Fun + Lifestyle

Marshall Eriksen – TV’s Most Relatable Lawyer

  • Worries about passing the bar, and even forgets his login to find his score
  • Must choose between a lucrative career and his dream
  • Learns to juggle family life with career advancement

The CBS sitcom How I Met Your Mother was known for its intricate plotlines, its playful rewriting of history, and, of course, its central mystery — who exactly was the titular Mother that (unseen narrator) Bob Saget spent nine years telling his children about?

Amidst all of that, the show spent plenty of time telling stories about its other characters, including lovable lawyer Marshall Eriksen, played by Jason Segel, who was introduced to the audience as the lifelong best friend of main character Ted Mosby. Throughout nine seasons, Marshall tackled many of the same struggles as real-life lawyers, and any lawyer watching can relate deeply to Marshall’s foibles and successes.

He Stresses about the Bar Exam

At the beginning of the series, Marshall is still a law student at Columbia in the heart of New York, and we immediately learn that he dreams of saving the world and becoming an environmental lawyer with the Natural Resource Defense Council, or the NRDC. However, like any aspiring lawyer, he must overcome one huge obstacle — passing the bar exam. After taking the legendarily difficult examination, he forgets his password, and is left to frantically stress about what his results could possibly be while his friends are less than helpful (one of his friends, Barney, tells him he can hack into the database and find his score, only to trick him into watching a video of a dog defecating on a baby, whereas Marshall’s other friend, Robin, is horrified to learn that only half the people who take the bar actually pass). Thanks to his habit of singing everything he does, which usually only serves to annoy everyone around him, Marshall realizes he made up a mnemonic device to remember his password, and the fact that he’s passed the bar eventually ends a fight between all five of the friends.

He Has to Make Hard Choices at Work and Face Reality

Marshall’s big dream of becoming an environmental lawyer is ultimately stalled when he realizes that both his law school debt and his wife Lily’s debilitating credit card debt is keeping the couple from buying their dream home, starting a family, or accomplishing any of their other goals. Have you had to make hard professional and financial choices like Marshall?

After several career stumbles, Marshall is offered a soul-crushing job at Goliath National Bank (known as GNB), which represents everything evil about corporate America in one soul-sucking, corrupt company. (Barney, who also works there, isn’t legally permitted to say what he even does for a living, which isn’t exactly a great sign of things to come for Marshall.) Even though the job helps Marshall get back into the workforce after a long stretch of unemployment, his time at GNB makes him incredibly unhappy and leaves him feeling utterly unfulfilled. In the show’s seventh season, he finally gets the chance to work with the NRDC, but then realizes his dream job is not quite as perfect as he thought it would be —Marshall still has to make plenty of sacrifices and doesn’t always end up saving the environment, making him realize that his fantasy may not ever have been possible.

He Learns to Balance Family with Career Advancement

By the show’s final season, Marshall has finally figured out what he wants to do; he applies to become a federal judge, a position where he feels he can finally enact the change he wants to see in the world. However, this decision doesn’t come without its own set of issues, as he doesn’t tell his wife that he’s applying for the position in the first place, and in neglecting to do so, puts Lily and their infant son on the back burner while trying to accomplish his career goals. When Lily is offered her dream job as an art consultant in Rome, Marshall must weigh his own career goals against hers. Though he ultimately gives up his judgeship to travel to Italy with his family, he still sees his dream come to fruition — in the series finale, the audience learns that despite taking time off, Marshall returned to New York, put in time at a corporate firm, and waited for another seat on the bench to open up, eventually earning a place on the New York Supreme Court.

Marshall’s storyline mirrors the experiences that many real-life lawyers have, and there is a lesson in the way he learned to navigate his career. How many lawyers think they’ll save the world or work on exciting cases every day only to be disappointed by the often-tedious reality? How common is it for lawyers to take a difficult Biglaw job to make as much money as possible in an attempt to get out of mountains of debt quickly, holding on as long as they can stand it until they’re able to go somewhere that’s a better fit? And finally, who hasn’t had to make tough choices and sacrifices to support their partner’s career? Work/life balance and career advancement are two of the biggest issues for every lawyer, and how Marshall handles them—by ultimately realizing that he could have what he wanted and work in an area he was passionate about, but not necessarily at the time he wanted it and in the exact manner he imagined—is quite instructive.