In "To Kill a Mockingbird," what qualities makes Atticus an outstanding lawyer?Any references from the book are welcomed. Please provide your evidence for your explanation. Thanks!

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

A worthy lawyer must be observant, objective, unbiased, and evaluate a case solely upon the evidence.  In addition, "To Kill a Mockingbird," Atticus Finch practicing these precepts of his profession in his personal life; he literally "practices what he preaches."  For instance, in Chapter 2, an objective Atticus explains to Scout that the Cunninghams and the Ewells are different from one another and, as such, must be examined with their values in mind, not solely by Finch values.  Also, he explains to Scout that she should not generalize in judging people such as the Ewells. For example when Scout says that Mr. Ewell should not drink away their relief checks, Atticus replies,

Of course he shoudn't, but he'll never change his ways.  Are you going to take out your disapproval on the children?

This principle Atticus consistently applies to others, such as the Radleys.  For, he scolds the children for pestering Boo Radley because the father has made him a recluse:

What Mr. Radley did was his own business....What Mr. Radley did might seem peculiar to us, but it did not seem peculiar  to him.

With his respect for the individual, Atticus questions Jem about putting Boo's life on display "for the edification of the neighborhood," implying that the children must respect others.  That Atticus is a clever lawyer is also evident in this episode as he has returned from work for a file "he had forgotten to take...that morning."  Jem realizes "he had been done in by the oldest lawyer's trick on record (pretending to forget something so that he can catch the children "in the act").

As he does with the families mentioned, Atticus applies his close powers of observation and objectivity to others in the town.  He chides the children for disliking the irascible Mrs. Dubose as they do not understand her illness and addiction.  For punishment he assigns Jem the task of reading to Mrs. Dubose after school so that Jem himself can observe and learn who Mrs. Dubose really is.  This method of allowing someone else to observe on his/her own is effective as a parent as well as a lawyer who allows his jury to observe without previous opinions being suggested to them. 

When he is assigned the case for Tom Robinson, he is unbiased in his treatment of both Tom and the despicable Ewells.  When an angry mob comes to the jail for Tom, Atticus places his life in danger to do his job as defender, and he does not back down. Later, at the trial, his close powers of observation assist him in this case, also, as Atticus points out that Tom could not have committed an action since it would have required him to use his wasted arm.

Charitable, Atticus finds redeeming qualities in nearly everyone.  To his own sister, Alexandra, he loyally defends Calpurnia for her loving ways with the children, telling his sister,

She's a faithful member of this family and you'll simply have to accept things the way they are...We still need Cal as much as we ever did.

  Atticus is able to balance his emotions against his rational side, and for this ability and his other sterling qualities such as integrity and loyalty, he is an excellent lawyer.

marilynn07 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Atticus first believes in the law and the practice of the law. He believes in civil liberty, the right to privacy, and innocence until proven guilty for all citizens not just the white majority.

Atticus practices law for everyone in Maycomb county, not just the rich white people, but for everyone. He accepts payments in the form of potatoes, walnuts, etc... and of course money.

Atticus is a person of character who respects individual liberty and the rights of individuals to live their lives free from the judgment of others. He attempts to instruct his own children to be respectful of all persons while at the same time explaining their differences.

He persists in the view that each citizen deserves the right to a fair and impartial trial to the point that he sits in front of the jail overnight knowing that the threat of a lynch mob is imminent. He proves Tom's innocence of harming Mayella by asking Bob to write his own name. Bob Ewell is left handed, and Tom Robinson's left hand was crippled in a cotton gin accident. Mayella's bruises and injuries were inflicted by a person with a strong left hand.  Because he proved Tom's innocence, he felt he had a good case for an appeal as the jury convicted Tom in spite of the strong evidence in his favor.

Because of his strong conviction that Tom deserved a fair trial, he was respected by the black community of Maycomb County.


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To Kill a Mockingbird

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