Raising the Bar: Brilliant Women Lawyers from Ann Kelsey to Miranda Hobbes

  • Sharon Sutherland
  • Sarah Swan


If you see a beautiful young woman in a snappy business suit on your television set, chances are she is a lawyer. Since L.A. Law’s debut in 1986, countless shows—both with legal themes and otherwise—have featured women lawyers as significant characters, with more arriving every season. This trend is not new; popular culture has long been fascinated with the image of the female attorney. From Shakespeare’s Portia to the 2006 midseason premiere of Courting Alex, the female lawyer has appeared in countless films, plays, novels, and television series.1 Academics and critics interested in popular culture have noticed her and devoted many articles and even books to her.2 With this chapter, we add to this lively discussion a study of brilliance in television’s women lawyers. Intelligence in these characters echoes society’s understanding of “smartness” in real women lawyers. However, the intelligence of television’s female lawyers occurs amid many unrealistic contextual factors and gives a distorted image of women in the profession. Television shows us beautiful, brainy female lawyers who can display their smartness by practicing in any area they like and in any manner they like, but whose intelligence is undercut by an inability to have successful personal relationships. Real women attorneys often do not have beauty to accompany their brilliance, have been traditionally relegated to showing their intellectual abilities in particular areas and through particular methods of lawyering, and are sometimes married and have children. The disparity between the popular culture picture of female attorneys and real women lawyers suggests much about how U.S. society conceptualizes brilliance.


Eating Disorder Popular Culture Legal Profession Television Series Professional Woman 
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Copyright information

© Sherrie A. Inness 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sharon Sutherland
  • Sarah Swan

There are no affiliations available

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