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10 TV Lawyers from the 70s and 80s Who Raised the Bar

Here’s why the world really needs a list of great TV lawyers …

On the second Tuesday of April every year, Americans celebrate “Be Kind to Lawyers Day.”

TV Lawyers - be kind to lawyers day

OK, maybe we don’t really “celebrate” the holiday, but it gives us some chuckles. And a conundrum …

Namely, which lawyers should we be kind to? Well, the name would imply all of them, but that’s not very realistic … is it?

So instead, we’ll just reflect on these stellar — or at least memorable — TV lawyers from the 1970s and 1980s, and then call it a day.

A “Be Kind to Lawyers Day.”

Or, in our case, maybe a “Be Kind to Television Lawyers Day.”

Ben Matlock – Matlock – Patriarch of TV Lawyers

Man, if you found yourself on the wrong side of law in the south during the 1980s, old Ben Matlock was the dude you wanted to defend you.

For one thing, if he took you on, he probably believed in your innocence.

For another, if he took you on, that meant you paid his $100,000 retainer. So, you know, you had some resources.

Plus, with Andy Griffiths’ down-home-cookin’ portrayal, your attorney might just charm the verdict in your favor. You might also get a banjo ukulele serenade out of the deal.

Dan Fielding – Night Court

On the other hand, if you found yourself in some minor trouble in the middle of the night in New York City during the 1980s, you might run up against prosecutor Dan Fielding.

Dan was sarcastic and quick-witted and had little time or tolerance for anything other than the self-evident facts of a case. And women. He had time for women.

Dan would take you down in a heartbeat if he could, in other words. Your only hope would be a command performance by Christine (Markie Post) or a twinge of compassion from Judge Harry T. Stone (Harry Anderson).

Christine Sullivan – Night Court

If you made it onto Stone’s docket anytime from the third season on, you would most likely land in the compassionate and capable hands of public defender Christine Sullivan (Post).

While Christine didn’t have the knife-sharp analytical acumen and slashing dry wit to match Dan, she had enough wile to trap him with his own bluster on occasion.

And she’d call you on your bullshit if the moment called for it.

You can’t always get what you want, but sometimes P.D. Sullivan was what you needed.

Arnie Becker – L.A. Law

On the other other hand, if you found yourself stuck in a messy divorce settlement on the left coast of the United States, and if you had the fundage wherewithal, you might have hired Arnie Becker to represent you.

Protect your assets.

Get the children.

Arnie was stylish and somewhat flamboyant, and he had some cringe-worthy moments, but he definitely worked for your money … uh, for you.

Clair Huxtable – The Cosby Show – Matriarch of TV Lawyers

Who didn’t want to be part of the Cosby family in the 1980s?

I mean, you would have traded your seat in front of your TV dinner tray, next to Uncle Tim, for a slot at the Huxtables’ table, between Theo and Rudy, any day of the week.

I know you would have.

Part of the charm, of course was Bill Cosby and his humorous but warm fathering style, before we knew what we know. Dr. Cliff Huxtable was the THE MAN, man.

But part of the charm was his wife Clair, an attorney who had it all — a bajillion kids, partnership status in her law firm, a loving husband, fuzzy sweaters, respect from every corner. Everything!

And she was the perfect straight-lady to Cliff’s shenanigans, using the no-nonsense sensibilities she cultivated from years wrangling with the law to keep her kids plowing forward through life.

I’ll never be half the parent Clair was.

Albert Brock – Sanford and Son – Forgotten TV Lawyers

What would you do if you were watching TV one night when your life suddenly started scrolling across the screen?

That’s the dilemma that faced Fred and Lamont when Steinberg and Son debuted on NBC in an obvious ripoff of their own setup — a widowed junk man and his son trying to make a buck.

So, in that same spirit — trying to make a buck — Fred hired attorney Albert Brock to help him arrange a meeting with network execs and come to some agreement (i.e., settlement).

And I don’t know about you, but I’d feel pretty comfortable walking into any negotiations with Robert Guillaume on my side. I mean, if Benson (Benson and Soap) can’t help you find justice, then who can?

Joyce Davenport – Hill Street Blues

Joyce Davenport was a fixture on Hill Street Blues right from the start, a respected and compassionate public defender who hit it of with police Captain Frank Furillo.

Though their relationship began in shadows, they got hitched after a few seasons, and we got to see the ins-and-outs of a cop-lawyer marriage every week.

Davenport jumped sides for a stretch in Season 5, trying her hand in the District Attorney’s office but soon ended up where she belonged — helping people defend themselves in court.

Ernest Frye – Amen

You probably remember Frye as the fiery Sherman Hemsley character in Amen … he was the widower deacon who took care of his church’s business and also happened to be the father of Thelma (Anna Maria Horsford), love interest of the new young preacher in town (Reuben Gregory, played by Clifton Davis).

What you may not remember is that Deacon Frye was also a lawyer, and he eventually became a judge.

Of course, mixing the power of the law with a dude who tended toward slightly shady, harebrained schemes was a dangerous combination, and the shenanigans ran high for Frye on this show.

Sort of like George Jefferson with a robe.

Adam Kendall – Little House on the Prairie

You may not remember much or anything about Adam unless you watched Little House forever, because he didn’t even appear until episode number 422.

In case you’re fuzzy on his story … Adam Kendall lost his sight in a fishing accident with his father when he was a kid. Some years later, while teaching at a school for the blind, he met Mary Ingalls, a student from Walnut Grove.

Eventually, the two fell in love and got married, and Adam fulfilled his dream of becoming a lawyer.

And, of course, his sight was restored in another freak accident.

Though he hung a shingle in Walnut Grove, Adam soon learned the sleepy little town couldn’t really support a lawyer. He and Mary moved to New York to find greener pastures among the concrete.

In real life, Mary did go blind … but that’s about as close as she ever got to the “Adam” story.

Tom – Cheers

Tom was always — or at least often — in the background at the Cheers bar as Sam, Norm, Cliff, Woody, Coach, Carla, Diane, and the other regulars went about their witty banter.

While never a main character, Tom (played by Thomas Babson) became the resident legal expert when we learned he was an aspiring attorney who failed the bar (the legal one) ten times.

As you might imagine, or even remember, this provided plenty of fodder for derision at Tom’s expense, but he just kept right on drinking … and backgrounding.

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