, Ally McBeal
Ally McBeal was often wildly entertaining, and Ally McBeal only gets knocked because the legal drama she was often involved in was rarely the central focus of the show. Instead, Ally McBeal was much more of a workplace comedy that happened to be set at a law firm, and while we often got the chance to see Ally do some expert lawyering, we didn’t get as much as we might have liked. What made the show work, though, was how the cases that she and her colleagues took on were often used to channel debates happening in the broader culture, often with pretty interesting results.
6. Amanda Bonner, Adam’s Rib
One of many movies that Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy made together, Adam’s Rib follows a pair of married lawyers who find themselves facing off against one another in court. Although that kind of scenario is almost impossible to imagine in real life, it provides for a pretty compelling dramatic setup. As Amanda, Hepburn truly excels as a lawyer who fights earnestly for her belief that men and women should be treated as equals in the eyes of the law. It’s a lovely movie, and Amanda provides an early template for what female lawyers could look like on screen.
5. Patty Hewes, Damages
A generational talent who was slumming it on TV before it was cool, Glenn Close’s Patty Hewes manages her own law firm and is known for being shrewd and cutting in order to do what it takes to win. Patty’s ability to command power in a legal world often dominated by men was groundbreaking in its own right, but Close was remarkably capable of showcasing the way Patty’s cool, icy exterior had plenty of depth hidden beneath it. That’s not to say that Patty wasn’t manipulative when she needed to be, but that she was also a person underneath it all.
4. Annalise Keating, How to Get Away With Murder
Viola Davis is one of the greatest actresses ever to grace screens of any size, and her performance as Annalise Keating was just as towering as you might expect. How to Get Away With Murder didn’t have much care for how the law was actually practiced, but that didn’t make the show any less compelling, especially when it was firing on all cylinders. Davis won an Emmy for her staggering performance in the role, and her fierceness professionally was only matched by her ability to totally disarm viewers in more intimate moments.
3. Elle Woods, Legally Blonde
Elle Woods is probably not what you think of when you think of a lawyer, and that’s part of the point. Legally Blonde takes a bubbly sorority queen deadly seriously, and Elle Woods is deserving of all the attention she receives. Legally Blonde is one of the definitive texts in the story of how the stereotype that blondes were dumb was undone, and it’s also a remarkably entertaining watch. Elle proves to be a truly great attorney, but most importantly, she manages to prove herself without deviating from who she is.
2. Diane Lockhart, The Good Wife and The Good Fight
Diane Lockhart was a wonderful supporting presence on The Good Wife, but it was The Good Fight that ultimately allowed her to shine. Played with distinct verve by Christine Baranski, Diane is as devoted to the law as she is to her own refined taste, and we follow her as she continues to amass great power and then has to basically start over at the beginning of The Good Fight. Above all, though, Christine is a remarkably talented litigator, and not because she’s always dramatic, but because she can handle anything that’s thrown at her.
1. Kim Wexler, Better Call Saul
Perhaps the single greatest character in a universe brimming with memorable characters, Kim Wexler only has two lines in the first episode of Better Call Saul. By the time the sixth season rolled around though, she was a co-lead, and so crucial to the story that Better Call Saul was telling that she is given massive chunks of story real estate all to herself. Why? Because she deserves them. Not only is she a remarkably skilled lawyer, Kim is a vivid, drawn-out person who finds herself at war between her impulse toward destruction and her strong moral compass. She’s a remarkable creation, and totally deserves the top spot on this list.