John Rambo v. Atticus Finch: Gender, Diversity and the Civility Movement

(2013) 16(2) Legal Ethics (Forthcoming)

29 Pages Posted: 29 Apr 2013

See all articles by Amy Salyzyn

Amy Salyzyn

University of Ottawa - Faculty of Law; University of Ottawa - Common Law Section

Date Written: April 25, 2013


The need for increased civility has been a recurring theme in conversations about lawyer professionalism in the United States and Canada over the last several decades. In addition to having many advocates, however, the civility movement has also been subject to criticism. In large part, the critiques made to date have focused on the problems or risks created when civility rules or guidelines are enforced against lawyers. This article takes a different focus to provide a complementary, yet distinct critique. The object of analysis is the discourse of the civility movement. More specifically, the assumptions and concepts of lawyer professionalism embedded in our conversations about civility are explored.

Upon review, the discourse of the civility movement reveals a dominant narrative framed in terms of competing masculinities: the aggressive, testosterone fueled Rambo-lawyer is cast as the anti-hero to be vanquished against renewed calls for the return of the gentlemanly Atticus Finch. I argue that this ‘Rambo-Finch narrative’ is hostile to inclusive understandings of lawyer professionalism in three inter-related ways: (1) it renders women and other ‘outsider’ lawyers largely invisible; (2) it romanticizes past discriminatory concepts of lawyer professionalism; and (3) it reflects anxieties about the destabilization of traditional, exclusionary claims or modes of authority in the legal profession. The exclusionary understandings of lawyer professionalism contained in the Rambo-Finch narrative should be of concern to those interested with improving gender equity and diversity in the legal profession as there is good reason to believe that this discourse translates into ‘real world’ consequences in how ‘outsider’ lawyers are viewed and treated within the legal profession.

Keywords: legal ethics, civility, lawyer professionalism, Atticus Finch, Rambo

Suggested Citation

Salyzyn, Amy, John Rambo v. Atticus Finch: Gender, Diversity and the Civility Movement (April 25, 2013). (2013) 16(2) Legal Ethics (Forthcoming). Available at SSRN:

Amy Salyzyn (Contact Author)

University of Ottawa - Faculty of Law ( email )

57 Louis Pasteur St
Ottawa, Ontario K1N6N5

University of Ottawa - Common Law Section ( email )

57 Louis Pasteur Street
Ottawa, K1N 6N5

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