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American Bar Assn.: 'L.A. Law' tops 'Perry Mason' as top legal show

July 22, 2009 | 12:06 pm

L.A. Law

The verdict is in from a 12-member jury of the American Bar Assn.: “L.A. Law” bested “Perry Mason” as the best legal drama in television history.

Despite a testament to "Perry Mason” by U.S. Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor during her confirmation hearings last week, the TV drama starring Raymond Burr came in second to the series depicting the fictional Los Angeles firm of McKenzie, Brachman, Chaney & Kuzak.  The "L.A. Law" lawyers are deemed "smart, driven, fallible, sexy and as varied as the rest of humankind,” according to the rankings in the August edition of the ABA Journal.

Perry MasonA jury of nine lawyers, two academics and a TV critic ranked the Top 25 legal shows as a follow-up to last year’s judging of the most iconic films depicting the legal profession, in which “To Kill a Mockingbird” (1962), “12 Angry Men” (1957) and “My Cousin Vinny” (1992) took the top spots.

“It’s hard to underestimate the impact of popular culture on our society,” Edward Adams, editor and publisher of the ABA Journal said of the TV productions rated this year. “Television has provided us with a steady diet of legal shows that have had a huge impact on the public’s impression of what lawyers do.”

Adams notes that while movies are memorable, “television literally inhabits our living rooms. Week after week -- sometimes for decades with particular shows -- it shapes the public’s impression of the legal profession for good and for ill.”  (After the jump, the full list.)

The Top 25

1. “L.A. Law” (1986-1994)
2. “Perry Mason” (1957-1966)
3. “The Defenders” (1961-1965)
4. “Law & Order” (1990-present)
5. “The Practice” (1997-2004)
6. “Ally McBeal” (1997-2002)
7. “Rumpole of the Bailey” (1978-1992)
8. “Boston Legal” (2004-2008)
9. “Damages” (2007-present)
10. “Night Court” (1984-1992)
11. “Judging Amy” (1999-2005)
12. “Owen Marshall: Counselor at Law" (1971-1974)
13. “JAG” (1995-2005)
14. “Shark” (2006-2008)
15. “Civil Wars” (1991-1993)
16. “Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law” (2000-2007)
17. “Law & Order: Criminal Intent” (2001-present)
18. “Murder One” (1995-1997)
19. “Matlock” (1986-1995)
20. “Reasonable Doubts” (1991-1993)
21. “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” (1999-present)
22. “Judd for the Defense” (1967-1969)
23. “Paper Chase” (1978-1979, 1983-1986)
24. “Petrocelli” (1974-1976)
25. “Eli Stone" (2008-2009)

-- Carol J. Williams

Photos, from top: Cast of L.A. Law; Raymond Burr as Perry Mason. Credits, from top: File; Viacom