Simon Lelic’s top 10 lawyers in fiction

Novelist Simon Lelic compiled the following list of literary lawyers for The Guardian newspaper:

  1. Atticus Finch in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ by Harper Lee. Heroically decent, Atticus is the lawyer you would want on your side.
  2. Matthew Shardlake in ‘Dissolution’ by CJ Sansom. A melancholic hunchback with a heart, Shardlake is a terrific guide to the seedy politics of the 16th century.
  3. Sandy Stern in ‘Presumed Innocent’ by Scott Turrow. Ruby Sabich is the main protagonist, but Sandy Stern is the star of the show. His cigar habit means he doesn’t come cheap, but he’d be worth every cent.
  4. Sergeant of the Lawe in ‘The Canterbury Tales’ by Geoffrey Chaucer. He is prudent, wise and knowlegeable to the point of self-importance. He uses all of his lawyerly tricks to invoke sympathy for the heroine of his tale.
  5. Dr Gonzo in ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’. His legal skills are questionable, probably blunted by the contents of the trunk of his car.
  6. Sydney Carton in ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ by Charles Dickens. A young, self-pitying but brilliant lawyer, unlucky nevertheless in life and love. His redemption in Dickens’ tale is complete when he takes his former client’s place on the guillotine, declaring ‘It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.’ One of the great last lines.
  7. Tom Hagen in ‘The Godfather’ by Mario Puzo. A ‘family’ lawyer, who has only one client. Tom is the man you call, even if your problem isn’t exactly . . . legal. An all-round fixer and consigliere, who only shows his limitations when it’s ‘time to go to the mattresses’.
  8. Mitch McDeere in ‘The Firm’ by John Grisham. Callow and loaded with debt, Mitch is seduced by the promise of more money than he can imagine. His decision to join Bendini, Lambert & Locke, however, almost costs him his life. Ultimately he proves himself as being more capable than even his employers had hoped.
  9. George Edalji in ‘Arthur and George’ by Julian Barnes. A lawyer accused, this time, and championed by a writer: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle no less. George is a Birmingham solicitor, content in hardworking obscurity until he is swept to national prominence – and infamy – by The Great Wyrley Outrages. His story reads like a thriller, all the more gripping because it is based on real events.
  10. Herr Huld in ‘The Trial’ by Franz Kafka. A man with ‘a considerable reputation as a defending counsel and a poor man’s lawyer’, according to Joseph K’s uncle. In reality, Herr Huld is pompous, verbose and, from K’s point of view, worse than useless. Huld is ostensibly on K’s side, but turns out to be very much part of the nightmare. The advocate, to finish on, you wouldn’t want to end up with.

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