TBA Law Blog

Posted by: William Haltom on Apr 1, 2017

Journal Issue Date: Apr 2017

Journal Name: April 2017 - Vol. 53, No. 4

All my life, lawyers have been my heroes.

My first legal hero was Perry Mason, the great trial lawyer. Perry was the first lawyer I ever met, and I met him when I was only six years old.

He came into my house one night in 1958. He didn’t knock on the door or break in. He simply appeared in black and white on the screen of our family TV set in our living room. I was a first grader and sat on the couch sipping a glass of Bosco while I watched Perry successfully defend his client in a murder trial. Perry did not use the reasonable doubt defense. Instead, he proved his client’s innocence by proving who the real killer was. Incredibly, the real killer was actually present sitting in the gallery of the courtroom, and Perry exposed him right then and there in less than one hour, not counting commercials.

It was magnificent, and to this day, I’ve never seen any other lawyer win a trial like that.

A few years later, I found my second heroic lawyer. He was a country lawyer from a small town in Alabama, and once again, I watched him in a jury trial. I did not see him on TV. Instead, I saw him at what we called in those days “a picture show.”

His name was Atticus Finch. Like Perry, he had an innocent client. But unlike Perry, Atticus did not win the trial I watched. He lost it, but in the process, he became even a bigger hero than Perry in my eyes.

Perry and Atticus inspired me to go to law school myself, but even after I became a lawyer, I still found more and more lawyers who became my heroes. Among them have been Fred Gailey (the lawyer who saved Santa Claus in “Miracle on 34th Street”), Sandy Stern (“Presumed Innocent”), Horace Rumpole (“Rumpole of the Bailey”) and Vincent Gambini (“My Cousin Vinny”).

But now I have a new hero, or more accurately, a heroine. She is Juris P. Prudence. While she is only 11 years old, Juris practices law in the fourth grade in Washington, D.C. along with her best friends, Sofia (Sofie) Flores-Ramirez, Isabel (Izzy) Carrington, and Madeline (Maddy) Rosenfeld. Juris, Sofie, Izzie and Maddie all graduated from the law program at the National Kids Leaders Academy when they were only five years old and passed the D.C. bar exam. They now fight “to change the law for kids!”

Juris is the creation of Jessica Childress, a graduate of the University of Virginia Law School and a real life employment lawyer in Washington, D.C.

As a little girl growing up in Chesterfield, Virginia, Childress watched the evening news with her parents. One person she kept seeing on the nightly news was a woman named Janet Reno. Childress asked her father who she was and what she did. Her father explained that she was a lawyer, and not just any lawyer, but the Attorney General of the United States.
Jessica Childress was only in the second grade when she first “met” Janet Reno, but she was inspired by her and wanted to grow up to be like her.

At around the same time, young Jessica started reading books from the popular American Girl series, and was particularly inspired by a fictional 19th century young girl named Addy, whose family had escaped slavery to begin a new life in Philadelphia.

Childress, who is an African American, loved Addy. “She was industrious. She was smart,” Childress told UVA Today. “She really valued education and that story just stuck with me.”
Childress said she also liked Addy because she was “a brown girl,” just like her.

And so fictional former slave girl Addy and the real-life lawyer Janet Reno inspired Jessica Childress to go to law school at the University of Virginia and become a lawyer herself. And now, Jessica is writing a series of books about young Juris P. Prudence, America’s youngest lawyer.

The first book of the series, The Briefcase of Juris P. Prudence, can now be ordered at www.jurisprudence.com. You can also order a Juris P. Prudence coloring book, postcards, and a Juris P. Prudence case kit that enables the kids to conduct their very own mock trials.

Jessica Childress’s target audience for this series is children seven to 12 years old. Childress hopes that the stories about Juris P. Prudence will inspire these children to grow up to be lawyers. And not just any lawyers. “I want them to understand that lawyers are change agents,” explains Jessica. “They are people who do good work. They fight for good causes. They are a voice for other people who may not have a voice.

Well, I am not in the seven- to 12-year-old age category Childress hopes to inspire. I am a 64-year-old boy who still wants heroes to inspire me in my life as a lawyer.

And so I have ordered my copy of The Briefcase of Juris P. Prudence and can’t wait to read it. I also intend to purchase the coloring book, the postcards and the Juris Prudence Case Kit.
Move over, Perry! Make way for Juris!

Bill Haltom BILL HALTOM is a shareholder with the firm of Lewis Thomason. He is a past president of the Tennessee Bar Association and a past president of the Memphis Bar Association. Read his blog at www.billhaltom.com.