When I was growing up, among my favorite heroes were Atticus Finch, Perry Mason and Clarence Darrow. Yes, I know it could have had something to do with Gregory Peck, Raymond Burr and Spencer Tracey. But to me they represented an ideal of what the legal profession stood for, not unlike what Sergeant Friday and Sheriff Matt Dillon meant to law enforcement. Sure, they stood for the law, but mostly they stood for right versus wrong.
Nowadays I don’t see many lawyers on television or in the movies I’d want as heroes for my grandkids. It’s all about how to bend the law or skirt the facts or just how to flat out break the law and get away with it. That image of the law is something I’m uncomfortable with, and we seem to perpetuate it daily in the media, if not in real life.
The result is easy to see. In a pivotal scene in the first Jurassic Park movie, the slimy lawyer is gobbled right off the toilet by a T-Rex—and theater audiences cheered. It’s no wonder the public reacts this way. We see lawyers on TV gloating over how they have manipulated the jury or tricked a witness, then celebrating their evil ways with a big old glass of scotch and a fat smelly cigar. The arrogance of these stylized characters is invariably played to the hilt, but —whether it’s life imitating art, or vice versa—I’ve actually known lawyers to behave this way. I’m sure you have as well. Frankly, I find it hard to stomach.
Of course, I know plenty of lawyers who aren’t like that at all. They are good men and women trying to do the right thing, often bearing the significant burden of their moral choices. They work tirelessly to make our system of law come closer to a system of justice. And they are solidly committed to doing good work, not just to looking good while doing it. These lawyers are my heroes.
Unfortunately, the media continues to bring us images of lawyers who come nowhere near any rational person’s criteria for a hero. I don’t want my grandkids to emulate them, and I’m sorry there are so many lawyers out there who seem to. I’m hoping my grandkids grow up to be cowboys.
Who Is Your Hero?
Is there someone in your firm, in your family, in literature or popular culture who keeps you going when you get discouraged about the practice of law? Maybe it’s the opposing counsel in that last jury trial who handled himself so well, or the first female managing partner in your town. Make it your job to make them famous and tell us about that person in the comments below. Let’s give our grandkids something to aspire to!
Otto Sorts has been reading law since before Martindale met Hubbell. Of Counsel at a large corporate firm that prefers to remain anonymous, Otto is a respected attorney and champion of the grand tradition of the law. He is, however, suspicious of “new-fangled” management ideas and anyone who calls the profession the legal “industry.” When he gets really cranky about something he blogs at HeyYouKidsGetOffMyLaw.