To Kill a Mockingbird Questions and Answers
by Harper Lee

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In chapter 1 what does atticus finch do for a living?

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Julie Feng eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The author of To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee, based the character of Atticus Finch off her real life father, Amasa Coleman Lee. Like Amasa Coleman Lee, Atticus Finch is a lawyer who represented black defendants in highly publicized and "controversial" trials.

Atticus, although a fictional character from a novel, has impacted the legal profession immensely. Therefore, his fictional profession of attorney / lawyer is incredibly relevant. An article in the Michigan Law Review has stated about Atticus Finch: "No real-life lawyer has done more for the self-image or public perception of the legal profession." 

Atticus has become the ultimate example of a selfless, social justice advocating, heroic lawyer. His motivation comes from his sense of justice and compassion in the world, knowing the world is unfair but doing his best to fight against the inequities. Thus, he often takes pro bono (from the Latin "pro bono publico, for the public good. often meaning for free) cases. The case of Tom Robinson, falsely accused of rape because of a racist system, is the main focus of Harper Lee's novel. 

Often, his clients pay him with what they can, little bits of this and that, rather than actual money. However, Atticus and his family are still relatively well off in comparison to the other residents of Maycomb, Alabama. Although they are not wealthy because of Atticus's generosity, he makes sure that his children Jem and Scout realize that their lives are marked by privilege. He works as a lawyer "for a living," but that living is sparse. 

His children, Jem and Scout, often see his profession as proof that he is not a cool person. (to use the modern colloquial term.) He is older than the other parents and he wears big eyeglasses. The fact that his job seems so boring and uninteresting to his kids makes them wish that he were cooler. However, by the end of the novel, Scout and especially Jem, come to an understanding of why their father does what he does. They have always loved him, but their admiration of him becomes more and more distinct as Atticus's motivations and convictions become clearer to them. 

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Jamie Wheeler eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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I would add that Atticus often takes on work pro bono (works for free) or accepts payment in trade for goods and services. As a result, he is nearly as poor as some of the clients that he serves. Atticus embodies the concept of being a public servant. He does not practice law for financial gain but for the good of the public and the cause of justice.

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merehughes eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Atticus Finch is a lawyer in a small southern town.

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