Atticus Finch: Early Lessons in Justice

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Atticus Finch: Early Lessons in Justice

 A common staple in high school English classes, Harper Lee’s novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, has been the inspiration for many to enter into the field of law. From its rich symbolism to the core lessons of democracy, the story paints a rich and valuable picture of America’s struggle toward equality. What lessons can modern-day criminal defense lawyers and their clients take away from the story? Let’s take a look at three valuable lessons from this classic work of literature that are still very much worthy of discussion, even in 2017.


 For those who may not have read the book, To Kill a Mockingbird is set in a segregated southern town in the 1930s during the Great Depression. A small town must deal with the vicious alleged rape of a young white woman. She accuses a local black man, Tom Robinson, of the crime. A local criminal defense attorney, Atticus Finch, must defend him at trial, and the story culminates in violent clashes between the townsfolk who come to the jail prepared to lynch Robinson.

Tension escalates as Atticus stands between an angry mob and his client, protecting him from vigilante justice. We will not mention how it ends here, but the overall lessons are still helpful to remind us of why we afford legal representation to those accused of crimes. An abridged version of the story can be found here.

 Lesson #1: Justice is a Moving Target

In this early tale of American justice, despite an assertive and diligent attorney working to defend his client, the deck was stacked against Tom Robinson. The judge was white, the jury was made up of 12 white men, the town was in the courtroom cheering and “rooting” for the prosecutor, and black residents had to stand packed into the balcony area, far away from everyone else. The judge even expressed a desire to get the trial over quickly. Scenes like this are almost unthinkable in today’s justice system.

For the 1930s, however, none of this was out of the ordinary. Indeed, “justice,” as defined by most everyday citizens in that era, would have likely included a swift two-hour trial, heard by biased jurors, and a sentence to be carried out quickly and without any chance of an appeal. Although our laws and our system have improved drastically since then, it is important to remember that what may be considered “justice” one day can change over time. It does us all well to remember that in our own lifetimes, laws have evolved to give rights to millions of Americans who just a few decades ago had almost none of the basic protections of the Constitution.

 Lesson #2: Lawyers Fight for More Than Their Clients

While Atticus fought to save Tom from angry mobs and a justice system that viewed him as less than human, the real battle underlying the story is the battle to preserve the Constitution. The Sixth Amendment guarantees every American the right to an attorney when charged with a crime. It also guarantees the right to an impartial jury and the right to confront witnesses against them.

So, when Atticus stands before the angry mob, he is not just fighting to save Tom; he is fighting to save us all. Despite the negative opinions that some have about lawyers, it is worth noting that throughout history, attorneys have fought to preserve the access to equal and fair justice, even in the face of unbelievable odds.

Lesson #3: We All Have Blind Spots

Mr. Cunningham is one of the locals who shows up at the jail in an attempt to lynch Tom Robinson. Atticus later tells Scout that “Mr. Cunningham is basically good but has blind spots like anyone else.” Some have criticized this response, saying it shrugs off racism in a casual manner. But if you recall that this was in the 1930s, in relation to others, Atticus appears quite enlightened. Indeed, Cunningham is a blue collar, hard-working father who is struggling during the Great Depression. Atticus reminds all of us that sometimes otherwise decent people make terrible decisions and base their actions on imperfect and flawed views.

Will County Criminal Defense Lawyer

 Criminal defense attorneys often find themselves defending people much like Cunningham, who are otherwise good in some ways, but who are flawed. The key to justice is making sure people like Mr. Cunningham to Tom Robinson, and everyone in between, has the same access to fair and lawful access to the courts. It is a noble goal, and America has a long way to go, but criminal defense lawyers are on the front lines of the fight every day.

If you are charged with a crime, you should never have to fight alone. Call attorney JohnPaul Ivec at (815) 439-9909 to discuss your unique case and get the advice and representation you deserve. Ivec Law, P.C. handles cases in the greater Chicagoland area, including Cook, DuPage, Will, Kendall, and Grundy Counties.





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