When we’re asked to think about what a lawyer looks like, we automatically visualise something that looks a lot like Harvey Specter from Suits – a white, privileged male who studied at Harvard Law School.
But what does TV actually represent when it comes to the law professional how does that compare to real life?
With this in mind, the team at BPP University Law School have analysed data across 30 different legal dramas in order to create an image of what a lawyer looks like according to TV.
From analysing characteristics including ethnicity, gender roles and social mobility, the team were able to determine that the TV industry’s perception of a lawyer is still a white, middle-aged male in a senior role, dressed in formal attire like a suit.
The research revealed that when it came to the representation of ethnicity, only 22% of those from a black, or ethnic minority background were cast as main character legal professionals on TV compared to 78% who were white.
Not only that, but looking towards job roles, men were often more likely to be in more senior positions when it came to representation on TV. In fact across the 30 programmes we studied, two-thirds (64%) of males were in partner roles compared to women.
Jo-Anne Pugh, Dean at BPP University Law School said of the findings:
“Traditionally the legal industry has been elitist, meaning that only those who are the most advantaged have been more likely to advance towards being a solicitor or barrister, while those in black, ethnic minority groups or non-traditional groups have sometimes not realised the opportunity.
“At BPP University Law School, it is hugely important to us that students from different backgrounds and cultures feel welcomed and offered access to new routes into the profession, including legal apprenticeships and the SQE.
“It’s clear from our research that representation of lawyers in both TV and the media still has a long way to go in order to change the image of ‘what a lawyer looks like’ in reality.
“The legal sector is a diverse and innovative place, and it’s important that we recruit students from a representative cross-section of society onto our courses to progress into legal roles. It is important that we all work together to help change this perception going forward whether that be representation on TV or providing equal opportunities for those from different backgrounds, so they have the chance to succeed.”