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Law Journal Exemplar Abstract – ‘Darrow and Justice’ – Oliver Roberts

The New York Times had these words to say of the infamous American Attorney, Clarence Darrow, upon his death in 1938: “He resorted to no quillets of the law. He was defending justice in his conception of it, a justice tempered with sympathy and humanity”.

Clarence Darrow fought fire with fire. Accused of attempting to bribe a juror in the McNamara Brothers trial (1911), he claimed to merely be ‘fighting espionage and bribery with espionage and bribery’. Methodologically, his ‘justice’ was so very black and white in its execution compared to the complexity of its inception. He asked his jurors if it was believable that in a contest between two parties in litigation that ‘the prosecution has a right to load us [the “criminal” camp] up with [informants]’ but that the opposing party – the defence against the state – cannot reciprocate? Darrow was acquitted, but his rhetoric on what constitutes a ‘just’ subversion of the law is something that all fascinated with legal history should study, regardless of whether you believe his ethics to be morally questionable.

The narrative of Darrow’s works in Arthur Weinberg’s edited-monograph – Attorney for the Damned: Clarence Darrow in the Courtroom (1957) – though not without pretentions, creates a modest literary saga of Darrow’s oratory prowess, enough to convince many courtroom ‘mobs’ of the earnest resolve to be found in pursuit of his firebrand justice. The larger contextual questions to be considered are whether modern lawyers should interpret his literature as ‘justice’ for the sake of preservation of the law, or, ‘justice’ for the sake of protesting its iniquities? To answer this question, we must ask, does our current understanding of ‘law’ incentivise our value of the state apparatus, or reconcile our criticisms of its shortcomings?

This essay will evaluate Darrow’s understanding of ‘justice’, through an interrogation of his courtroom speeches, compiled in Attorney for the Damned. To draw a more recent parallel, I shall also investigate recent controversial discourse, such as the award-winning book The Secret Barrister: Stories of the Law and How It’s Broken (2018) which provides a nuanced critique of ‘justice’ in English Law today.

Word Count: 350


Darrow, Clarence; Weinberg, Arthur (ed) Attorney for the Damned: Clarence Darrow in the Courtroom, University of Chicago Press (Chicago, 1957)

The Secret Barrister, The Secret Barrister: Stories of the Law and How Its Broken, Macmillan Publishing (London, 2018)

Uelmen, G.F, Fighting Fire With Fire: A Reflection On The Ethics Of Clarence Darrow, Fordham Law Review, vol71:4 (March 2003), pp.1543-1566

Leisure, G.S., Reflections on Clarence Darrow, Virginia Law Review, vol45:3 (1959), pp414-418



By Oliver Roberts

Editor in Chief, Co-Founder and Co-Managing Editor

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