Will the New “Law & Order” Defense Attorney Spinoff Prove the Franchise Isn’t “Copaganda”?

"Law & Order: For the Defense" will focus on a criminal defense firm

The scales of justice. The latest "Law & Order" franchise will focus on a criminal defense firm.
The latest "Law & Order" franchise will focus on a criminal defense firm.
Tingey Injury Law Firm / Unsplash

For the first time in its 31-year history, the Law & Order franchise is switching sides. The long-running franchise, which historically revolved around cops and district attorneys, has announced a new spinoff called Law & Order: For the Defense. As you may have guessed from the title, the series will be centered around a group of criminal defense attorneys.

A press release announcing the series — which has received a straight-to-series order from NBC and will feature franchise creator Dick Wolf as showrunner and executive producer along with CSI’s Carol Mendelsohn — says the show will “take an unbiased look inside a criminal defense firm,” adding that “the series will put the lawyers under the microscope, along with the criminal justice system with every week delivering the promise of a contemporary morality tale.”

“This new show is exciting for me personally,” Wolf said in a statement. “We spent the last 30 years on shows that played offense. Now it will be great to play defense, and being able to do it with Carol is an honor and an opportunity for both of us to do television that hasn’t been done before.”

“We can’t wait to bring audiences the latest chapter of Law & Order, which will explore a different angle of the criminal justice system,” Lisa Katz, president of scripted programming for NBCUniversal, added. “We’re excited about Dick Wolf’s perpetually thought-provoking approach as well his collaboration with Carol Mendelsohn, who we have been eager to do a series with for a long time.” There’s no word yet on who will star in the series or when it’s slated to premiere.

A Law & Order series focused on criminal defense (which will presumably give the show more room to tackle issues like wrongful conviction or the sentencing disparity between white and non-white offenders) is a welcome addition, and it’s hard not to see it as the franchise’s response to recent claims that it’s “copaganda.” Especially in the wake of the George Floyd murder and other high-profile instances of police brutality, police shows have faced extra scrutiny, and procedurals that rely heavily on the “cops catch bad guy, lawyers send bad guy to jail, justice is served” formula without delivering any sort of nuanced depiction of what we all know to be a deeply flawed and complicated criminal justice system feel extremely dated at best and, at worst, actively harmful.

Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (now in its 22nd season and the longest-running live-action scripted TV series of all time) and the recently launched spinoff Law & Order: Organized Crime have made attempts to address some of these issues by having other characters remind Det. Elliot Stabler that it’s no longer cool for him to rough up suspects in order to get them to talk. But those shows are still, by their very design, presenting its cop characters as the heroes — something that may be less palatable to viewers in 2021. Only time will tell whether Law & Order: For the Defense can inject some new life into the franchise with its fresh perspective.

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