Leon Jaworski Public Program Series

The American Bar Association, in cooperation with the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and its U.S. Studies Program, is conducting the 2011 Leon Jaworski Public Program on “The American Lawyer Ideal: From John Adams to Atticus Finch to … .”

This moderated panel program is scheduled for Monday, April 25, from 5:00 - 7:00 p.m., and will be held in the Wilson Center’s Flom Auditorium, which is located in the Ronald Reagan Building, 1300 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW in Washington, DC. 

ABA President Stephen N. Zack will preside at the event. National Law Day Chair Kim Askew will make welcoming remarks. The program is one of the ABA’s principal national events for this year’s 53rd annual commemoration of Law Day (20ll theme: “The Legacy of John Adams: From Boston to Guantanamo”).

The moderator is John Milewski, host of dialogue, the Wilson Center’s acclaimed radio and television program, which features conversations with renowned public figures, scholars, journalists, and authors. For more information, you can visit dialogue on the web.

Framing Questions


  •  Is there an American lawyer ideal? What would an ideal say about how lawyers regard themselves and their roles—as professionals, as citizens, and as individuals? About how others see lawyers?

  • How would an ideal relate to such core values as advancing the rule of law, seeking justice, or fostering democracy? How has it evolved historically, especially in response to changes in the legal profession itself and its role in society?

  • Consider this recent public statement supporting the role of lawyers in defending Guantanamo detainees, “The American tradition of zealous representation of unpopular clients is at least as old as John Adams’s representation of the British soldiers charged in the Boston Massacre.” Does John Adams’s role represent an enduring lawyerly ideal?  Why? Is it related to valuing an adversarial legal process as a procedural means to seek justice? Advocating for the rights of the accused? Representing an unpopular client? Altruistically defending clients “not on your side”? Upholding “a government of laws, not of men,” to use Adams’s own famous characterization?

  • Atticus Finch from To Kill A Mockingbird is frequently mentioned—by lawyers and non-lawyers alike—as the quintessentially admirable lawyer. Why is this so? What qualities does he possess that earn this admiration? Are they necessarily related to his being a lawyer?
  • Why might a “fictional” lawyer such as Atticus Finch hold greater power than an actual one? Does this power come more from the novel or its film version?

  • Do John Adams and Atticus Finch still represent lawyer ideals for us today? Why or why not? Who else do you think represents lawyer ideals?

  • What, indeed, are the qualities or attributes that represent the American lawyer ideal, today and for the future? Who exemplifies them?  Is the American lawyer ideal unattainable or unrealistic?