This week we’re preparing to get wrapped up in another plot-twisting, suspenseful drama from Shonda Rhimes, 2014 The Root 100 honoree and one of the greatest showrunners in TV history. On Thursday, when How to Get Away With Murder premieres on ABC, we’ll meet Annalise Keating, a “sexy, brilliant and charismatic” law professor and attorney played by Viola Davis. Davis is set to join several other black actresses who have played attorneys on television. Take a look at some of our favorites.
In her first leading role on television, Davis plays Annalise Keating on How to Get Away With Murder, a legal drama about a professor in Philadelphia whose students get involved in a murder plot. But you may remember Davis’ role on NBC’s long-running series Law & Order: Special Victims Unit as tough defense attorney Donna Emmett.
On ABC’s The Practice, Rebecca Washington had dreams of becoming a lawyer and was secretly going to law school at night and studying for the bar exam. After years as a receptionist at the firm, she finally became an attorney.
Maxine Shaw, attorney-at-law on the 1990’s Living Single, was one of TV’s funniest slick-tongued lawyers. Played by Alexander, Maxine initially worked for the firm Evans & Bell but was fired in the show’s second season, later becoming a public defender. She represented “Jesus” in court and even provided counsel for her best friend, Khadijah James.
Clair Huxtable made being a working mother look easy on The Cosby Show. She eventually became a partner in her firm while managing a household of five children with her husband, Dr. Cliff Huxtable. Although we mostly saw Clair at home, we always knew that she could win any argument. Just watch this clip when she gives an epic closing statement to Elvin. However, when the show was being developed, Clair wasn’t going to have “Esq.” after her name; she was going to be a plumber or a carpenter on the series. Can you imagine?
Joan Clayton was desperately trying to become a junior partner at her firm on Girlfriends. In the second season in 2001, she and her co-worker-best friend, William Dent, catch a lot of flak for representing a beverage company that is accused of saying racist things about a basketball player. But after several years, the senior partners refused to promote her and she quit her job to open a restaurant. Ross stars on ABC’s new comedy series Black-ish, which premieres this week.
Teri Joseph was a whip-smart Chicago lawyer on Showtime’s Soul Food, an early-2000s series based on the movie (Vanessa L. Williams played the role in the film). At prestigious Greene Norris and Associates, Teri was one of the top attorneys at the firm, but they continued to drag their feet on making her a partner. Not too much later, after a short stint at an all-black firm, Teri was hired as a managing partner at Greene Norris after a national law firm bought them out. Parker also plays district attorney Jacqueline Perez in the TNT series Murder in the First and appeared as a lawyer in films including The Deep End, Brown Sugar and Blue Streak.
Long co-stars as Billie Page on WeTV’s new legal drama, The Divide, which explores race, ambition and politics in the justice system. The show was created by Richard LaGravenese and Tony Goldwyn, president of the United States on ABC’s Scandal.
Union appeared on the short-lived ABC sci-fi series FlashForward, about a group of people who lose consciousness for two minutes and 17 seconds, in the 2009-2010 season. She played Zoey Andata, a criminal-defense attorney who was set to marry a partner in the FBI.
Givens played Wilma Cuthbert, one of the lawyers on UPN’s sitcom Sparks in the late ’90s. Based in Compton, Calif., the law firm was run by the Sparks family, portrayed by James Avery, Terrence Howard and Miguel A. Nunez Jr.
Carolyn Maddox was a private-practice defense attorney who was one of the most feared lawyers in New York City. Portrayed by Pounder, she’s appeared in five episodes of Law & Order: SVU. Pounder currently has a recurring role as a district attorney on FX’s Sons of Anarchy and stars on the CBS series NCIS: New Orleans this fall.
Shambala Green was a defense attorney who often went toe-to-toe with district attorney Jack McCoy on NBC’s Law & Order. Toussaint, who also portrayed an attorney on TNT’s The Closer, will appear in the much-anticipated civil rights film Selma by Ava DuVernay as Amelia Boynton, one of several female leaders during the civil rights movement.
It’s easy to forget, but Olivia Pope—and the rest of the gladiators—are all lawyers. Olivia graduated from Georgetown Law before going on to work for the White House. Washington also appeared as a lawyer on the TV series Boston Legal in the mid-2000s and in the films Night Catches Us and Peeples.
Carson portrayed Calista Flockhart’s best friend and roommate, Renee Raddick, on the late-1990s comedy series Ally McBeal. Although she spent a lot of time giving advice to her crazy friend, Renee was also a district attorney. Last month Carson reminisced on Yahoo about her time on the show and talked about why she took a break from Hollywood.
For several years in the early 2000s, Beauvais co-starred as assistant district attorney Valerie Heywood on NYPD Blue. From 2011 to 2012 she had a recurring role on TNT’s Franklin & Bash as a top lawyer at the firm.
Hall portrayed deputy district attorney Evelyn Price on NBC’s 2010-2011 series Law & Order: Los Angeles. She had a great amount of skepticism about the Los Angeles Police Department and its treatment of minorities.
In 2007 King had a recurring role on 24 as legal counselor Sandra Palmer, who worked for the Islamic-American Alliance. She also appeared as a lawyer in the films Our Family Wedding and Legally Blonde 2: Red, White and Blue.
Jessica Pearson is one tough lawyer and managing partner on USA Networks' Suits. Torres has called Jessica the “poster girl for female lawyers.”