It should come as no surprise that the inimitable Atticus Finch was conjured up by an author very familiar with the legal profession. Nelle Harper Lee was introduced to small town trials and white mob violence at a young age. Witnessing the injustice of the courtroom for black defendants inspired the Tom Robinson sub-plot of of To Kill a Mockingbird. Lee’s father was a lawyer and a member of the state legislature in Alabama. In 1919, he defended two young, black men against a murder charge. Just as in the novel, the young men were convicted.
At first, Lee followed in her father’s footsteps, beginning a law degree at the University of Alabama. She studied law for a few years but chose to abandon the degree before completion, in favour of dedicating her time to writing. Harper’s sister Alice, on the other hand, was one of the Deep South’s first female graduates of law. Alice Lee practised in her Alabama law firm until she was over 100 years of age. Allegedly, Alice Lee was also her younger sister’s legal guide, helping her to navigate publishing deals and copyright law.