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Do lawyers take another hit in 'Go Set a Watchman' portrayal of Atticus Finch?

Surveys of the most disliked and distrusted professionals are often led by lawyers.

Yet at the same time, one of the most loved characters of all time is attorney Atticus Finch. The American Film Institute ranked him No. 1 in a list of all-time movie heroes.

That’s why so many fans of the book “To Kill a Mockingbird,” in which the fictional Finch defends Tom Robinson because it’s the right thing to do, are distressed to learn the Atticus Finch in Harper Lee’s newly published novel -- “Go Set a Watchman” -- is, well, something of a racist.

As one New York Times op-ed piece put it:

How is it possible that the fair-minded Atticus Finch of “To Kill a Mockingbird” could also be the embittered racist depicted in the newly published “Go Set a Watchman”?

Readers and fans of the book have reacted widely, from pledges not to read the new book to those who see more truth in the new depiction.

The less saintly Atticus character has caused consternation partly because so many people have been inspired to practice law (or social work or teaching) by his portrayal in the book, set in fictional Maycomb, Alabama in the 1930s.

If you feel that way, don’t despair. Ultimately, the character of Atticus Finch could be redeemed through added nuance, The New York Times reports.

After the initial shock, some writers and literary critics see added value in a more complex, and flawed, version of Atticus. If “Mockingbird” sugarcoats racial divisions by depicting a white man as the model for justice in an unjust world, then “Watchman” may be like bitter medicine that more accurately reflects the times.

Not convinced? Read the first chapter for yourself here.

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Mason, McBeal, Gambini and Clayton LLP: The best of the best TV, movie, literary lawyers

Ever wonder who would make a list of the greatest lawyers of all time?

Nah. We haven’t either.

But we did wonder who the greatest fictional lawyers of all time were, and found no shortage of sources that categorized them by TV lawyer, movie lawyer and fictional lawyer, for starters.

NBC photo of Raymond Burr as Perry Mason via Wikimedia Commons. NBC photo of Raymond Burr as Perry Mason via Wikimedia Commons.

We’ve compiled the best of the best lists. The top TV lawyer according to Inside Counsel, is Perry Mason, best remembered in the 1957-1966 television series starring Raymond Burr.

But Mason may make the list because he crosses so many genres and generations. He was the main character in a series of novels, then a radio program before the famous TV series. The TV series spawned several TV movies as late as 1993.

While Perry Mason is a classic, the list of TV lawyers also includes a number of more recent portrayals such as Jack McCoy (Sam Waterston) of “Law and Order,” and Elsbeth Tascioni (Carrie Preston) of “The Good Wife.”

See the entire Inside Counsel list.

Best fictional lawyers: ABA Journal’s list of best fictional lawyers is comprised mostly of movie and literary lawyers. Topping the list is Frank Gavin. Doesn’t ring a bell? How about the character portrayed by Paul Newman in the movie “The Verdict.”

Paul Newman plays a self-loathing alcoholic lawyer who finds personal redemption when he stumbles into the case of a lifetime. David Mamet’s hard-boiled screen adaptation makes all the difference.

The ABA Journal list is not only a little more highbrow, but includes more classic portrayals, including Paul Biegler (Jimmy Stewart) in Otto Preminger's “Anatomy of a Murder.”

See the entire ABA Journal list here.

Best lawyer movies One less-traditional list on IMDB puts “The Devil’s Advocate” No. 1 on a list of best lawyer movies. This entertaining list ranks the Jim Carrey vehicle “Liar Liar” higher than “To Kill a Mockingbird.” It’s also heavy on John Grisham novel-turned-movie characters.

See the entire IMDB list here.

Perry Mason makes several lists we uncovered. Others who crossed lists were Ally McBeal (Calista Flockhart) and Michael Clayton (George Clooney).

But we’d give the Best All Around award to a character that rated on just about every list we saw, and pretty highly in most cases. That’s Vincent LaGuardia “Vinny” Gambini (Joe Pesci) of the movie “My Cousin Vinny,” which was directed by Jonathan Lynn who has a law degree from Cambridge University.

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