By Vasudha Misra, Second Year, RMLNLU, Lucknow

It is not often that literature is kind to lawyers, either vilifying them mercilessly, or stereotyping them as the holier-than-thou humanitarians that, let’s face it, are about as mythical as unicorns.

Nevertheless, there have been a few exceptions. The following are five of them.

Tulkinghorn (Bleak House, Charles Dickens): Because Dickens had a cynical take on everything; he just couldn’t leave the legal profession alone now, could he?

He lashes out in Bleak House out with the malevolent, diabolical Tulkinghorn, one of his most despicable characters since Fagin.

Karma, however, does catch up and the man is murdered.

Dickens went all out and included a bunch of pretty nasty lawyers in this one, but Tulkinghorn takes the cake.

In one of his most under rated novels, Dickens created one of his most one dimensionally menacing characters ever.

Harvey Dent (The Batman Series, Bob Kane): District attorney Harvey Dent goes from being altruistic, compassionate lawyer to diabolical, Batman-hating maniac Two Face on being disfigured by an acid attack in the midst of a trial.

His only redeeming quality is the man he once was.

With one of the most dramatic storylines in the Batman series, Dent also makes for one of the most unforgettable antagonists the Bat has encountered.

lawyers in literature, lawyers in fiction

Perry Mason (Perry Mason Novel Series, Erle Stanley Gardner): Suave, debonair and with a flair for the dramatic, often bordering on ridiculous, Perry Mason is one of the most popular (and successful) lawyers in fiction.

Not the best works in literature, but great books to pick up a few tricks from.

Read at least a few to marvel at the fireworks Mason conjures up in court. Simply delightful!

Atticus Finch (To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee Seven): Immortalized in the book that launched a thousand film adaptations, too good to be true lawyer Atticus Finch also turns out to be too unfortunate to win his case.

A very, very, very far cry from the lawyers of today, Atticus Finch represented all that once was good and noble about the legal profession.

Jennifer Parker (Rage of Angels, Sidney Sheldon): Regrettably questionable decision making skills when it comes to love, but oh, what a charming, charming lawyer!

(Yes, I purposely did not include Sydney Carter because (a) it seemed too biased to Dickens, and (b) because Tulkinghorn, in my humble opinion, is a much better written character.

All those who have read both Bleak House and A Tale of Two Cities will, doubtless, concur.)

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20 COMMENTS

  1. Hey Vasudha!

    Wonderful article.
    Just one thing. I am not sure if you have heard of this uber-famous author called ‘ Lisa Scottoline’ but she is a hot topic in legal fiction these days.
    Her books are about this law firm who only hire women associates. Her descriptions are mostly authenticate and portray the life of a lawyer in a engaging yet truthful manner.
    Do give the series a read, you will like it.

    Her characters are way better than Jennifer Parker, much more believable. I do not like Sidney Sheldon because of his factual inaccuracies and bigger-than-life characters.

    But Lisa Scottoline talks about imperfections and that way, you can relate to the characters.

    That’s all!

    • Thank you Neeati! Nearly everyone has suggested that I read about their favourite lawyer. So, I now have an impressive spring reading list. I dislike most authors after the 1960s but I do make an exception for the Sidney Sheldon and a few others. Thanks, though for the suggestion. I will read Lisa Scottoline.

  2. A fine collection indeed.
    While Perry Mason remains my clear favorite, I also find the character of sharp and articulate Mr. Jaggers in Great Expectations, with his overbearing ways with his clients , quite powerful and striking.

  3. Hey,

    There is a series written by C.J. Sansom, about a lawyer in 15th century England called Matthew Shardlake. I’ve only read ‘Revelation’ by C.J. Sansom. However, he is by far the best fictional lawyer I have come across. You should check these books out.

  4. Nice article vasudha 🙂
    What about the general bunch of lawyers in John Grisham’s books. I particularly loved Robert “Robbie” Flak in “The Confession”!

    • Thank you, Tejas. I personally do not think very highly of Grisham as a writer. And I find him to be a tad unoriginal. Robbie was a decent lawyer, but if you compare him with the ones I have included above, would you honestly say that he trumped Tulkinghorn (my personal favourite) or Perry Mason?

  5. Since you did bring the name of Sidney Sheldon into the matter, why not Napoleon Chotas (the amoral lawyer in The Other Side of Midnight)?

    • All the books mentioned above are ones that I have read. The Other Side of Midnight is not. And I did not want to include characters which I had no knowledge of. But now that you have mentioned it, I will get my hands on a copy. Do you consider Parker to be less of a character than Napoleon Chotas?

      • Chotas was drawn in sparse pen strokes and appears to be the more resourceful, brave and effective of the two! Of course he appears to be more of a blackguard too – but then with Noel Page as a foil, anyone would. On the other hand, Jennifer was an author-backed, typical Sheldon female lead/protagonist. Her being a lawyer was incidental. You could make her a television anchor and the story would still make sense. Yet Costa (Konstantine) Demiris needed a Napoleon Chotas for the book to work.

        • Fair enough. But, I would still say that even as a lawyer Parker was brilliant (her little gimmick with the corn syrup was very good thinking, no?). Also, I think she set the mold for the ‘typical Sidney female protagonists.’ All the rest were, in some way, fashioned after her.

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