It’s a Sin to Kill a Mockingbird: The Need for Idealism in the Legal Profession

Jonathan A. Rapping*

“[T]he first thing I lost in law school was the reason that I came.” This prescient quote by an unnamed law student defines, in a single sentence, our growing problem in training lawyers. From the moment he or she steps foot in a law school classroom, the future lawyer feels a strong pull to pursue a career that has nothing to do with justice. The law school experience will discourage the future lawyer from pursuing a career advocating for those in society who most need a voice. Once graduated, the young lawyer will enter a world where he or she is rewarded for billing the most hours at the highest rate, rather than for serving those with the least access to justice. As a result, most lawyers will experience a sense of purposelessness in their careers, and most low-income Americans will not have access to a lawyer when important interests are at stake.

* Professor of Law, Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School (AJMLS), Director of Honors Program in Criminal Justice. The author is the founder and president of Gideon’s Promise, an organization dedicated to creating a generation of public defenders to drive a transformation in criminal justice. Special thanks to Elayne Rapping for her editorial advice, Stacey Burke for her research assistance, the faculty of AJMLS for its commitment to the Honors Program in Criminal Justice, and the staff, faculty, and public defenders of Gideon’s Promise for working to change the culture of criminal justice in our nation’s most broken systems.

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