They’re perfectly coiffed in tailored suits. Their heels go on for days. Their nails match their pearls, their skirts are fitted to tight cherry-round bottoms, and their bare legs are smoother than a baby’s ass. We’re not talking about the hostesses of Project Runway or America’s Next Top Model. We’re talking about lady lawyers on TV.
I’m going on my 10th year as a litigator, and from what I’ve seen television mostly gets us wrong. Take The Good Wife. With its pregnant pauses, it feels more like a study in still life than a portrayal of a professional (Juliana Marguiles). If you didn’t know better, you’d think that we spent our days thumbing photos of mansions we might purchase or just accidentally sleeping with the male partners, creating hostility with younger female associates.
Whoever made the upcoming (and ridiculously patronizing) new series Made In Jersey seeks to offend both lady lawyers and non-Manhattanites in one fell swoop with its silly she-underdog premise. The writers of the short-lived Courting Alex portrayed us as hapless singles boorishly unskilled in the love department. And the prosecutors in the myriad iterations of Law & Order play like auditions for Victoria’s Secret.
Perhaps it’s flattery. Law shows would rather glamorize than depict us eating chips out of the bag in our sweats while watching Family Guy at 11 at night (when we’ve just gotten home from the office). Real litigators eat Tums in between meals of vending machine pretzels and Alka Seltzer, wear their hair in pony-tails or pencil buns and haven’t shaved their legs since the last time they made it to a yoga class three weeks ago (which was, incidentally, a pre-natal class and I’m not pregnant). It’s a rare day when we have time to throw on some tinted sun cream to give the appearance we’ve been outside.
That’s not to say that there aren’t a handful of bombshell attorneys out there (including yours truly, tut tut).
But your average female lawyer doesn’t rock a body like Rhona Mitra (left, Boston Legal) or Stephanie March (Law & Order). And even if she did, she wouldn’t show it off in teeny tiny skirt suits to a rape charge arraignment.
Another TV myth: That we care about every hearing, client phone call and overruled objection like our careers depended on it. The truth is that litigators have to make fourteen thousand decisions a day. We don’t have the time to sit around with our chums to pontificate, strategize and debate. That unstoppable, altruistic seeker of justice whose tears of victory never smear her makeup: she’s about as real as a hang-gliding unicorn.
So why the fantasy? Perhaps it’s the idea that viewers only want to watch hot women become powerful in business. But this theory doesn’t wash. Statistically, women watch more television that men, and female viewers don’t need the female protagonist to be drop-dead gorgeous (see Nurse Jackie and 30 Rock) – they want her to be the bad-ass hero that takes down her enemy. So this idea that a litigator is somehow unwatchable unless she looks like Portia de Rossi (Ally McBeal) has got to go.
Women deserve a real depiction. They need to know that we work hard to become attorneys, we’re vastly outnumbered by men and we represent the gender in a legitimate and authentic way that has nothing to do with perfectly symmetric lip liner. Our hair may not always be shellacked and our skirts may be more ill-fitting than they were, but we don’t cry to our partners every night that we’re doing the work of a paralegal, like Ellen Parsons on Damages. We don’t moan that life’s unfair when we lose a motion. And we don’t get into “cat fights” like on Ally McBeal (btw cats can also be male, right?) We also avoid long-winded speeches about how the number of female partners and judges are both steadily increasing (though both numbers need work).
Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) on Sex & The City and Patty Hewes (Glenn Close) on Damages pretty much nail it. Miranda’s harried expressions about sexual favors she’s asked to perform do not diminish her level-headedness and brutal honesty about her profession. She has dirty dishes in her kitchen and drops groceries when the pressure gets to be too much. She’s a real woman, not some animatronic blow-up doll with a JD degree specially made in pink to match her duvet.
Likewise, Patty Hewes on Damages, while never frazzled, is a brilliant but ethically-challenged attorney whose vagina has no speaking role. She battles with a focus that completely distracts attention from her wardrobe. Sure, she’s attractive and put together, but you won’t find her in some silly animal print tunic before a judge in an 11th hour ex parte request. She dresses like a professional. This isn’t a small point. As advocates, we are an extension of our clients’ needs and requests, so it’s inappropriate to show skin like some waitress at Hooters.
But so much for the real world. The return of The Good Wife and the advent of Made In Jersey means a return to the fantasy that us lady lawyers are as bangable as we are cunning. We’re like shrewd animals that use our sexuality to convince the DA to nail that dastardly perp.
Because after all, if it wasn’t for our tits, he would let him walk.
Angel Baker is an attorney in Los Angeles who specializes in plaintiff’s employment law. She has written for Bullett Magazine, LARecord, Screencrave and others. You can find her on Twitter @angel_m_baker and at her website angelmbaker.com.