Wednesday, March 21, 2012

12 True Legal Heroes Law Students Should Look To

We’ve all heard the classic lawyer jokes that paint all lawyers as con-artists, wheedlers, and weasels who are only in the game for the money. While this stereotype undoubtedly applies to some in the legal profession (and to pretty much any other profession out there as well), it is neither fair nor truthful to regard all lawyers in this manner. Throughout history, there have been many lawyers who have been champions of justice, fought for human rights, and set precedents that would shape the justice system for generations to come. And they haven’t been alone. Judges, law clerks, and even common citizens have also spoken out and made a big impact on the legal system. Read on to learn about some inspirational legal heroes that will remind you why you wanted to go to law school in the first place.

  1. John Quincy Adams

    John Quincy Adams is perhaps best known for being one of America’s first presidents, but the esteemed diplomat and politician was also a lawyer. Though he practiced little throughout his career, Adams was to be involved in one of the most famous and inspirational cases in American history. Documented (and highly fictionalized) in the movie Amistad, Adams represented the defendants in the landmark case United States v. The Amistad Africans. Adams was a staunch abolitionist and successfully argued that the Africans, who had escaped from a slave ship, should be considered free and not sent to Cuba where the importation of slaves was still legal. Adams never billed for his services in the case and would continue to oppose slavery for the rest of his life.

  2. Ruth Bader Ginsburg

    Ruth Bader Ginsburg is only the second woman to ever serve on the Supreme Court, and her judgments have helped influence a wide range of human rights issues in the United States. Before being appointed to her position on the Supreme Court in 1993, Ginsburg was a volunteer lawyer for the ACLU and later a judge in a U.S. Court of Appeals. She has spent much of her career advocating for the equal citizenship status of women and men as a constitutional principle. During her time as a lawyer in the 1970s, she successfully argued several cases related to gender equality before the Supreme Court, helping put an end to many of the discriminatory policies aimed at women. She would bring these politics with her into her practice as a judge, helping ensure women maintain their rights and also providing a measured approach to many of the civil liberty issues that have been central in the post-9/11 years.

  3. Clarence Darrow

    Sometimes known as the “attorney of the damned,” this American lawyer and leading member of the ACLU took part in many landmark legal cases during the early 20th century. As the defense lawyer for teenaged killers Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb (for whom there was no question as to their guilt), Darrow argued passionately against the death penalty for the young men. The speech that would later be replicated almost word-for-word by Orson Welles in the film Compulsion. He would also go on to defend teacher John Scopes in what would later be known as the Scopes Monkey Trial, arguing Scopes’ right to teach evolution to his students in one of the most iconic legal cases of all time. Throughout his career, Darrow would take on unpopular cases, defend those others would not, and very often win, establishing precedents for American civil liberties that still stand today.

  4. Sir Sydney Kentridge

    For decades, South Africa operated under the shameful mantle of apartheid, yet there were those who stood up to the system as well, including South African lawyer Sir Sydney Kentridge. Kentridge would play a part in some of the most significant political trials in apartheid-era South Africa, even serving as part of Nelson Mandela’s legal team. One of Kentridge’s most notable cases was the Stephen Biko inquest of 1977. Kentridge represented Biko’s family after the young man was beaten to death in a police interrogation room. While justice was ultimately not served in that case, it didn’t stop Kentridge from doggedly pursuing a better and more just South African society. He would go on to serve as a defense lawyer in many major apartheid cases, helping to right many of the wrongs that occurred under that oppressive system.

  5. Robert F. Kennedy

    Many might be more familiar with Kennedy through his family associations and untimely death, but during his career he was an influential figure in American law. Kennedy served as Attorney General under his brother John and later President Lyndon B. Johnson. And while his time in office was short, just nine months, it would prove highly influential. During his time in office, Kennedy would increase the number of convictions of organized criminals by 800%, working hard to root out corruption in the legal system. His greatest accomplishments as a lawyer, however, were in civil rights. Kennedy himself once commented that civil rights seemed to envelop almost every area of public and private life, and he might not have been far off. Before his assassination in 1968, Kennedy would participate in prosecuting corrupt officials in the South, make a major attempt to diversify his own staff and that of other White House offices, and work hard to protect those who were battling for equal rights across the nation.

  6. Earl Warren

    Earl Warren took part in some of the most noteworthy judicial decisions in American history during his time as Chief Justice. Warren played a major role in transforming American law, improving the rights of the accused, ending school-sponsored prayer, and requiring “one-man-one-vote” rules of appointment. One of Warren’s best-known cases is Brown v. Board of Education, which formally made segregation in American schools illegal. It was Warren’s impassioned speech and belief that schools should be integrated that helped sway the other justices to his side and make for a unanimous decision. Warren also played a key role in helping promote Miranda rights, ensuring that all defendants are provided with a state-appointed attorney, and establishing new rules for the number of representatives each state would have in the legislature.

  7. Florence Kelley

    Florence Kelley, unlike many others on this list, was not a legal professional. She was, however, an impassioned social and political reformer who helped improve the lives of many men, women, and children at the turn of the century. During her lifetime, Kelley was involved in many pivotal social issues, inspired by her father who was an abolitionist and a social reformer. Kelley was especially interested in helping the working class and is famous for her work in improving the conditions of factory workers. Kelley was promoted to being a factory inspector in Chicago, often exposing the cruel and unhealthy conditions of workers. She used this evidence to battle for child labor laws, minimum wage, shorter work days, and workplace standards. Kelley was also a staunch supporter of women’s suffrage and believed in equal education for all. She would go on to help found the NAACP with W.E.B. DuBois in 1909.

  8. Giovanni Falcone

    Taking on the mob in the courtroom can be just as dangerous as battling them on the streets, a lesson lawyer Giovanni Falcone learned all too well. The Sicilian-Italian Falcone spent most of his career as a magistrate in Palermo trying to overthrow the power of the mafia in Sicily, often defying mafia threats in order to stand up for justice and equality. In 1986 and 1987, Falcone led the prosecution in what would come to be known as the “Maxi trial” in which 475 alleged mafia members were charged. The trial was a great success, with 360 members being convicted of serious crimes. The victory wouldn’t come without consequences, however, and Falcone would face increasing threats from the mafia in future trials, eventually ending in his murder in 1992.

  9. John Lilburne

    Called “the Leveler,” this social crusader wasn’t a lawyer but was perhaps one of the most impassioned advocates of criminal law reform in British history. At the age of 20, Lilburne was brought before the courts on the charge of sending libels out of Holland and into England. Lilburne refused to answer to the courts and demanded that his accusers make their allegations face-to-face and let him know just what it was they were accusing him of, both rights we take for granted today. He was whipped and pilloried for his refusal to speak, but the House of Commons came to his defense saying the punishment was illegal and cruel to boot. This wouldn’t be Lilburne’s last run-in with the law, however, and he would continue to fight for the right of the common man to fair process. When put on trial for treason in 1649, Lilburne would demand so convincingly that he be allowed legal counsel, not be forced to answer incriminating questions, and be allowed to see the indictment against him that he was allowed all three, helping to earn him an acquittal.

  10. William Kunstler

    Most of us wouldn’t want to defend the type of people William Kunstler represented. He often sought out controversial clients and was widely known as a radical lawyer. Some of his most high profile clients include the Chicago Seven, the Cantonsville Nine, the Black Panthers, the American Indian Movement, the Weather Underground Organization, and the Attica Prison rioters. He was an incredibly controversial figure, and some even thought he should be disbarred. Yet Kunstler embodies something that is essential to the American justice system: the right to a fair trial. Even those who have committed heinous acts, or those that disagree with mainstream sensibilities, deserve their day in court, the right to be represented by a competent lawyer, and the right to be innocent until proven guilty. Whether you disagree with his politics or even find him distasteful, Kunstler offered these things and often pushed the bar with regard to civil rights.

  11. Sir Thomas More

    Sir Thomas More is perhaps one of the most famous legal figures in Western history, though unfortunately for him, some of his beliefs led to his execution in 1535. Voted “lawyer of the millennium” by the legal profession, this lawyer, philosopher, and statesman has more than a few fans. Throughout his life More remained committed to the rule of law as the foundation of social order, and it is this staunch belief that led him to stand up to Henry the VIII when he tried to separate from the Catholic church so that he could divorce and remarry, an action which More thought was against both law and his moral code. His refusal to accept the King’s actions led to his execution on charges of treason. He has since been seen as a martyr in the Catholic church and is perhaps the first lawyer to ever receive sainthood.

  12. Erin Brockovich

    Most are familiar with Erin Brokovich from the film of the same name that was made about her life, but there’s much more to this single mom and legal clerk than was portrayed in the Julia Roberts role. After her rise to fame in the case against Pacific Gas and Electric Company in 1993, Brokovich has continued to be an advocate for those affected by environmental pollutants. She has helped take on the Whitman Corporation, the Beverly Hills Unified School District, and Prime Leather Tanning, among many others.

Taken From Best Colleges Online

No comments:

Post a Comment