Turns Out How to Get Away With Murder Isn't Viola Davis' First Time as a Lawyer on TV

By Lynsey Eidell

If I ever got into serious trouble with the law (not likely, but for hypothetical purposes), I'd want Annalise Keating to come to my defense—that's how convincing Viola Davis is as a fierce and crafty criminal defense attorney on "How to Get Away With Murder." But there's a reason Davis is so believable in the courtroom (besides the fact that she's an amazing actress): She's played a defense lawyer before on TV.

That's right—years before HTGAWM was even a twinkle in Shonda Rhimes' eye, Davis was lighting up the courtroom as defense attorney Donna Emmett on Law and Order: SVU.

Davis appeared as Emmett in seven episodes of the long-running procedural drama, from 2003 to 2008. Her first case came in the episode "Mercy," where she had to defend a mother who killed her baby girl because she was suffering from a genetic disorder. She also defended fellow future Shondaland actor Joe Morton in "Grief." Davis' final appearance on the show as Emmett was in season ten, in the episode "Retro," where she defends a doctor who refuses to acknowledge AIDS exists. All the fictional criminal dilemmas on SVU served as excellent practice ground for the complex work of Keating on HTGAWM.

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