I just finished reading To Kill a Mockingbird, and I also watched the movie.I don’t know how many lawyers Atticus Finch has inspired, but I’m sure he is the ideal the public wants to see in their lawyers.

Atticus knows he is going to lose, but mounts a fearless defense of Tom Robinson anyway. He also is a gentle and kind father to Jem and Scout, and indeed passes on a great deal of wisdom. He stands for the idea that being a lawyer is a noble calling, and equal justice its prime value.

Too many lawyers today forget that they are part of such a noble calling. I will write about justice in another post, but for too many lawyers the call of justice has been replaced with the call for money and power.

I witnessed this myself when I worked for big firms. Generally, the emphasis was on how to make more money, not on the pursuit of justice. In fact, I can’t recall anyone ever talking about justice, and rules of professional responsibility were parsed so as to find loopholes that would allow the pursuit of more money. I know that this is quite an indictment of law firms, at least big ones, and many of the lawyers were very professional, but the indictment is nevertheless true

This is also the fundamental reason so many young and not so young lawyers are miserable in their profession. Many start up with the hope of being Atticus, but are forced by the business of law to be something quite different.

Law firms often expect over 2000 billable hours a year from young lawyers. All with the goal of maximizing return for the partners. Work for young lawyers in law firms is often tedious. Only those lawyers who adapt their value system to fit with that of their big firms can succeed. The idealism that caused them to pursue law is often lost.

Now, after saying this, I have to also note that may lawyers do not pursue just money and power. A large segment of private lawyers do pro bono and other types of community service. Other lawyers work for public interest law firms or public agencies. The ideals of the profession are not absent. But the idea of public service has, I have noticed in my 34 years of practice shrunk, as economic pressure has increased

Atticus Finch is an admired character for good reason. More lawyers need to try to emulate him. For clients, however, it is important to know that Atticus represents an ideal that is not always realized, and that their lawyers often have forgotten why they entered practice. Seek out those who do not suffer from this disability.

About Foundation In Law

Foundation In Law

Over a long career as a practicing attorney, Frank Hammond came to realize many prospective legal clients do not know much about lawyering and lawyers – how they work, how fees are set, and how to deal with them. Beginning attorneys also often have little notion of what actual practice involves. This blog is meant to be a guide for both.

Disclaimer: The Foundation in Law blog is not intended to provide legal advice, and no attorney-client relationship will arise as a result of interacting with this blog. You are advised to consult with your own attorney regarding legal questions. The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author alone. The author is licensed only to practice in the State of Oregon.