Beyond Atticus Finch: Lessons on Ethics and Morality from Lawyers and Judges in Postcolonial Literature

31 Pages Posted: 1 Sep 2009

Date Written: August 31, 2009


The portrayal of lawyers and judges in postcolonial literature is a worthy area of study largely overlooked by the legal academy. To be sure, a significant body of academic writing has been devoted to traditional Western literary figures like Atticus Finch from Harper Lee’s TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. Less attention, however, has been given to the legal characters depicted in postcolonial novels such as Hamilton Motsamai from Nadine Gordimer’s THE HOUSE GUN or the magistrate from J. M. Coetzee’s WAITING FOR THE BARBARIANS. This Article examines Motsamai and the magistrate, among others, and asks what their stories offer to our collective understanding about the ethical duties and obligations of those trained in the law. The significance of their stories, at least in part, is seen in their attempts to reconcile the disconnect between the rule of law and their individual morality - a disconnect that causes many attorneys to become dissatisfied with the practice of law. Likewise, by expanding the canon of law and literature their stories offer us a new perspective through which we may better comprehend and appreciate the choices that lawyers make in the pursuit of justice. Moreover, these postcolonial novels demonstrate that insights of law, lawyering, and ethical conduct can be found beyond the standard courtroom drama.

Keywords: legal ethics, professional responsibility, law and literature, postcolonial fiction, professionalism, lawyers, judges

Suggested Citation

(Newman) Knake Jefferson, Renee, Beyond Atticus Finch: Lessons on Ethics and Morality from Lawyers and Judges in Postcolonial Literature (August 31, 2009). Journal of the Legal Profession, Vol. 32, 2008, MSU Legal Studies Research Paper No. 07-18, Available at SSRN:

Renee (Newman) Knake Jefferson (Contact Author)

University of Houston Law Center ( email )

4604 Calhoun Road
Houston, TX 77003
United States


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