Readers love their characters, and few are as diverse a group as the written lawyer. As some of the most diverse characters in the fictional tradition, the barrister can be a source of good or evil. And who doesn’t love a newcomer with a fresh edge? Major and minor, funny and classic, lawyers occupy a unique space in the charactered universe that requires loose definition to be called an archetype. From legal intrigue to a stalwart moral compass, it’s no wonder that we found 10 literary lawyers that we wish were real.
It’s almost too easy. The perfect character in a perfect book, reading protagonist Atticus Finch makes turning the pages of Harper Lee’s classic,To Kill A Mockingbird, a simple joy. Inspiring readers of all kinds to the legal profession, Atticus’ soft-spoken code of honor and his commitment to justice and client advocacy highlight the noblest attributes of one of civilization’s oldest professions.
Why He Should Be Real: There’s truth in this: if Atticus Finch were a real working lawyer, the world would be a better place. And most likely he’d be Gregory Peck.
The protagonist in John Grisham’s best-selling novel The Rainmaker, Rudy Baylor is a young, hungry lawyer that stumbles into his big break. He uncovers an insurance scheme to deny client claims, nails the company, and his plantiffs win more than $50 million dollars. Due to other complications in a romantic/legal subplot, Baylor becomes disillusioned with the law and vows to become a teacher in the end.
Why He Should Be Real: Baylor proves that courage, smarts, and gumption can win you big court cases against the bad guys. Also, he’d be Matt Damon, and he’d probably be one hell of a teacher.
Written by former California lawyer Erle Stanley Gardner, Perry Mason’s character was developed and featured in more than 80 books and short stories. Mason is a great (if not a bit personally mysterious) lawyer who acts mostly ethically, and basically uses his lawyering business to play private detective. Then the second half of every book is a drawn-out, well penned, often revealing courtroom scene. Gardner remains one of the best-selling authors of all time.
Why He Should Be Real: For sheer volume alone, Perry Mason should be a real person. He’d probably be a pundit on lots of legal TV shows, and would have bazillions of real-world examples for why he’s right about everything. For starters, he could have Nancy Grace’s spot in the public eye. And, he’d be Raymond Burr.
In the poetic Shakespearean play The Merchant of Venice, Portia enters the trial disguised as the young lawyer Balthazar, and begs that Shylock show mercy on the merchant. She appeals to a higher law, and is praised by Shylock and compared to the Biblical judge, Daniel. She systematically takes Shylock and the Merchant through their case, each time begging for Shylock’s mercy — even though the law is on his side.
Why She Should Be Real: Because it would be hilarious to watch any Shakespearean character come to life in 2012. Would she tweet at Shylock under a masculine handle? Would the British court rule that Shylock could indeed demand a pound of flesh — no more, no less — under penalty of death? Couldn’t the merchant just pay him back in iTunes? Also, she’d be Lynn Collins.
In Zoe Heller’s novel The Believers, Joel Litvinoff is a bit mythologized; he lies unconscious for almost the whole of the book. Yet, he is a firecracker lawyer, often taking provocative and political cases.
Why He Should Be Real: Maybe he already is. The New York Times described Litvinoff as a “William Kunstler” type, the controversial lawyer who represented the Chicago Seven and served on the board of the ACLU.
When a barrister writes a barrister, everything goes right. Originally a character in his Play for Today, British lawyer and writer John Mortimer created Horace Rumpole in his Rumpole of the Bailey TV series, but the spin-off novels also written by Mortimer have remained popular among readers around the world.
Why He Should Be Real: He takes a lot of pro bono cases, and gives his friends historical and literary nicknames. A peculiar character and surely a lover of the lost cause, Rumpole would be a funny, if not Quixotic figure in the modern legal system. He would look exactly like Leo McKern.
In Chaucer’s well-loved classic, The Canterbury Tales, The Man of Law (also known as The Sergeant of Law) passionately and snobbishly defends the princess Custance in a rhetoric oration full of hot air.
Why He Should Be Real: Again, for the humor. Who doesn’t want to run up in court against someone who only speaks in overtly flowery Middle English?
One of the only examples of artistic brilliance that has onset late in life, Wallace Stevens was a lawyer in New York before he was a poet. He focused on universal and philosophical meditations, as well as how to comprehend the world in its state of infinite flux.
Why He Should Be Real: He is, but he’s also a lawyer turned poet — almost unreal in today’s get-up-and-go business world. This is romantic and sweet, and suggests that Stevens was of an ethereal spirit.
The agnostic lawyer of the infamous play Inherit the Wind, both the lawyer characters of Matthew Harrison Brady and Drummond truly belong on this list. But Drummond gets extra points for answering to a higher calling, and valuing truth over what is considered decent or right.
Why He Should Be Real: Based on real-life skeptic, wit, and ACLU lawyer Clarence Darrow, Henry Drummond brings a necessary flare to the courtroom. Additionally, his reliance on logic and rational thought would be a welcome contrast from the shock trials of today. Also, he would be Spencer Tracy.
Of course John Grisham makes the list twice. In a neo-Atticus Finch-like character, Jake Brigance is also a white lawyer representing an African-American client in a tiny Southern town. He is the subject of racially targeted violence, is shot at, and is largely unpopular during his controversial trial.
Why He Should Be Real: His charged cross-examination of the state doctor testifying against his client’s claim of temporary insanity just plain rules. Who else can get someone to scream, “You just can’t trust juries!” His closing argument is the stuff of legal legend. Also, he’d bear a striking resemblance to Matthew McConaughey.