When the Go-To is Gone (Yes, Another Atticus Post)

by Christine George

In the few years that I’ve been at my current job, I’ve built up a bit of a reputation. It’s all Chunk’s fault—Chunk from The Goonies, in case you’re wondering. He (well, the actor, Jeff Cohen) became a lawyer and a couple of years ago put together a list of the 5 Greatest Lawyers in Movie History. In that list, he had the audacity to rank Tom Hagen from The Godfather above Atticus Finch. I was incensed, so I did what any logical person would do. I created an Oscar-esque contest/display for the law library to give Atticus the opportunity to be voted Favorite Lawyer. Over the past few years, I have cultivated my reputation as an—in the words of one staff member at the law school—“Atticus enthusiast.” From recommended beach reading to the law library’s favorite fictional lawyers, Mr. Finch has been a constant presence. It was definitely a big deal when Go Set a Watchman was announced. I was not shy about letting people know my plans to give that book the whole Harry Potter treatment, which in my world consists of taking a vacation day, waiting outside a bookstore to get my hands on the book as soon as humanly possible, and then going home for a marathon reading session.

Harper Collins 2015

Needless to say, I’ve been in quite the funk since around 3pm, July 14. Sure there are other examples of good lawyers out there, but Atticus was something else. I still don’t have all that great a response to give when people ask what I thought about the book. I have plenty of thoughts, most of which center around, “Why, Harper? Whhhyyyyy?” Then there’s the other question that I don’t know how to answer. Would I recommend that people read it? Yes. No. I honestly don’t know. Perhaps when the dust eventually settles, Go Set a Watchman will find its own place. Or maybe we’ll treat it like The Godfather Part III—reluctantly acknowledging its existence, but most definitely changing the channel whenever it comes on.

This year, the incoming 1Ls will watch To Kill a Mockingbird as a part of their orientation. Go Set a Watchman will certainly be a looming shadow over the discussion, whether they’ve read it or not, given all the media coverage. Now instead of Atticus as the embodiment of the ethical lawyer, it’s complicated. Can we still celebrate a lawyer whose personal opinions we might not agree with? I will be curious to see if he keeps his title of Favorite Lawyer in the Millies this year. Maybe this will be the first time in three years that Tom Hagen takes it. Or maybe Vincent Gambini. I could be ok with Vinny taking the title.

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