If the countless works of science fiction can agree on one thing, it's that the future isn't perfect. And, on the rare occasion when disputes can't be solved with an epic starship battle, it's time to bring in the lawyers.
I think there's an argument to be made that lawyers are underrepresented in science fiction, at least relative to their prevalence in other genres. Compared to, say, doctors, who show up all the time in pretty much every science fiction show (as an earlier post on this very site once examined), you generally need a pretty specific reason to bring a lawyer onto the scene, and a lot of the time even a trial won't do it.
After all, how many times have science fiction protagonists found themselves in kangaroo courts, forced to offer their own best defense? There's apparently not much of a right to legal representation in the future. For instance, roughly half of all Doctor Who stories find the Doctor under arrest for one reason or another, and I can't name a single character in the entire history who could really be considered a lawyer (with the possible exception of the Valeyard, which I'm not counting for so many reasons).
That's not to say there aren't any great lawyers in science fiction - far from it. Here are some of the best.
Samuel T. Cogley, Star Trek
In most of the trials seen over the course of the Star Trek franchise's long history, the defendants simply represented themselves. This probably had something to do with the fact that the characters were all in the military, but it's just as likely that this made it easier to give the show's stars big dramatic speeches. (Seriously, check out this list of the show's "lawyers" from Memory Alpha. It's basically just a list of the various shows' captains and first officers.)
But, when Kirk found himself faced with a case even he could not theatrically bluster his way out of - and keep in mind we're talking about William Shatner at the height of his hammy powers here, so this is a seriously impossible case we're talking about - he turned to super-lawyer Samuel T. Cogley to lead his defense. Famous for his Luddite tendencies, which included such eccentricities as reading books on paper instead of on computer. Not one to do anything halfway, Cogley's spirited defense included references to "the Bible, the Code of Hammurabi and of Justinian, the Magna Carta, the United States Constitution, the Fundamental Declarations of the Martian colonies and the Statutes of Alpha III", all of which I plan on citing as precedents should I ever find myself standing before a judge.
Cogley's defense didn't exactly lead to an acquittal, but it did provide Kirk and Spock enough time to prove the man Kirk had supposedly murdered was, in fact, alive and well and tampering with the ship's systems. With his case concluded, Cogley decided to move on to defending Kirk's supposed victim, noting he felt very good about his chances.
And let's also give a quick shout-out to Worf's grandfather, who was also called Worf, for his thankless job advocating for Kirk and McCoy at their Klingon show trial in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. Although I must admit that that throwaway cameo originally left me with the mistaken impression that Lieutenant Worf was about 150 years old by the time of The Next Generation.
Romo Lampkin, Battlestar Galactica & Joseph Adama, Caprica
Easily the best of Battlestar Galactica's later season additions (with all due respect to noted neurosurgeon John Hodgman), Romo Lampkin combined the sort of lovable sleaziness central to any Mark Sheppard performance, mixed with a brilliant if fractured legal philosophy. Seemingly just a mercenary lawyer taking on the obviously indefensible defense of disgraced president Gaius Baltar, he proceeded to build a case equal parts audacious (such as changing Baltar's plea to guilty just to make a point) and ludicrous (such as calling Lee Adama, his own partner on the defense and the son of one of the judges, to the stand to testify - this is a perk of trying a case in front of ship's captains instead of actual legal experts, I guess). Oh, and he's also a kleptomaniac and was briefly President of the Colonies. Although, quite honestly, who wasn't President of the Colonies towards the end?
In time, Lampkin reveals that he learned many of his best tricks from Joseph Adama, famous (some would say infamous) civil liberties lawyer back on Caprica. Much of his story remains to be told, as he will be the central figure of the prequel series Caprica, but it has already been revealed that he also defended members of the Ha'la'tha crime syndicate, which he had to do to repay them for funding his legal education. Still, he also defended the so-called "worst of the worst" partly out of a more altruistic need to air out society's failings. He always said his trademark silver lighter brought him good luck and made him unbeatable whenever he took it with him to court, a claim both his son and grandson later took much comfort in as they took the lighter with them on their most dangerous missions.
The law firm of Wolfram & Hart, Angel
The main adversaries for the mostly reformed vampire Angel, Wolfram and Hart represents the Earthly interests of an ancient group of demons. Beyond engaging in a variety of extracurricular activities that run the gamut from unscrupulous to criminal to utterly detestable (and, whenever possible, all three at once), the law firm also makes a point of representing society's most reprehensible slime, such as corrupt politicians. Supposedly, Wolfram & Hart would not exist without the evil inherent to all people. If I may make an exceedingly easy joke, I'm not clear how this distinguishes it from any other law firm.
Isaac Asimov's landmark collection of robot stories features two tales that might not actually have any robots in them at all. These two stories, "Evidence" and "The Evitable Conflict", focus on Stephen Byerley, a successful prosecutor currently running for Mayor of New York City. His enemies in the Quinn political machine accuse him of being a robot, forcing Susan Calvin and the rest of US Robots and Mechanical Men to attempt to verify that claim. Their various tests prove inconclusive, and Byerley refuses to prove his humanity on the grounds that that is not something any human should have to prove.
"Evidence" never exactly reveals one way or the other whether Byerley is, in fact, a robot, but the clues probably point to a cautious "yes." (Whether or not he is a robot isn't even at issue in "The Evitable Conflict", where he has moved on from Mayor of New York to the only slightly more powerful position of World Coordinator.) This is qualified by the fact that Susan Calvin argues convincingly that a robot could never be a lawyer, as the unshakable parameters of the First Law of Robotics would prevent a robot from ever understanding the complex concept of "justice."
His detractors' claim that he only prosecutes those that he is certain are guilty is rejected by Dr. Calvin, as Byerley could never get past the direct harm of imprisoning a man if he were a robot. The story makes a number of satirical points, such as pointing out that someone everyone thinks is a robot because he or she appears to follow the Three Laws of Robotics might simply be a very good person, as the Three Laws are essentially a simple code of ethics. Whether Asimov intends any further syllogism to be made when he suggests a robot could never be a lawyer is up to the reader to decide.
Livia Beale, Journeyman
The short-lived 2007 series followed Dan Vasser, a San Francisco reporter who travels randomly in time. During its brief run, Journeyman also introduced Vasser's former fiance, Livia Beale (played by Terminator Salvation's Moon Bloodgood), who had seemingly died in a plane crash. She was actually another traveler in time who was originally from 1948. Finding herself stuck in our time period seemingly for good, she decided to become a lawyer and make a new life for herself. She has to leave all this behind when the plane crash makes her resume her time jumping, although she is now able to help Dan in his own travels.
Canadian science fiction author Robert J. Sawyer is one of the best when it comes to examining the ethical implications futuristic ideas. His courtroom drama Illegal Alien pits prosecutor Linda Ziegler against famous civil rights lawyer Dale Rice in just the latest trial of the century to hit Los Angeles. This time, it is the alien Hask of the Tosok race who finds himself facing murder charges, and Rice takes it upon himself to clear the alien of the charges. Both his and Ziegler's arguments are as much based upon slick theatrics and larger questions of alien rights as they are the pertinent facts of the case (which, as they so often do in science fiction stories, point to a larger conspiracy).
Nathan Petrelli, Heroes
Although Nathan Petrelli started out as a lawyer in the New York City District Attorney's office, this is pretty much behind him before the show even starts. Like many real-life lawyers, he used his legal career as a springboard into politics, with the first episode of Heroes already showing him as a Congressional candidate.
The law firm of Crane, Constable, McNeil & Montero, Century City
This 2004 show mostly came and went without anyone noticing, and it hasn't even picked up the modest following of something like Journeyman. Still, the show deserves plenty of credit for being probably the closest thing to pure legal science fiction ever shown on TV. Set in 2030, a time when Oprah Winfrey is president, the moon is colonized, and there is universal health care for all, Century City looks at the various cases undertaken by the four partners at the law firm of Crane, Constable, McNeil & Montero.
These cases touch on everything from the ethics of cloning to identity theft that actually entails stealing entire personalities. It only ran for four episodes before CBS canceled it. Perhaps we'll just have to wait for the seemingly indestructible Law & Order franchise to make a futuristic spin-off (it can be called Law & Order: Futuristic Spin-Off!) for legal science fiction to get a real foothold in the TV landscape.
Harvey Birdman, Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law
What Century City tried to do for all of science fiction's many tropes and elements, the Adult Swim classic Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law did far more successfully for the rather more narrow field of sixties Hanna Barbera cartoons. The washed-up hero turned barely qualified lawyer Harvey Birdman was probably the sanest person at his largely psychotic law firm, and he too was in all probability certifiably insane, which had mixed results when it actually came time to go to trial. (The fact that the judges themselves were also completely bonkers was a big randomizer.)
The show's science fiction credentials weren't always particularly strong, but it did retain enough of a flavor of Birdman's old job as a third-rate superhero for me to feel comfortable including it on this list. The show also occasionally featured cases that highlighted some of Hanna Barbera's more obviously science fiction programs, including the Jetson family (from the far future time of 2004!) suing the past for destroying the environment and forcing their entire society to live high above the clouds of the destroyed Earth.
His High Judgmental Supremacy, Judiciary Pag, the Learned, Impartial, and Very Relaxed, might technically be more of a judge than a lawyer, but I'll still include him for a couple of reasons. One, he probably started out as a lawyer, and two, he's easily my favorite minor character in the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy saga. Judiciary Pag was most famous for sentencing the people of Krikkit some ten billion years ago to imprisonment in a Slo-Time seal after they tried to kill everybody in the entire universe (which, he points out, he feels like doing the same thing some mornings).
He was hated by pretty much all of his colleagues for his unprofessional manner and supremely laid-back approach to the law. (For instance, he marked what he rightly recognized as the most important moment in legal history by sticking some gum under his chair.) He got away with all this because he was, in fact, the greatest legal mind the cosmos would ever know. Pag or, as he preferred to be known for reasons that made sense only to him, Zipo Bibrok 5 × 108, handed down his ruling on the Krikit matter to great acclaim and thunderous, which he would have been around to receive if he hadn't already slipped away with one of the more attractive members of the jury to whom he had slipped a note about a half hour beforehand.
A whole bunch of characters from Marvel and DC Comics
There's no shortage of lawyers among the superhero community. As superhero (and villain) origin stories go, former lawyer was particularly popular in the Golden Age. The first costumed crimefighter, Brian O'Brien was a former district attorney who took a more direct role in meting out justice when he became the masked vigilante The Clock in 1936. Numerous others followed, including the Quality Comics character Mouthpiece, the Timely Comics hero Laughing Mask, and the original version of the Batman foe the Thinker.
In more recent years, Marvel has created a bunch more lawyers, including Sharon Ginsberg, Cameron Hodge, and Black Bishop - and those are just the ones who are X-Men villains. There's also the X-Men's own attorney, Evangeline Whedon, who can turn into a dragon, the rather obscure seventies superhero Dominic Fortune, and Captain America's ex-girlfriend Bernie Rosenthal.
But Marvel's two most famous lawyers really have to be Matt Murdock and Jennifer Walter, better known respectively as Daredevil and She-Hulk. Matt Murdock's legal career has probably been a more consistent part of his character over the years, but Dan Slott's run on She-Hulk arguably did the most sustained (and most fun) exploration of the intersection between superheros and the law, as Jennifer Walter (and, quite explicitly, not She-Hulk) is hired by the law firm of Goodman, Lieber, Kurtzberg & Holliway to help defend heroes whose vigilante activities lead to all too common misunderstandings with more traditional law enforcement.
On the DC side of things, the most famous lawyer would probably have to be Harvey Dent, who of course was Gotham City's district attorney before he became Two-Face. In the current Batman: Reborn event that is launching Dick Grayson's tenure as the Caped Crusader, Gotham's new DA is Kate Spenser, better known as the vigilante Manhunter. An even more brutal lawyer-turned-crimefighter was the eighties version of Vigilante, who in his civilian life was New York City prosecutor Adrian Chase. Other lawyers in the DC universe include the Atom's very estranged and now villainous wife Jean Loring, Power Company hero Josiah Power, the mostly immortal Resurrection Man, and, reaching a bit further back into DC lore to the wonderfully ludicrous times before Crisis on Infinite Earths, the Robin of Earth-Two.
The Hyper-Chicken, Futurama
Is there any greater lawyer in all of science fiction than this simple hyper-chicken from a backwoods asteroid? Tasked with some of the thirty-first century's most impossible cases, he does about as well as can be expected, which is to say he doesn't completely lose all of them. He did help Bender beat the rap for non-drunk driving after he crashed a dark matter tanker into the Pluto penguin sanctuary (although he wasn't nearly as successful in his own trial for that there "incompetence"). He helped Fry and Bender avoid serious jail time after they unwittingly abetted a bank robbery by successfully arguing they were both insane, offering the simple evidence that they had hired him as their lawyer.
In his prosecution of Zapp Brannigan for blowing up DOOP headquarters, his oddball legal tactics ranged from the brilliant (like calling the jury, which was entirely composed of DOOP delegates, to the stand just so they could confirm they were going to convict Zapp) to the somewhat less brilliant (like his insistence on establishing whether or not Leela was wearing a hoop skirt at the time). A deleted scene from the most recent Futurama movie finally provided the name Matcluck for the character, but really he'll always simply be the Hyper-Chicken, and that's all he needs to be. Just don't mention badgers in front of him.