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Five drama recommendations… for legal dramas that don’t suck

Dramaland loves its legal dramas, but what makes a legal drama really work and become something fun? An accurate depiction of the law and legal process? An injection of romance? A slice-of-life feel that keeps the story about people, instead of just cases?

No matter what makes a legal drama pop for you, there are more than enough to choose from, each with a unique take on the genre. Here are some of our favorites.


 


Suits (2018)

 
I confess I haven’t gotten through very many legal dramas – and many of the ones I did finish were only because I forced myself to slog through those last few episodes. Not so with Suits, whose characters and cases kept me engaged from start to finish. When the newly promoted senior partner Choi Kang-seok (Jang Dong-gun) decides to take a chance on high school dropout Go Yeon-woo (Park Hyung-shik), he does so knowing that Yeon-woo has just made a mistake that ought to land him with jail time – and that taking Yeon-woo under his wing will get them both in even more trouble if they’re caught.

Between those stakes, snippets of poignant and inspiring life lessons sprinkled throughout the episodes, and of course the magnetic chemistry between Jang Dong-gun and Park Hyung-shik, the show kept me riveted with just the right blend of wit and heart. –@mistyisles

 


Miss Hammurabi (2018)

 
I’m not a big fan of legal dramas, but what drew me to Miss Hammurabi is the unique focus on judges rather than lawyers. The fact that it’s written by an actual judge was another plus. I am certainly no legal expert, and I’m sure there’s a bit of creative license at play, but it felt like a realistic take on the day-to-day life of judges and the dilemmas they face.

Our way into this legal realm is through our fresh-faced judges played by Go Ara and L. Of course, it wouldn’t be a drama without leads on the opposite end of the spectrum. Go Ara is overly empathetic and struggles to distance herself from her cases, while L is all logic and rules. The more experienced judge played by Sung Dong-il serves as their pragmatic counterpart, helping our judges learn how to approach the emotional and ethical side of their roles in a more nuanced, balanced way.

While this drama isn’t perfect, I found it one of the more interesting and down-to-earth legal dramas I’ve watched. I enjoyed the slice-of-life approach to the lives and work of judges in Korea and watching two young judges figure out what their job means to them. –@quirkycase

 


Diary of a Prosecutor (2019)

 
This drama will always hold a special place for me since it’s one of the very first dramas I recapped. I went into it for the leads Lee Sun-kyun and Jung Ryeo-won, both of whom I love. While they were as good as expected, I found a lot more to love about this understated legal drama.

Most stories about lawyers or prosecutors focus on dramatic courtroom scenes for dramatic cases involving murder or other such shocking crime. But Diary of a Prosecutor is all about the grunt work, which takes up most of the prosecutors’ time, and ordinary cases that can range from petty to tragic. The realistic angle likely stems from the fact that it’s inspired by stories and musings from real prosecutors.

I appreciate the way the cases and the characters’ lives weave together thematically, making the case of the week feel more relevant in the grand scheme of the drama. The balance of cases, character development, and inner workings of the legal system is just right. And it’s surprisingly funny, despite the heavy nature of some of the cases and themes. If you want a peek into the daily lives of a lovable group of overworked prosecutors navigating the good, the bad, and the ugly of their profession, this is your drama. –@quirkycase

 


Hyena (2020)

 
While legal dramas have been done to death in dramaland, Hyena offers a slightly fresher and fun spin on the genre. There’s no dull moment, and all the little cases sprinkled throughout the drama that seem unrelated, come together in the end to set up the groundwork for the ultimate showdown between the good guys and the baddies.

Hyena also introduces exciting lead characters with a slice of grey in them. Joo Ji-hoon plays a smartass lawyer – the cocky kind that knows he’s good at his job, but is surprisingly a bit of a romanticist. Kim Hye-soo (and her pixie cut) plays a gangster-like lawyer, willing to go any length to win a case. And the combination of these two characters is totally wild!

The drama focuses more on the legal angle and all the shenanigans that go on between the law firm and their clients, and romance is on the back burner. But the electric undercurrent beneath the continuous bickering of the male and female leads more than makes up for it.

It’s a light watch, the mood doesn’t get too serious, and there are a good number of laugh out loud moments in the drama. And if you like setups where the characters grudgingly come together as a team because, well, it’s their job, but they end up forming a bond based on mutual respect and trust — then this is the drama for you. –@unit

 


Law School (2021)

 
As the title indicates, this K-drama is more about budding soon-to-be lawyers than actively practicing ones, but it still manages to be one of the more comprehensive legal dramas that I’ve watched. As the students learn about the South Korean judicial system, so do we, and while I cannot vouch for its accuracy, this particular drama’s exploration of the genre feels more realistic because our law students don’t moonlight as vigilantes. Instead of brawling with their fists, they follow — and occasionally exploit — the law to fight injustices on a courtroom battlefield.

Another appealing aspect of this drama is the teamwork demonstrated by the ensemble cast. We get a lot of legal dramas in dramaland where our lead — and maybe his/her love interest — are the driving force behind the story, but Law School features a larger group of students and their professors working together and pooling their combined knowledge to save their clients and uncover the truth behind their professor’s murder. Although the students don’t always agree or get along, it’s the mixture of their combined personalities — plus the added stresses and conflicts they face as competing students — that really make this a unique, standout legal drama. –@daebakgrits

 
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If you watch it on a legal site, does that make it a "legal drama"?

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I laughed out loud on this. Am I losing my mind?

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Hahahaha, jesus

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I guess that makes you a legal person!!!!😆😅

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I've only handled patent prosecution matters in AsiaPac, so I'm not that familiar on civil and/or criminal procedures. But even though I have found my way inside a SoKor courtroom or two, I still find it extremely hard to watch anything legally-related without throwing cat toys at my TV. (Made an exception for "Suspicious Partner," for very obvious reasons. 🥰)

There will never be a totally-factual Korean legal drama made, unless a PD-nim wants to bore an audience into a coma. But not without a few *what-the-hell* moments, "Diary of a Prosecutor" came the closest to what I've witnessed first-hand of the Korean legal system.

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I had the misfortune to work (as an administrator, not a lawyer) for a law firm for my first few years out of college, which made me extreeeeeeeeemely skeptical of this genre. Having seen how real-life lawyers behave - often terribly, but more interpersonally than professionally - I just can't suspend disbelief at the unethical and unrealistic onscreen situations. I also made an exception for Suspicious Partner for the same obvious reason but the massive conflicts of interest were eye-rolling. And I am still tempted by The Good Wife just for the cast.

Ironically and horribly, the firm where I worked was the site of a shooting spree that killed several of the lawyers and staff, so although I wasn’t present during that, the violence depicted in some of these dramas lands differently for me.

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OMG! The 101 California Street in San Francisco shooting? My law firm in Chicago was locked down for months after that happened... and then my first contract position after being transferred to NorCal was in that same building. And I still do not feel exactly safe still working for lawyers to this day.

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Yup. The hair still stands up on the back of my neck when I go by that building, after all these years. And I plan an escape route from any office building in which I spend more than a few minutes.

Sorry for the highjack, fellow beanies. 😬 "Bored into a coma" is a far more likely scenario in both life and art when it comes to law offices.

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I concur re: “bored into a coma”! See my comment included herein. 👩🏻‍💼⚖️

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I don't watch many legal dramas, from this list alone the only one i've watched is Suits. It's a good drama
Does I Can Hear Your Voice count? I know it has fantasy elements but it's a good drama with great characters

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Yes I enjoyed I can hear your voice but just had to fast forward through the evil murderer scenes. He was a really scary bloke and it was frightening to see how he went from loving husband to man with no redemptive features following a chain of events.

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When i watched the drama years ago, i was fine with murderer scenes... i mean it's awful but i treated it as fiction.
But if i have to watch it again, i think i'll skip those scenes and scary scenes like when he stalked the female lead. Also the drama nails on making the song "I'll be there" to be THAT creepy.

Yeah. Those scenes are too creepy for my weak heart now

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I can hear your voice was my first K-Drama (And legal drama watch too if it can be called that)

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Wow, did you enjoy it?

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Yes. A lot. Mostly because I fell in love with the FL. Even SFL gets better with time.

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Thanks for putting this together as this is a genre I have tended to be wary of for fear of violence or thriller themes but there are a few that sound like they would work for me. I loved the first few seasons of the US version of Suits so it would be good to see if the Korean version has the same impact. Law school has been recommended a few times so its on the list to check out. I really enjoyed Miss H so I am glad to see it featured here.

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Love Story In Harvard
Secret Forest season 2
Doberman

I've heard Your Honor is good too.
And where's my Law School season 2? :(

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I'm rarely happy with the legal part, so I usually focus on the other parts. I liked :
- Judge vs Judge with Park Eun-Bin and Yeon Woo-Jin + Dong Ha as great second lead!
- Suspicious Partner with Nam Ji-Hyun and Ji Chang-Wook + Dong Ha as a great villain :p
- The Good Wife with Jeon Do-Yeon, Yoo Ji-Tae and Yoon Kye-Sang. It was a great remake.

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I forget Forest of Secret 1 and 2!

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I agree that JUDGE V JUDGE was worthy of mention- and not just because I am a Park Eunbin fan (who is not?).

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I have pretty much given up on procedurals (legal and medical) because of the gross errors and ethical issues inherit in laymen writers trying to create drama.

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i respectfully decline

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In their order-
1. Hyena.
2. Juvenile Justice.
3. Forest of Secrets/Stranger.
4. Law School.
5. Innocent Defendant.

Honorable Mentions goes to Whisper, more of the romance than the legal.

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My favourite is Dairy of Prosecutor. It is different then usual KD concept but it was quite fun.

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I love legal dramas in general. Loved watching everything from Perry Mason to David E. Kelley's shows. Has also helped build up a very high tolerance for ridiculous law/ courtroom scenes. Some recommendations -

1. Forest of Secrets (Stranger)
2. While You Were Sleeping / I Can Hear Your Voice (both have a lot of similar elements since they're by the same writer)
3. Confession
4. Whisper
5. Remember - War of the Son

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Speaking of David E. Kelly, I really loved Ally McBeal and Boston Legal.

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Ally McBeal yes!

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My favourite was The Practice especially episodes like the one on euthanasia. But Ally McBeal and Boston Legal were also so fun!

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I do not remember any of the legal theatrics in While You Were Sleeping( How did I even forget to list it), but one line from of the case proceedings remain in my head. The point where the ML said ' I'm appealing not to the ethics of the law, but to the humanity of the law'. That's the only sentence I recall because it stuck in my head for a long time, and it provided a good food for thought/take home.

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That was a good case overall and an unusual one in legal dramas. I also liked the line on letting justice flow like a river.

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I remember Jung Hae-In's scenes 😍 : being questionned by Lee Joo-Suk, when he confess he was color blind.

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Despite my chosen profession, I’m not a big fan of legal dramas. I think it’s because I watch dramas to relax and be entertained; I don’t want to feel like I’m at work.
I don’t think most dramas or American legal shows accurately reflect the everyday life of the average lawyer. That’s because the show would be boring and no one would watch. Legal matters are not neatly wrapped up in 60 minutes. The dramatic witness stand confessions don’t happen. And for those of us attorneys with a transactional practice, we are rarely inside a courtroom. Our work consists of client meetings, a large stack of files, and drafting all that legalese in a document no one likes to read. Fun and exciting stuff!
But here are the following legal dramas I have enjoyed, not in any particular order, and without limitation: 𝗟𝗮𝘄𝗹𝗲𝘀𝘀 𝗟𝗮𝘄𝘆𝗲𝗿, 𝗦𝘂𝘀𝗽𝗶𝗰𝗶𝗼𝘂𝘀 𝗣𝗮𝗿𝘁𝗻𝗲𝗿, 𝗠𝗶𝘀𝘀 𝗛𝗮𝗺𝗺𝘂𝗿𝗮𝗯𝗶, 𝗛𝘆𝗲𝗻𝗮, and 𝗟𝗮𝘄 𝗦𝗰𝗵𝗼𝗼𝗹. The Socratic Method as depicted in Law School is so realistic, it made my stomach clench with the terrifying memories after 30+ years!
I’m also currently enjoying 𝗪𝗵𝘆 𝗛𝗲𝗿? Oh, yeah, 𝗧𝗼𝘂𝗰𝗵 𝗬𝗼𝘂𝗿 𝗛𝗲𝗮𝗿𝘁 was fun.

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I have not started WHY HER? but I plan to- and touch your heart was good fun indeed. I also liked MISS HAMMURABI, in fact I think it is the best thing Go Ara has ever done.

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So far, WHY HER? is good. Lots of plot twists.

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Vincenzo? 😁😁😁

More seriously 🙂 :
I remember liking The Good Wife and Legal High, though don't remember anymore how good the 'legal' part was.
I quite enjoyed my recent watch of the jdrama Hero (2001).

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I also thought of Vincenzo, haha! Made me wonder how much lawyer/courtroom stuff needs to happen before the drama falls into this category? Someone else mentioned Touch Your Heart/Reach of Sincerity, and I had totally forgotten that almost the entire setting for that drama was a law office! I guess it could have been any other professional setting and most of it would have worked out in a similar way.

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I had forgotten that the Vincenzo leads were lawyers and had a law firm! I also didn't really see Forest of Secrets as a legal drama though the big story in season 2 covered the current argument about the prosecution having the investigative authority while the police don't have enough to do their work.

I think of legal dramas as having different unrelated cases, though sometimes a few cases can be related as part of the overarching plot.

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I couldn't get through more than a couple of episodes of "Suits" or "Law School." I did, however, like "Hyena" a lot, but I'm not sure I'd agree that the tone was light. IIRC, there are a fair amount of very dark moments--including the whole arc with the FL's father--that made it a more challenging watch sometimes. But the humorous moments were genuinely funny. I still remember the ML's hilarious moment of surprise when he entered the impromptu celebration party near the end. Oh, and they both wore amazing suits!

Another one I'd add to this list is "Military Prosecutor Doberman." It's not the type of drama that sticks with you long after watching, but it was a fun and pretty easy watch once we got passed the way the writers bungled the initial sexual assault and its aftermath.

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I also really liked Hyena, the dynamic between the protagonists, etc. But I also really wouldn't desribe the tone as light. At some point, the FML pressures a victim of sexual assault to return to her abuser, and that woman ends up dead.

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Legal dramas generally bear little resemblance to what actually happens in the practice of law- much of which would resemble watching paint dry- although those scenes where counsel is having to deal with angry, distraught, fearful, overwrought or obnoxious clients and witnesses are all too true to life- and so we who are lawyers generally cut the writers, directors and actors considerable slack. But sometimes the writer will go too far and the stunt pulled by the FL in HYENA in the first two episodes was just such a case: It was both profoundly unethical and a felony at the same time. The writer thinks that the FL would always get away with it because the ML would be too embarrassed to report it. Problem: The ML would have a legal duty to report it and our FL might escape jail time but would never be permitted to practice law again.

This was so offensive to me that I simply could not watch the rest of the drama. What made it even more offensive was the knowledge that the information sought could have ultimately been obtained quite legitimately through the legal process known as 'discovery'. The dramatic problem with discovery is that it is precisely the watching paint dry stuff I mentioned earlier. And even worse dramatically is that conducted well it may force the other side into a more advantageous settlement- and it is tough to make high drama over people signing settlement documents.

I would contrast Hyena with a drama where the writer has better legal knowledge and more common sense: In A DIVORCE LAWYER IN LOVE our FL has also obtained evidence illegally- which in turns leads to a tragedy- but she does suffer consequences in the form of being suspended from practicing as a lawyer for 3 years. This leads to some wonderful comic scenes including our ML being drenched with seaweed soup (twice) but more importantly it is much more realistic and at the same time actually added to the story dramatically.

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I agree, especially about the clients!
Another thing: have you noticed in most legal dramas, the attorney is rarely in their office? He/she is always at a fancy lunch, or outside of the office investigating like a detective. When in real life, I think most of us are chained to our desks, even gobbling down our lunch there. Not at all glamorous.

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Wait- how did you know that I normally eat lunch at my desk? Oh, of course you know...

Actually, one of the things that I really liked about TOUCH MY HEART is that much of the drama actually did show our lawyer and our secretary spending most of their time in the office- and even doing legal research and going over evidence (Imagine that, what concept!).

And what would a drama writer think if he or she knew that many hearings are actually now done by Zoom, Webex or even just telephone conference call? Yes, there are still times when a lawyer goes to the courthouse or hearing room and some things are still done in person, but many things are not. And in a country that is as tech loving as the Republic of Korea you can just bet that it happens there too.

Lets face it: These days a really, really comfortable office chair has become essential to the practice of law.

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I got a kick out of your comment about lunch.

Next week I'm doing my first in-person Probate hearing in 2.5 years. It's going to feel strange.

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I love legal dramas, but it was only when I watched s2 of Forest of Secrets that I bothered to look up any details on the legal and prosecutorial system in SK. I am not in the profession, but I looked at the differences between in the judiciary, the judges and prosecutors in different countries, the separation of the powers, and the discovery process. All are a big rl ongoing problem in SK, and I see most dramas that deal with these as picking at a scab over a poorly healing wound. The new administration in SK is currently stuffing ministerial positions with ex-prosecutors allied to the President who was a Prosecutor General. There is also no discovery process as we know it. Anyway I watch these dramas in the rl context and also in light of what I read in the SK online paper in English. I find them blindingly close to much on what is actually going on in the country.

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Diary of a Prosecutor is probably the best legal K-drama I've seen. It's more intelligent than most. I dropped Suits and Ms. Hammurabi. In the case of the latter, I think I just found the logic vs. empathy stuff a bit simplistic (and the girl incompetent). Suits started off well, but it didn't really hold my interest for some reason (I can't remember why). For a decent remake of an American legal drama, I would recommend the Korean adaptation of The Good Wife instead. I haven't seen Hyena or Law School .

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I loved Miss Hammurabi and it's one of the few legal dramas that look at what korean judges do. Diary of a Prosecutor really captures the slice of life. Basically, these dramas don't show off the profession as sexy or cool (cue the Yoo Inna's hero-worship eyes from Touch Your Heart every time she looks at Lee Dong Wook do lawyer stuff).

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JUDGE V JUDGE (with Park Eunbin) is another show that shows the hard work done by judges.

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I ended up really liking Your Honor with Yoon Shi Yoon, who did a great job playing twins. It's lighter than other legal dramas and he was so cute with Lee Yoo Young!

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Thanks for mentioning this one I watched the trailer and with fast forwarding through the violence I think I can do it. Looks like it will be funny😊

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Hope you like it!

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This was an engaging watch, I totally rooted for the twins' redemption and joining hands, and was so eager to see how it would play out, till they decided to shorten the episodes. 🤦

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Ooh so now the rushed ending makes sense! I didn't realize they had to shorten the episodes.

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What SBS did in 2018 still upsets me.
SBS cut four episodes from 40/20 to 32/16 to 2 of their dramas that were airing almost simultaneously: YOUR HONOR and THIRTY BUT SEVENTEEN.
The effect was rather serious to the ending of YOUR HONOR. The effect on 30B17 was minimal.

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Now I know why the prosecutor twin had no resolution...I thought it was weird that he just stopped having scenes...

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I wish there will be a season 2 for Law School with whole team back.

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My favorite prosecutor will always be Shi mok in Forest of Secrets (or Stranger on Netflix)

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Am I the only beanie who has watched and loved Partner?
A 2009 drama starring Lee Dong Wook, Kim Hyun Joo, and Lee Honey.

Switch was also fun.

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Oh and Welcome 2 Life was fun too.

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Oh, no, I liked it! But I don't remember well the story.

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I like Partner Kim Hyun Joo is love and it is a few of Lee Dong wook's drama that I finished. He and his appearance conscious is notwithstanding.

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I did watch Partner and liked it.

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Junho's Confession. Best lawyer in dramaland.
The drama had a stellar beginning and end. Though the middle slagged comparatively, it was still good. The court scenes with Junho were the best.
His lawyer is memorable because of how subdued, gentle and respectful he was, even with the criminals. No chest thumping declarations of justice or revenge, just quiet perseverance towards doing a good job.

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It is rare I find someone on db who loves Confession as much as I do. Glad to meet you! I LOVE Confession. And I agree with everything you wrote.

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It completely flew under the radar didn't it? I was glad to find out it had dedicated beanies, with good discussions under the first episode recap.

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That attitude of respect, etc towards witnesses, opposing counsel, etc. is what all good lawyers do. They understand that they are not there to take an ego trip but rather to accomplish very specific things- and that grandstanding, etc. gets in the way. Decent and respectful behavior pays off in the long run as it is appreciated by the judges and your fellow lawyers - which leads to more cooperation in scheduling, handling the paper and especially in a greater willingness to listen and negotiate.

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Count me as a CONFESSION fan. I loved Junho and also Yoo Jae-myung. At the time it originally aired (2019) I believe for US viewers anyway there was availability issues. I finally watched it on OnDemandKorea in 2020 one of the few dramas I have watched on ODK.
I recently dropped my subscription to ODK for lack of subbed dramas. Kocowa, watch out! You are next!

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Count me in too. I love Confession!!

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No one remember Prosecutor Princess? 😄

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I really liked it. But the legal part was not so big... And since, the actor had a scandal...

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Yes and I actually liked it more than most legal dramas. It was actually fairly fun.

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Prosecutor Princess was one of my first kdrama. I couldn’t stand the FL in the first few episodes but I ended up loving the drama!!!

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I doubt anyone remembers A New Leaf from 2014. At first it looked like one of those soppy "amnesiac bad guy rediscovers his good side" shows, but even in the first couple of episodes it became clear that there was something colder and harsher going on. It was interesting enough that the amnesia barely changed the lawyer's character. Even more interesting was the implication that his earlier swerve to the dark side was far from inevitable. Instead of selling his talent to the highest bidders and bolstering them by manipulating and exploiting the intricacies of law, he could easily have ended up using the same skills to protect the powerless.

Another point that A New Life makes very vividly is that, while the law plays such a crucial role in our lives, most of us are barely able to understand its complexities - which makes us extremely vulnerable to powerful people and organisations. Without a guy like the lead character on their side, none of the victims featured in the show - not the rape victim, the ripped-off investors, or the SMEs brought to the verge of bankruptcy by the own banks - would have seen even a glimmer of light in the darkness.

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I remember A New Leaf, it was interesting and I really liked Park Minyoung there. Though I also admit I don't remember much of the content anymore.

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I liked Park Min-young in the show too. It helped that her character wasn't one of those ghastly idealistic youngsters coasting on their enthusiasm and self-righteousness (lots of those in Asian drama, especially J-drama). She was actually competent, and recognised that you need much more than the moral high ground when you are fighting the good fight.

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This was before my time but thanks for the recommendation @knewbie.
The drama “A New Life” 16 eps. is available on Viki US under the title: REPENTANCE.

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I didn't know it was still on Viki. Cool. I should also add that the show ends rather abruptly cos it was cut from 18 to 16 eps. Since the ratings were actually pretty ok, there was speculation that the show had made enemies in high places.

Btw funny how we have both accidentally typed "A New Life" instead of "A New Leaf". Just goes to show how the expression "turning over a new leaf" is falling into disuse.

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How is Stranger not in this list 😅

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Maybe that falls more into political thriller than legal procedural drama?

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I am a sucker for legal dramas (and books). I remember following Law & Order (and spin-offs) and for a time avidly read John Grisham, Scott Turrow, etc.) so I naturally gravitate to this genre. For Kdramas, I enjoyed Forest of Secrets, Law School, Diary of a Prosecutor.

For real life, I am even drawn to the (gasp!) Amber Heard - Johnny Depp trial. 🤪

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Of the five dramas at the head of the article SUITS (2018) is the only one I have seen and of the four Park Hyung-sik dramas I have seen I think he gives his best performance in SUITS. It was also my first Jang Dong-gun drama. Both leads were excellent.
Both Yoon Shi-yoon and Lee Yoo-young were terrific in YOUR HONOR.
(2018) (Viki US). The first two episodes were quite a shock because of YSY’s portrayal of twin brothers but it settled down to a fine drama but was definitely impacted negatively by the episode cut.
PRIDE AND PREJUDICE (2014) (Viki US) has a special place in my heart because it was one of my early Kdramas and introduced me to a number of fine actors including Choi Min-Soo, and Choi Jin-hyuk.
CONFESSION (2019) with Junho has already been mentioned. Highly recommended.
One drama might not technically qualify might be the recent and excellent THROUGH THE DARKNESS (2022) (Viki US). The way Kim Nam-gil as profiler Song Ha-young interviewed bad guys and extracted information out of them that’s they certainly did not want to reveal would have made any prosecutor proud. I am hoping for a season 2.
So those are my five recommendations.

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Pride and Prejudice was another underrated thrilling ride.

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Yes. Glad to find another P&P fan.

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Law school, dairy of a prosecutor, suits ar this point

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