Not many British lawyers have books written about them, and I cannot think of any who feature in a film. The American hero of this book has not only had a number of biographies written about him, but also plays and no fewer than two films, one of which was Inherit the Wind with Spencer Tracy. He even has a bridge named after him in Chicago.  

Clarence Darrow is the real-life lawyer who most American lawyers either want to be or find inspiring, in the same way they are inspired by the fictional Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird.

Darrow’s fame rests on his notoriety. He defended the indefensible and acted for the unpopular. His career included being a successful labour lawyer and criminal attorney, and he was involved in the Scopes ‘Monkey Trial’.

The latter concerned the Butler Act, which outlawed the teaching of ‘any theory that denies the story of the Divine Creation of man as taught in the Bible, and to teach instead that man has descended from a lower order of animals’ in state schools and universities. He was able to successfully reinvent himself several times and move from small town country lawyer to the wicked city.  

The book is set in the charged atmosphere of late-19th and early 20th-century America. It is a world of gangs, bribery, corruption and race issues. Darrow is rightly a hero to many. At one point his lawyers’ waiting room is described as full of types you would expect in a fortune teller’s booth. Perhaps some of us know that feeling.

The book is worth it for the photograph of a state prosecutor, James Hawley, dressed up in his Wild West garb, complete with six-shooter. Apparently it went down well with the public.

This good story, well told and with lots of new information, should be an inspiration to us all.

Author: John Farrell

£20, Scribe

David Pickup is senior partner at Aylesbury-based Pickup & Scott