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Crusading Lawyer

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"It's only natural for living creatures to fight to protect their own lives. But what makes us human is that we fight for others. But who do you fight for? How hard must you fight...? That's the true measure of what human life is worth. We defense attorneys are warriors who are constantly challenged by that question. Even when the battle is over, and the bonds that connect us are severed... We always return... Time and time again."
Phoenix Wright, Ace Attorney

The Crusading Lawyer is sympathetic to your problems and will help you, though they may need some prodding or screentime before taking your case. Whether suing a MegaCorp because they poisoned the water supply or defending a client's innocence in a murder trial, that's the lawyer you want. Money will be a decidedly secondary worry for this type, and if you can't afford a crusader's services, there is always pro bono work In some cases, a Crusading Lawyer becomes a prosecutor who takes on the most hopeless cases so that justice can be served and will never forget that they serve the people, the law, and the victim. Defense attorney examples are also common.

In legal dramas, The Protagonist usually fits this trope if he's a Hero Protagonist (a Villain Protagonist may be crusading for another cause and be opposed by a Hero Antagonist who more closely fits this trope). If you're in a Crapsack World or the protagonist is an Anti-Hero, they may have started as a Crusading Lawyer before turning into the Well-Intentioned Extremist version of an Amoral Attorney. If a Crusading Lawyer lives in a Crapsack World but continues to live up to this trope, expect them to have at least become a Knight in Sour Armor. If the character happens to be "quirky" as well as a competent lawyer, you have a (literal) Bunny-Ears Lawyer. The two tropes aren't mutually exclusive, and a Bunny-Ears Lawyer may turn out to be a Crusading Lawyer despite using Unconventional Courtroom Tactics. If the crusader loses and goes beyond the bounds of the law, they've crossed the line and become a version of the Well-Intentioned Extremist. This can be permanent, a form of Character Development (particularly when done in reverse), or temporary.

Contrast this trope with other lawyers who are Only in It for the Money. These kinds don't care who you are or what they are represent at court as long as the bill gets paid. You can also contrast with amoral attorneys who will do anything to win, regardless of the broader impact and with no concern for what's "right."

Compare to Good Lawyers, Good Clients. A Crusading Lawyer can appear outside of criminal cases — civil litigation is hugely expensive, so the crusader may decide to fight for a nobody in a police brutality case. In criminal law, crusaders may defend the obviously guilty to uphold the right to a fair trial, if the letters of the law do not fully suit the situation, or because of broader issues related to the case. Depending on where the work in question falls on the Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism, it's possible to see two crusaders in head-to-head battle.


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    Anime And Manga 
  • Monster: Fritz Verdemann is devoted to defending people he believes to be innocent, due to his conviction that his father was wrongly accused of being a communist spy. Hired by sympathetic former patients, he ends up defending the neurosurgeon Dr. Kenzo Tenma, who is accused of crimes he didn't actually commit and is hunting for the true perpetrator.
  • Case Closed: Ran's mother Eri Kisaki is a lawyer and, when she's actually shown at her work, she has strong traces of this. i.e., a filler case has her defending a guy who's been accused of murder because she's sure that not only he isn't the culprit, but because she believes he's Taking the Heat. She's right.

    Comic Books 
  • From Marvel, Matt Murdock and She-Hulk both bring the same sense of work ethics and morality into their day-job as they do the courtroom. And as hard as it is to believe, given how much the good guys seem to love fighting each other in comics, it took until 2014 before the two opposed each other on opposite sides in a case.
  • The latest, pre-New 52 incarnation of Manhunter (No, not the green one) shows one of the more extreme versions of this trope, as she is a prosecutor willing to bring criminals justice as vigilante if it isn't found in court.
  • Harvey Dent was a District Attorney in Gotham City and ally of Batman before a Gangster throws acid in his face and he becomes Two-Face.
  • Hard Time has Julius and Truth Rosenberg, a pair of these portrayed in a bad light — as the Distant Finale reveals, they were only interested in Ethan's hot-button case as a way to grab headlines. The second they thought associating with Ethan might reflect badly on them, they abandoned him. Ethan never heard from them again, and ended up serving his full 50-year sentence.
  • Animal Man: The alternate future miniseries The Last Days of Animal Man shows Buddy Baker's son Cliff growing up to become a lawyer who is so passionate about providing legal council for those who need it that he barely has time for his persona life.

    Fan Works 

  • Better Bones AU: Lizardstripe is an example in the afterlife due to participating in Judgment Of The Dead, managing to get her friend Bluestar into StarClan while making her enemy Thistleclaw and his supporters look horrible in the process.
  • Mortified: Advocates are an interesting case, in that most of them are this not due to any innate sense of justice but rather because their Obsessions are related to arguing and winning cases. As such, most firms don't really charge anything for their services, instead offering them for free for the sake of more exposure and thus chances for more cases.

  • The kung-fu film Dragons Forever has its protagonist Jackie (played by Jackie Chan, no less!) who is originally hired by an evil industrialist to steal the rights of a fishing village, but ultimately ends up helping the village folk.
  • Fred Gailey in Miracle on 34th Street (renamed Bill Schaffner in the 1973 version and Bryan Bedford in 1994 one) is this; after his law firm tells him to drop the case in fear of bad publicity, Gailey quits, claiming he'll start his own simply to help guys like Kris.
  • When superheroes were started to be sued and banned by the government in The Incredibles, daytime-lawyer/nighttime-hero Gazerbeam fought as hard as he could for the rights of his masked compatriots.
  • John Travolta's character Jan Schlichtmann in A Civil Action was this type of lawyer. He ended up going bankrupt because of his dedication to the cause.
  • Ari Josephson in The Chase (1994) was this for Jack Hammond pre-film, though he failed at it (the one crucial piece of evidence for his defense was disallowed). He tries to talk Jack out of running but is unsuccessful. By the end of the movie, he's rooting for Jack to get away.
  • Craig, from the film In This Our Life, doesn't make much money with his law firm, but he's willing to help his clients whenever he can even if they don't have to money to pay him. He even rejects Uncle Fitzroy's offer to help with the legal side of his business (something that would bring him a lot of money) because he disagrees with Fitzroy's practices. He even gives Parry Clay, the Timberlake's African American helper, a job as a clerk because he wants to become a lawyer (this being the 1940s, it was a rare and very progressive gesture.)
  • In Spotlight, Mitchell Garabedian is the only lawyer in Boston who will bring cases of sex abuse against the Catholic Church in court rather than settling them quietly.
  • James Donovan in Bridge of Spies becomes this, taking the case of accused Soviet spy Rudolf Abel because he believes even those working against the United States deserve protection under the Constitution.
  • Trapped: The Alex Cooper Story: One of these, Paul C. Burke, gets teenage lesbian Alex free of the Simms (who run a brutal conversion therapy camp) and her fundamentalist parents (who sent her there) in the end. He has since become a part of Alex's extended family.
  • The Turning Point (1952): John Conroy wants to use his position as prosecutor to eliminate corruption in his city.
  • In Victim (1961), Mel morphs into one after the death of Barrett.
  • Father of the Bride (2022): Billy is appalled that his daughter Sofia and her soon-to-be-husband Adan want to move to Mexico to work for a nonprofit helping immigrants at the border when they could get any job they wanted as NYU Law grads. He sees it as a downgrade to their comfortable lives in America and the gains that Billy's generation has made. Adan clarifies that Sofia wanted to do it because she had Immigrant Parents.

  • 2666: Klaus’s lawyer. The fact that they're sleeping together gives her an incentive.
  • Ben Safford Mysteries: The Attending Physician features two such lawyers.
    • Murder victim Sidney Karras initially seems like an Ambulance Chaser out to cash in on a Medicaid scandal using stolen documents to make his case. However,r it turns out that Karras had nothing to do with the theft and has dedicated his decades-long career to social justice issues and helping low-income clients who can't pay him much. The lawsuit which costs him his life is driven by a desire to help a young mother whose husband has multiple sclerosis.
    • Michael Isham is from a bigger, more successful firm, but he is motivated by a genuine desire to help his client (a blind man on welfare) get his life in order, and he also ends up representing Karras's client after his death.
    Isham: Real satisfaction comes from the big jobs—like devoting your life to outlawing child labor—or from the little jobs that make a big difference to one human being, that are damn near life transforming.
  • Behind the Sandrat Hoax: R.J. Rocklash and J. Harrington Savage sue Bancroff for pettily trying to prevent Cathcart from receiving an award after it's proven that eating sandrats prevents dehydration. They also file a class-action suit on behalf of the families of 162 people who died of thirst in various deserts after Bancroff's media campaign falsely claims that eating sandrats increases the chances of dying of thirst.
  • The Fragility of Bodies: Federico is a lawyer who fully supports Verónica's work as an Intrepid Reporter, doing constant legal favors for her not only due to their romantic connection, but over a mutual desire to see justice done.
  • Let Me Call You Sweetheart features two notable examples:
    • Kerry McGrath, a prosecutor and aspiring judge who believes strongly in getting justice for victims and their loved ones, and refuses to accept job offers from law firms even though they pay better because she's more interested in justice.
    • Geoff Dorso, a defence lawyer who feels compelled to advocate for people affected by mitigating circumstances, or who he believes to be innocent.
  • Might as Well Be Dead: Peter's lawyer Albert Freyer is a determined and intelligent advocate for his innocent client even though Peter doesn't have enough money to adequately pay him.
  • To Kill a Mockingbird: Atticus Finch didn't want the case but works to the best of his abilities anyhow, being dedicated to justice.
  • Mickey Haller:
    • Margareth McPherson a.k.a. Maggie McFierce is a prosecutor who is more interested in justice than in winning cases.
    • Her ex-husband, Mickey himself, fits the trope in a roundabout fashion. He spends the majority of his career as a criminal defense attorney, and his clients are usually guilty of something, if not necessarily the crime they're accused of. While he isn't above hunting for lucrative cases and cashing in on publicity his usual clientele comes from the lower echelons of society and he views himself as standing up for the little guy against a large, unwieldy, and often flawed judicial system.
  • In the X-Wing Series we have Nawara Ven. While a Pilot for Rogue Squadron he was originally a lawyer defending non-humans in the very humanocentric Galactic Empire. Later he defends one Squadron mate who is accused of killing another.
    "You would have hated me if you were trying to make a case against one of my clients - whether he was lying about his innocence or not."

    Live-Action TV 
  • JAG veers into this sometimes, as they go to some lengths to win their cases, like firing a submachine gun in the courtroom.
  • In Boston Legal, most lawyers at Crane, Pool & Schmidt, given the right case. Especially Alan Shore (after some Character Development), who is always willing to stand onto his soapbox for the underdog, bends this and Amoral Attorney together into a nice pretzel.
  • Shore was first a character on The Practice, off of which Boston Legal was spun off. The firm of Donnell, Young, et al tended toward fighting for the little guy, sometimes with questionable methods, and even more often methods that get them yelled at. Shore, introduced in the final season, is more of an Amoral Attorney in context, but even with him it's more a matter of method, as deep down he cares as well.
  • Ally McBeal and John Cage are also often emphatic about their clients' troubles and determined to help.
  • The Closer has Peter Goldman, Brenda Johnson's attorney in the Turrell Baylor lawsuit. At first, he won't work without pay but in the end, he is willing to work pro bono (and publicity).
  • Who can we get on the case? We need Perry Mason, who takes on hopeless cases and fights until victory.
  • Law & Order has its share. A lot of them tend more towards the morally gray area of this trope, skirting into Knight Templar or Amoral Attorney territory sometimes.
    • Jack McCoy is probably the most prominent of them, with his methods letting him skirt into Amoral Attorney territory occasionally.
    • Alex Cabot from SVU is also willing to interpret the law somewhat creatively in order to bring justice.
      • Also from SVU: Casey Novak slips off the slippery slope in her crusade against a child-raping police officer and violating due process, ending with her getting censured and losing her license for 3 years (getting disbarred before a Retcon). There was also a famous incident where she subpoenaed the US Secretary of Defense.
      • Also from SVU is Kim Greylek, who had the in-universe nickname "Crusader" while working at the Department of Justice. However, this (at least during her tenure at SVU) turned out to be more of an Informed Attribute.
      • Rafael Barba is this as well, though much more pragmatic than any of his predecessors.
    • On the defending side we have Danielle Melnick, whose belief in the right to have counsel goes to the point where she (a Jewish woman) defends a neo-Nazi in court.
    • See also Shambala Green.
  • In the first episode of Blake's 7 the titular Blake has this kind of lawyer as representation, who got executed for his troubles.
  • In How I Met Your Mother, we have Marshall Eriksen, a man who seems completely devoted to the idea of saving the planet by becoming an environmental lawyer... Some day. This extends to the point that, as stated by Future!Ted in narration, he succeeds.
  • Laurel Lance from Arrow works for a legal aid office and seems to take great delight in taking on cases where people have been abused by the system.
    Laurel: If we can't win a class-action suit against a man who swindled hundreds of people out of their homes and life savings, then we're not fit to call ourselves a legal aid office.
  • In Daredevil (2015), being this trope is a prerequisite to working at Nelson & Murdock. Matt Murdock lives his double life as a lawyer and as a vigilante with the interest of making Hell's Kitchen a better place. And even though she's just a secretary, Karen Page's investigating and exposing Wilson Fisk through the law and the press drives the plot just as much, if not more, than Matt's work.
  • Both the prosecution and defence in For the People often see themselves as fighting for justice, though Sandra takes the cake as she gets very emotionally invested in defending the downtrodden.
  • Usually averted in The Good Wife, where Amoral Attorney is usually the norm (in the sense that they try to provide the best possible defense for their clients regardless of guilt or innocence, not that they're necessarily corrupt). There are exceptions, though:
    • One episode has a case nearly go constitutional when a businessman client of protagonist Alicia Florrick tries to claim Spousal Privilege on his husband, colliding with the Defense of Marriage Act. This attracts the attention of a noted constitutional law attorney who is on a mission to get DOMA struck down, an approach Lockhart & Gardner disagrees with on ethical grounds: they could hope for a conviction to be overturned on appeal under equal protection grounds, but at present, their job is to defend their client as best they can. Ultimately their client is acquitted.
    • Alicia manages to significantly irritate a judge while working as a bar attorney by simply acting in accordance with her professional ethics, i.e. trying to provide each of her dozens of petty crime clients individually with the best representation she can, which slows down the court proceedings.
  • The 2018 drama Burden of Truth has Joanna, a corporate attorney, coming to her small hometown to give out pay-offs for people suing the company she represents about a vaccine-causing illness. She clashes with Billy Crawford, who admits his "Crawford & Associates" name is just him alone. But as Joanna realizes something in the town beside the vaccines is causing the illness, she ends up switching sides and joins with Billy to take on the true source of the illness.
  • Crazy Ex-Girlfriend:
    • Given that the protagonist is a lawyer, many of the lawyers at her firm are neutral-leaning-towards-amoral. The truest example is Paula, who becomes a lawyer after starting as a paralegal. She pushes her firm to open a pro bono arm where she helps underprivileged people.
    • Played for Laughs in "Don't Be A Lawyer". Jim sings about how law in general is a terrible profession and says that lawyers in "crusading" positions like environmental, human rights, or immigration law make no money.
      Jim: Plus, [immigration law]'s a bummer.
  • For Life: Aaron is dead-set on winning his exoneration, helping fellow prisoners then people in general he feels were screwed by the system, and removing corrupt attorney Glen Maskins, the man who prosecuted him.
  • Judge John Deed: The title character himself, who very much believes in doing what is right, and refuses to be influenced by the government and big business.
  • Burden of Truth: Joanna becomes this after quitting her job with a huge corporate law firm that represented corporations being sued, taking up the claims of the weak and vulnerable instead.
  • Prison Break: Veronica Donovan is a real-estate lawyer by training, but when no one else will defend her Wrongfully Accused childhood friend Lincoln in a capital case, Veronica steps up, risking her livelihood and her life to try to frame the conspiracy that framed Lincoln.
  • Pretty much every lawyer on L.A. Law is this, but particularly Michael Kuzak. Harry Hamlin even said that his character ofttimes reminded him of Crusader Rabbit.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In Nomine: Koriel, the Angel of Equal Justice, has dedicated herself to defending those who, by virtue of poor means, unpopularity, or bad luck, would not be given fair hearings in courts of law. Notable here is the weight that Words carry in the setting and for the celestials that bear them — when Koriel took on the Word of Equal Justice, defending the unwanted and unpopular from unfair treatment ceased to simply be what she did and became her core purpose for being. She is often the last hope of outcast angels seeking to return to Heaven, and her superior Dominic, the Archangel of Judgement, has taken to calling her the Devil's Advocate — which he means very literally. She serves as an important NPC ally in The Final Trumpet, where she's the only major figure in Heaven willing to defend the outcast archangel Khalid or the disgraced Malakite Maximillian — and, if the PCs were exiled at the end of the previous adventure, she's also their best chance of getting back into Heaven.

    Video Games 
  • Aviary Attorney's Jayjay Falcon works out to be this in all but one ending. The player can choose repeatedly to have him want to abandon a case when it gets dangerous or refuse one, But Thou Must!. Aside from those moments, he tries to be entirely valorous, especially in 4C (Fraternité). His rival Severin Cocorico is a lot less friendly and rarely sympathetic, and used to be an Amoral Attorney, but now pursues justice, not punishment.
  • The female protagonist of Fallout 4 is shown in deleted material (which can be brought back by mods) to have a streak of this, getting ready to defend a client that she knows is innocent of what he's being accused of.
  • Takayuki Yagami of Judgment as well as its sequel used to be a defense attorney until a defendant of his that he got off of a murder case ended up getting caught for killing his girlfriend, disgracing him and causing him to switch career to that of a private detective. Despite this, he still maintains a strong sense of justice and during the climax of his games will don his suit and enter the court to make sure the guilty pay in court.

    Visual Novels 
  • Ace Attorney:
    • Phoenix Wright might be one of the best examples of this trope. Yes, he is the universe's Butt-Monkey, and his methods may sometimes be unorthodox, but he will fight for a client he knows is innocent no matter the odds, and he will make sure that the guilty pay for what they did.
    • Phoenix's successor, Apollo Justice, follows the same path.
    • His mentor, Mia Fey, might even be more of a crusader than Phoenix. In what little time we see her alive, we find that she dedicated her career to taking down villains such as Dahlia Hawthorne and Redd White. The latter of these led to her death, but even after she dies, she repeatedly comes back to help Phoenix and co. by temporarily inhabiting the bodies of her spirit medium family members Maya and Pearl. Even death itself with not stop Mia Fey from taking down evil.
    • Miles Edgeworth used to be a smug, ruthless prosecutor, but by the time the first game ends, he's able to truly look inside himself now that the DL-6 case has been laid to rest and his father's killer has been brought to justice; he leaves for a year to find himself, and by the time he comes back, he's undergone some deep Character Development and resolved to become the prosecutor version of this. His two spinoff games show how far he's come, both as a prosecutor and a human being, revolving around him solving cases outside the courtroom and learning what it means to always seek the truth. Post-Character Development, he sees himself as a sort of partner to Phoenix; he wants the guilty to be punished, Phoenix wants the innocent acquitted, so there's no real contradiction; if they both do their jobs well, then they can ensure justice works for everyone.
    • Miles's late father, Gregory Edgeworth, is yet another example, a defense attorney committed to getting the innocent acquitted and making sure no one twists the truth, refusing to tolerate any foul play during investigations and trials. He was able to expose a forced confession and forged evidence during Jeff Master's trial, and would have appealed for a retrial on these grounds if not for his untimely murder.

  • Celia from The Order of the Stick is technically still at law school, but shows hallmarks that this will be the kind of lawyer she'll be.
  • Laurel Olsen from Rhapsodies is a quixotic idealist and believer in "legislation through litigation". She's toned it down a bit since the free legal clinic she was working out of got its funding cut and she found a more stable position.

    Web Novel 

    Web Video 
  • Economy Watch: Matthew Stratton is hired to get David's apartment back in one of the Season 2 episodes, and has no problem with helping David with his case.

    Western Animation 

    Real Life 
  • Truth in Television: Many, many law students and graduates begin their careers with the intention of becoming a crusading lawyer. Many famous names fit this trope, with Johnnie Cochran perhaps being the Ur-example. It's not unheard of for legal firms (of any size) to take on civil cases pro bono as a way to give back, do the right thing, or otherwise help those who would never be represented.
  • Quite a few notorious dictators started out this way:
    • Maximilien Robespierre before the Revolution was known to have often catered to poor clients, helping in particular single mothers who had children out of wedlock, campaigning for the rights of eccentric would-be inventors, and helping in other civil cases. A lot of these cases were done by him pro-bono and it led to his election as a Third Estate representative in the Estates Assembly. Until the final year of his life, he had a solid reputation as a principled man who helped the poor, known for standing up for the little guy, with even his friend Camille Desmoullins noting that in law school he had a reputation as a Bully Hunter. Which somehow both explains everything and leaves many questions unanswered.
    • Julius Caesar in ancient Rome was an Impoverished Patrician living in the slums of the city, and he began his practise and his political career by helping poor Romans and challenging the abuses of corrupt governors and officials. Caesar as a politician was a populare, committed to helping and relieving the poor, but this also, as his critics noted, gave him a platform for grabbing power.
    • Fidel Castro also started out as a lawyer who crusaded in favor of civil liberties against the Batista government. As Ned Kelly said, such is life...
  • It's common to paint Abraham Lincoln as this and there are a few instances of him helping out poor clients and doing pro-bono work (celebrated in John Ford's Young Mr. Lincoln). But for the most part, Lincoln was a careerist lawyer, who wanted to build a successful practise, and he often worked as a corporate lawyer defending the interests of wealthy railroad clients. Thaddeus Stevens, the most famous abolitionist of his day, was likewise a career lawyer and in one ironic instance, actually successfully campaigned for the return of a runaway slave to its master under the Fugitive Slave Act (which he later considered his Old Shame). Which proves that crusading politicians, even if they start out in law, aren't necessarily fully formed at the outset.
  • The ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) is built around this trope. In one instance, the ACLU represented a pedophile — and won — due to the fact that the case hinged on an issue of free speech. They also defend or otherwise work to protect the rights of those harmed by racism, sexism, or over-zealous (or just flat-out corrupt) law enforcement.
    • They've readily defended people from all ends of the political spectrum in advocating civil liberties, even the free speech rights of the KKK.
    • Burton Joseph, an ACLU lawyer who defended the Skokie Nazis' right to march through the Jewish community of Skokie, is one such example. This move was costly to the ACLU in alienating supporters but probably was worth it in the long run in showing that in defending constitutional rights, the ACLU really means it. Allowing the demonstration also let the Nazis inadvertently show their true nature (i.e., kind of pathetic) instead of making neo-Nazism into Forbidden Fruit. Bonus Points: The head of the ACLU at the time was not only Jewish, but a Holocaust survivor and fully supported their case.
  • Amnesty International's involvement with major human rights cases also falls under this trope. As with the above, both groups are non-profits, so attorneys working for them are likely making considerably less than they could in other jobs.
  • Thurgood Marshall, the great American civil rights lawyer and Supreme Court Justice said that his mentor inspired him with the statement, "A lawyer is either a social engineer or he is a parasite on society."
  • Lawyers who work for organizations that fight for causes of any stripe generally support the cause and think of themselves as helping crusade for it.
  • Gerry Spence created an academy for lawyers of the people, called the Trial Lawyers College. Its mission is to train lawyers to represent "the poor, the injured, the forgotten, the voiceless, the defenseless and the damned".


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Carsi Won't Let Diana Off Easy

Garrison wants to cut a deal, but Darisi refuses to let Diana off the hook too easily for her abusive behavior.

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Main / CrusadingLawyer

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