This article was originally published in The Barrister, the official monthly publication of the Camden County Bar Association for which DeMichele & DeMichele attorney MATT ROONEY serves as Young Lawyer Trustee.
By Matt Rooney The literary world was turned on its head in a good way last month when Harper Lee, author of the groundbreaking classic To Kill a Mockingbird, announced to the world that she would publish a presumed-lost sequel titled Go Set a Watchman. It's been a long time coming. Amazing, given the legendary status achieved by Mockingbird, the Watchman novel will only be Ms. Lee's second published book, currently expected to hit bookshelves for summer 2015 a full 55 years after Americans first met the endearingly spunky and precocious Jean Louise “Scout” Finch and watched her come of age by struggling with profound issues of race, honor and justice. Needless to say, just about everyone and their mother is beyond excited to get a copy. It's already #5 (as of this writing) on the Amazon Best Sellers list and we haven't even seen the book jacket! The nation is hungry for a good story.
Atticus Finch portrayed by Gregory Peck in To Kill a Mockingbird's 1962 film adaptation. You can count me among them. But which aspect of Harper Lee's surprise return to publication has me over the moon? The return of hero lawyer Atticus Finch, of course. And it couldn't come a moment too soon in my humble opinion. A respected country lawyer plying his trade in fictional Maycomb County, Alabama, Atticus Finch is an affable, kind and strong man with great deal of courtroom skill, too, who, throughout the course of the novel, further reveals an extraordinary quotient of courage in a morally-twisted Segregation Era South. Life in Maycomb often seemed complicated through the eyes of his daughter, Scout, but Atticus's decision to represent a black man falsely accused of rape was easy for him to make despite the strong disapproval of friends and neighbors. What else could a man of conviction do? And while politics permeated the novel's atmosphere, Mockingbird was as much a story of morally unambiguous parenting in a time and place when the debate over racial equality muddied the waters of many an American's soul. Atticus resonated. Not since Uncle Tom's Cabin had a work of American fiction so convincingly spoken truth to power. 30 million copies sold, translated into more than 40 different languages, is proof enough. So perhaps unsurprisingly, despite stiff competition from Hollywood's panoply of bigger-than-life superheroes, Gregory Peck's iconic 1963 on-screen portrayal of Atticus earned the #1 spot on the American Film Institute's list of movie heroes over the last 100 years. That's right: a lawyer beat out Gandhi, Batman, Patton, Spartacus, and Lou Gehrig! There's a lesson in there for lawyers young and old. Ugly lawyer jokes are nothing new but recent headlines have done nothing to reinforce many citizens' faith in the U.S. justice system. Confidence in public institutions is hardly at an all-time high, and sad as it is to say, plenty of lawyers-turned-politicians don't help our cause. We could all use a little Atticus Finch in our lives at the moment to remind everyone, practioners and non-lawyers alike, of the practice of law at its very best; to instill in us, as Atticus himself put it, the truth that courage isn't “a man with a gun in his hand,” but rather “when you know you're licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what.” Change needs to start with you. Definitely don't forget to add Go Set a Watchman to your summer reading list, but between now and then, there are plenty of great ways for you to serve as a good ambassador for our profession to the South Jersey community outside of the courtroom. Step #1: join our Camden County Bar Association's Young Lawyers Committee! Contact me at [email protected], find us on Facebook (www.facebook.com/camdencountyyounglawyers), and follow us on Twitter via our handle: @CCYoungLawyers for updates, event information, and a million ways for you to get involved and make a difference.