Can They Do that? Legal Ethics in Popular Culture: Of Characters and Acts

31 Pages Posted: 22 Jan 2020

See all articles by Carrie Menkel-Meadow

Carrie Menkel-Meadow

University of California, Irvine School of Law; Georgetown University Law Center


This Essay describes the depiction of modern lawyers' professional ethics in literature, films, and television, and distinguishes between personal and professional character and specific acts. Depictions of lawyers in modern popular culture are more complex and nuanced than older treatments and allow law students, lawyers, and legal academics an opportunity to examine both ethical rule violations and "micro" behavioral choices, as well as character and more "macro" professional career choices and philosophies in a variety of contexts and serialized plot treatments. Treatments of professional ethics in more recent popular culture are also contrasted to more literary examinations of both lawyers' and other professionals' moral choices. Whether modern popular depictions of lawyers reveal more villains than heroes remains an interesting, if unanswerable question. Lawyers are more diverse in their demography and work settings, and the complexity of the sociology of ethical choices is now more often depicted than it was in the "golden age" of popular lawyer heroes.

Suggested Citation

Menkel-Meadow, Carrie J., Can They Do that? Legal Ethics in Popular Culture: Of Characters and Acts. Georgetown Public Law Research Paper No. 288803, Available at SSRN: or

Carrie J. Menkel-Meadow (Contact Author)

University of California, Irvine School of Law ( email )

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Georgetown University Law Center ( email )

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