What’s it like to be named for the most beloved lawyer in American literature?
Published in 2022 Southern California Rising Stars magazine on June 7, 2022
Atticus Wegman has heard it so often he simply calls it “the question.” It’s been asked by professors at law school, judges in court, fellow attorneys, prospective clients, and now by Super Lawyers: Were you named for Atticus Finch?
“My mother loved To Kill a Mockingbird and talked to my grandfather about the name,” says Wegman, a plaintiff’s personal injury attorney at Aitken • Aitken • Cohn in Santa Ana. “It stuck.”
If it comes up in court, Wegman says, “I’ll put out a disclaimer about expectations and usually get a laugh. … I did have an attorney recently who said, ‘The only problem with Atticus Finch is he should have asked for a bench trial, not a jury trial.’ That was pretty funny.” Then there are those who tell him, “Well, it’s a great name. It’s better than Boo [Radley].”
Not only was Wegman named for America’s favorite fictional lawyer, but growing up in Iowa his friends often shortened it to “Atty,” which looks suspiciously like an abbreviation for attorney. So you might say his career was preordained.
That said, his family background was pretty important, too. Wegman’s grandfather was not just a lawyer but the first state public defender in Iowa—a governor-appointed post that he held for 10 years. “He would walk me into his office, and we would tour the capitol buildings,” Wegman remembers. “Some of my mother’s siblings are attorneys, too.”
The first time he read Harper Lee’s novel, he did it on his own in fifth or sixth grade and immediately loved how Atticus stood up for the underdog. “That’s always been part of my genetic code,” he says. “I wasn’t the greatest athlete but I always played sports—I just tried harder. And if I was ever on the stacked team or the team that was supposed to win, I wanted to get off of it because I’d rather pull off the upset than win when I was supposed to.”
An underappreciated aspect of the novel, he adds, is that it’s a great story about childhood. “When Jem, Dill, and Scout play, that’s some of the best writing. These kids are playing pranks, and they’re worried about Boo Radley, who’s really nothing to worry about, and Mrs. Dubose’s flowers that Scout runs by every day. … Where I grew up in Iowa, there were only 5,000 people in our small town, and I walked a mile and a half by myself to school. And when you’re that young, and you’re walking that far to school, and you’re passing neighbors’ houses, it’s just like what you see in the novel. There was a house that we had in our small town and I was like, ‘That’s the spooky house. Do not go there.’ Exact same thing in To Kill a Mockingbird.”
The story keeps crossing his path. On an early date with his wife, Charlene, they visited Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, which just happens to be where Gregory Peck, who won an Oscar for playing Atticus, is buried. Wegman walked by, saw Peck’s name among the interred, and “it just hit me,” he says.
In his practice, Wegman takes on all aspects of personal injury, “from slip-and-falls, to dog bites, to car accidents, to government entity, to product liability.” Initially, he worked with more seasoned colleagues but now handles his own cases as solo lead. He estimates he’s handled about a dozen jury trials throughout the state.
As for the high expectations of being a lawyer named Atticus? He sees it as a plus. “People will hold you to a high standard,” he says. “And I try to maintain a high standard.”
Being named for a beloved literary character has been such a positive for him he’s continuing the tradition. “My wife and I have a 5-year-old daughter we named Scout. So we’re doing the whole family.”
Mockingbird By the Numbers
- 40: Languages the novel has been translated into
- 30: The novel’s sales in millions
- 8: Oscar nominations for the film, including best picture
- 3: Oscars, including best actor
- 1: The rank of Atticus Finch in the pantheon of Hollywood heroes, according to a 2003 American Film Institute survey
Source: IMDb, The American Film Institute and Wikipedia