The courtroom lends itself to dramatization. A trial has a natural story arc: The adversarial system makes for a clear conflict between characters. There’s a natural end point when both sides rest their cases and the verdict comes down. Plus, lawyers are such loveable characters.
The ABA Journal has made a list of the 25 greatest fictional lawyers of all time:
In our survey of this literature of lawyers, however, we feel obliged to recognize a great divide—ante-Atticus and post-Atticus.
From Dick the Butcher’s famous pronouncement to Jack Cade in Shakespeare’s Henry VI, Part 2 — “First thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.” — through Dickens’ Mr. Tulkinghorn and Galsworthy’s Soames Forsyte, literature (with a few exceptions) treated lawyers poorly.
That all changed with Harper Lee’s unflappable, unforgettable Atticus Finch. With Atticus, the lawyer — once the criminal mouthpiece, the country club charlatan, the ambulance-chasing buffoon — was now an instrument of truth, an advocate of justice, the epitome of reason.
Since Finch is a literary lawyer on steroids, they have cut him from the competition. The list is the 25 greatest who are not Atticus Finch. Did your favorite make the list?
Here are the top 10. Seeing things in black and white was an asset for the top three:
1. Frank Galvin, The Verdict (played by Paul Newman)
2. Paul Biegler, Anatomy of a Murder (played by Jimmy Stewart)
3. Perry Mason, Perry Mason (played by Raymond Burr)
4. Charles W. Kingsfield Jr., The Paper Chase (played by John Houseman)
5. Henry Drummond, Inherit the Wind (played by Spencer Tracy)
6. Lawrence Preston, The Defenders (played by E.G. Marshall)
7. Jack McCoy, Law & Order (played by Sam Waterson)
8. Horace Rumpole, Rumpole of the Bailey (played by Leo McKern)
9. Chief Judge Dan Haywood, Judgment at Nuremberg (played by Spencer Tracy)
10. Sir Wilfrid Robarts, Witness for the Prosecution (played by Charles Laughton)
If you’re disappointed that Vinny Gambini wasn’t in the top ten, or by the complete absence of Elle Woods, Bob Loblaw, and Lionel Hutz, blame these people.
P.S. Remember, when Elie put together a fake lawyers bracket, many of your favorites were included.