In retrospect, it’s surprising that it took until the 1993 film adaptation of John Grisham’s The Firm to turn the “murderous law firm” trope into a hit. In the most litigious country on Earth, what could be scarier than a law firm? The Firm certainly isn’t the only book or film (or TV show) to turn a law firm into the villain, though. Ahead of the return of all new episodes of USA Network’s Suits on Thursday, March 6 at 9/8c, we looked into some of pop culture’s most fearsome firms.
Wolfram & Hart, Angel (1999)
In other TV shows, fictional law firms are portrayed as serving the wealthy, corrupt, and amoral out of the lawyers’ own sense of greed and ambition. In the Joss Whedon universe, the fictional law firm Wolfram & Hart serves the interests of the wealthy, corrupt, and amoral because it’s run by demons who thrive on misery and oppression. This monolithic corporate law firm is actually a front for “The Wolf,” “The Ram,” and “The Hart,” a shadowy cabal of ancient demons known as “The Senior Partners.” Given the size and depth of the firm’s evil, which includes but is not limited to performing assassinations, sometimes of its own employees, and bringing about the apocalypse, Wolfram & Hart acts as a formidable antagonist to Angel and his vigilante detective agency. That is, until “Conviction,” the first episode of season five, where the vampire with a heart of gold inherits control of the firm and attempts to reform it from within.
Kenner, Bach & Ledeen, Michael Clayton (2007)
As George Clooney says during a scene with Tom Wilkinson early in Michael Clayton, Kenner, Bach & Ledeen is one of the most powerful law firms in the world. And no law firm reaches such status without getting its hands dirty—that’s the calling card of Michael Clayton (Clooney), who’s a “fixer” dispatched to clean up the mess Wilkinson makes when he goes all Network during a $3 billion class-action lawsuit against U-North, an agricultural conglomerate he’s supposed to be defending. The trouble is Wilkinson knows the company is guilty and had been working with a witness to expose its wrongdoing—which Kenner, Bach & Ledeen somehow knows, even though the witness and Wilkinson were supposedly the only people aware of it. As connected as the firm is, it’s nowhere as scary as U-North’s chief counsel, who orders hits on people.
Bendini, Lambert & Locke, The Firm (1993)
When hotshot lawyer Mitch McDeere (Tom Cruise at the height of his career) is wooed by Bendini, Lambert & Locke, he can’t resist the big salary and other benefits—not realizing that the titular firm has a habit of murdering any of its associates that try to leave (or blackmailing them if it disapproves of them). Seems a little extreme, considering its major indiscretion is laundering mob money and overbilling clients. Don’t all evil law firms do that?
Milton, Chadwick & Waters, The Devil’s Advocate (1997)
Other law firms might be evil, but only Milton, Chadwick & Waters actually has Satan himself—Al Pacino, in the role he was bred to play—as a partner. In The Devil’s Advocate, Pacino appeals to a young lawyer (Keanu Reeves) to join his firm and represent some shady clients, compromising his morals in the process. Rather than the usual law-drama back-room dealings, this movie features characters being revealed as actual demons.
“I Can’t Believe It’s A Law Firm!,” The Simpsons (1991-1996)
Fearsome not for the power it wields but for the magnificent incompetence of its sole attorney, “I Can’t Believe It’s A Law Firm!” was the storefront firm of Lionel Hutz (Phil Hartman), located in Springfield Mall. The Simpsons first seek his counsel after Mr. Burns hits Bart with a car, and it’s the only time Lutz has appeared competent—completely corrupt, but competently so, as he finds a fake doctor and coaches Bart on how to look more injured than he is. When the case falls apart, it’s not his fault— the first and only time that happens.
Pearson Hardman/Pearson Specter, Suits (2011-present)
Don’t even bother applying to Pearson Hardman without a degree from Harvard Law School; the firm exclusively hires graduates from the top-ranked school in the country. Mike Ross (Patrick J. Adams) is a genius college dropout with a photographic memory who takes the LSAT for other people, until he stumbles into a law firm associate interview while running away from the authorities. Pearson Hardman’s most feared lawyer, the undefeated Harvey Specter (Gabriel Macht), tests Mike, and comes away so impressed that he takes the risk of hiring the illegal candidate. As Harvey’s protégé, Mike sees firsthand the tactics Harvey employs in order to always come out on top, with no exceptions. Coming out of the first half of season three, which guest starred Conleth Hill and Michelle Fairley from Game of Thrones, Suits resembles a closed-door power struggle between royal heirs in a cutthroat kingdom against the backdrop of corporate law in New York City.