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Book Review: Gideon’s Children

Gideon's Ghildren  

I recently had the pleasure of reading Howard G. Franklin’s recent debut of Gideon’s Children, a work that highlights young lawyers’ journeys as public defenders in 1960’s Los Angeles. Set against the backdrop of the 1963 Supreme Court decision in Gideon v. Wainwright, it offers a lens that exposes the difficulties, prejudices and unfamiliar terrains these attorneys had to forge through in order to uphold the law – not simply because it was the law but because it established a moral compass by which to give voice to the voiceless and representation to those who needed it most. Each case was a battle with words as sharp as swords, and turning the pages to learn more about the mindset of these public defenders was a worthwhile endeavor on several fronts. 

There are passages in the book that prove beneficial starting points for pre-law students who are curious to know what law outside of law school textbooks is like. These passages offer book gems to those interested in trial strategies and what it means to cross-examine witnesses and attend one’s first jury trial – both the emotional and psychological toil it takes on all participants and the chess-game of logic and argumentation it offers. It’s one thing to watch episodes of TV shows that deal with such notions. And it’s a completely different thing to experience the power of words detached from visual cues and instead presented through the written word. It makes you appreciate the firing squad that is the lawyer’s domain. And the protagonist’s pipe – making its presence at crucial junctions throughout the book – adds solid imagery and complements well with the ‘judicial jungle’ the public defenders find themselves in. 

The book is filled with descriptions of moods and musings that flow poetically and leave the reader in a dynamic environment: The writer triumphs in managing to complement the grounded, all-too-real dialogue and exchanges between characters with a touch of imaginative language that blurs the lines between fiction and nonfiction. The addition of commentary about historical facts provides an additional trajectory with which the reader is able to grasp a snippet of what it was like to live and work in the midst of riots and violence – a parallel we can easily draw to today’s upheavals and social discontent. It’s good to see what motivated these defenders of the public and of the law decades ago, as some of the driving factors for those interested in this career path still ring true today. 

The feeling that I was left with when reading Gideon’s Children can be summed up with lines from Tennyson’s Ulysses:

We are not now that strength which in old days
Move earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find and not to yield.

Hopeful that there are pre-law students who have that strong-will and yearning to search as aptly conveyed by the protagonist in Gideon’s Children. Aware that, like the protagonist, searching for one’s place in law is a process that requires evolution and one that does not end with a conferral of a JD.  

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